Oaxaca, Mexico

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Community Assessment

Oaxaca, Mexico is among the poorest regions in Latin America. Three out of four people here lack access to basic necessities like food, water, education, and healthcare. Most have nothing more than a third or fourth-grade education, and many families are forced to live in one-room, dirt-floor shacks.

Children here suffer from malnutrition, neglect, and abandonment. They’re often forced to drop out of school to get a low-paying job that traps them in an endless cycle of poverty. This cycle often brings with it drug use, gang membership, and teen pregnancy.

Oaxaca, Mexico is among the poorest regions in Latin America. Three out of four people here lack access to basic necessities like food, water, education and health care. Most have nothing more than a third or fourth-grade education, and many families are forced to live in one-room, dirt-floor shacks.

Children here suffer from malnutrition, neglect, and abandonment. They’re often forced to drop out of school to get a low-paying job that traps them in an endless cycle of poverty. This cycle often brings with it drug use, gang membership, and teen pregnancy.

Victor and Lety Velasco are directors of our program for children in Oaxaca called Trigo y Miel, which means “Wheat and Honey” in Spanish. This program provides at-risk children in the community with nutritious meals, safe drinking water, medical care, Bible studies, tutoring, emotional support, and a safe place to play, learn and thrive. Victor and Lety also reach out to the parents and community members of the children in their program. They have recently begun holding Sunday church services at Trigo y Miel for community members, and Victor is seen as a leader of the community. 

Oaxaca Community Summary

Municipality Name: Zaachila

Neighborhood Names: Olimpo, Rancho Viejo, Campo Real, Guillermo Gonzales

Total Estimated Population: 4,825

Number of Churches: 4 Evangelical Churches, 4 Catholic Chapels

Number of Community Schools: 2 Preschools, 1 Primary, 0 Secondary, 0 Universities

Social Composition

Age of Community Members

The assessment revealed that 50% of this community consists of youth from the ages 0-18 years of age. The population numbers drop to 10% in individuals aged 18-25. This significant reduction is most likely due to the scarcity of economic opportunity, forcing this age group to leave the community for larger economic areas like Mexico City and the US. There is a small spike to 15% in the demographic age range of 46-60, and we will need further investigation around this age group to determine the reason for this larger number. The senior population decreases to 5% due to shorter life spans. The distribution between men and women is reasonably proportional with almost equal numbers of men and women in each age demographic with only a slight increase in males age 18-25. There is a slight difference in the 0-5 age range favoring females at 20-25% over males at 10-15%.

Religious Affiliation

Surprisingly, though Oaxaca at large is primarily represented by Catholics, in the Trigo y Miel community, Christianity is the chosen faith with 50% of the population embracing it. Catholics represent 30% of both the Jehovah Witnesses and those who participate in Witchcraft representing 10% of the population. Of those who identify with the Christian religion, 80% profess regular church attendance. During the analysis, that percentage of Protestant weekly attendance was contested by the Catholics. More research would be valuable in this area.


Community Assets

What resources exist within the community that people depend on? Preliminary findings show that the most important assets to the community are the schools, electricity, Trigo y Miel, community parks, local doctors, a health center, a medical dispensary, a milk distribution business, masons, carpenters, electricians, blacksmiths, one police officer, one biologist, pastors, teachers, missionaries, open land, and churches.

What are the main sources of income for community members? There seems to be some instability due to many families migrating to Oaxaca from more rural communities. The main sources of income are from tradesmen (those who are skilled in a particular trade and do odd jobs to make a living), tortilla makers (women who make and sell tortillas from their homes), taxi drivers (who typically work for the owner but aspire to own their own business), and housekeepers (those who cook and clean others’ homes).

What do people in the community value most? There seems to be a high value placed on education, but many families are still unable to send their children to school due to a lack of resources. The youth that do go to high school have to travel a good distance outside of the community to attend. Only 50% percent of the youth complete secondary school.

What motivates people to want to live in the community? There is a sense of community, tradition, and the hope that someday things will be better. However, after reaching the age of 18, many of the youth are leaving the community to look for greater opportunities either in Mexico City or the US.

Most Important Community Assets

The community spent a fair amount of time debating what they perceived the greatest assets in the community to be and arrived at their top three. They felt, by far, that Trigo y Miel was one of the community’s greatest assets. Trigo offers hope and opportunity to the children and families of the community and demonstrates what is possible when following God. Education was the second greatest asset in the community. Ultimately, their desire is to have a secondary school within the community and an improved overall quality of education. The third greatest asset was electricity. Not all families have electricity due to their own economic insecurity but electricity is accessible to all.


Clean Water

There are three main sources of water found in the community; The Trigo y Miel purification system, various wells within the community, and water trucks that deliver untreated water to homes. 60% percent of the population are using the water from Trigo to provide safe water options for their families.

Community Members with Access to Clean Water

How Water is Accessed


Highest Level of Education for Those Living in Poverty

Highest Level of Education for Homeless


The most prominent illnesses are respiratory and intestinal diseases at 30% and 25%, respectively. Diabetes, Hypertension, Cancer, and problems with eyesight are also common ailments. Not all community members have access to modern medicine and a large percentage uses home remedies (30%) and self-medicate (20%).

Most Common Illnesses

Access to Healthcare

Livelihood, Problem, and Uncertainty Analysis

These three analyses are used to identify the specific components of a community’s development plan. In each analysis, the top three to four concerns are chosen and plotted on the community empowerment index chart below.

Livelihood Analysis

The livelihood analysis is a tool that examines the primary sources of income in the community. It answers the question, how do the majority of people that live in Oaxaca make money?

Thirty percent of the people in the community work as street vendors. Street vendors are primarily women who sell a variety of things to survive and support their families. Twenty-five percent are tradesmen, these are primarily men who have a particular trade in carpentry, electrical, blacksmith, plumbing, and auto mechanics. These tradesmen usually do whatever odd jobs they can find. Another 30% of the people in the community work as taxi drivers. Most of them work for someone but desire to own their own taxi and be self-employed. The remaining 20% is split between women who make tortillas and sell them out of their homes, and women who work as housekeepers, cooking and cleaning.

Jobs Held by Community Members

Problem Analysis

The problem analysis identifies the major problems or concerns that exist in the community. The top three problems that exist in the community are the lack of safe drinking water at 30%, lack of schools and quality education in the community at 30%, and lack of jobs at 30%. There are other sources of water, but none of them are safe for consumption. The only water that is safe to drink is the water that is being purified and distributed on the Trigo y Miel compound. The fourth problem listed at 10%, is lack of security in the community. There are no police stations in the community, resulting in incidences of assaults and robberies.

Major Problems that Exist in the Community

Uncertainty Analysis

The uncertainty analysis is important because it identifies extraordinary events that occur in a community that is often “freakish” in nature. These events may be intermittent but they create an instability that destabilizes a community. In other words, they are events that breed fear within a community which eventually can undermine any attempt for community development to be successful.

Sources of Uncertainty in the Community

The number one uncertainty for this community is political protests that spring up at any time and disrupt everyday life. These protests create blockades to getting gasoline and shut down major supermarkets. While these protests do not occur within the Trigo community, they definitely have an impact on the population.

Community Empowerment Index

The Community Empowerment Index (CEI) represents the degree to which the people within the community feel empowered in each area of development. It is also possible to prioritize each of the development components by using the CEI. The CEI uses three concentric circles. Each circle is an index or an indicator, that shows how the community perceives the degree of control they have over a particular aspect of their development. The CEI is a visual tool that shows the level of empowerment perceived by the community. The greater number of dots in the inner circle, the more the community feels empowered in their own development.

INNER CIRCLE: The innermost circle represents what the community feels they have complete control over. It is what they believe they can do to address each of the components of development.

MIDDLE CIRCLE: The middle circle is where the community needs help from others outside the community. This help can come from a nonprofit, the government, and/or any other outside entities.

OUTER CIRCLE: The outer circle represents things beyond what the community and/or outsiders can do. Some ascribe this to God, spirits, or less intangible things that cannot be controlled by the community or outsiders.

Community Development Priorities

Based on feedback received from Oaxaca community members through the Community Empowerment Index, we’ve created the following list of community development priorities:

  1. Safe Drinking Water
  2. Education: Pre/Primary Schools in the Community
  3. Economic Development: Job creation and training
    • Tortilla maker expansion
    • Vocations training in common trades
    • Operation Enduring Homes earth block business
  4. Security: Assaults and robberies by local gangs
Safe Drinking Water

Priority number one is safe drinking water. We will be working with Water Mission and Messiah College. Water Mission is a Christian water engineering organization headquartered in North Carolina with a base in Mexico City. They specialize in doing large scale water projects in developing countries. Phase one will be a water survey. Once the location of water has been determined they draft a sustainable water solution and submit a project proposal. Water Mission also spends time working with community leaders and sharing the gospel in the process through their community development follow-up.

Messiah College will help with smaller, more localized water projects.  Possibly focusing on local schools in the community. Currently, Trigo y Miel is using the water purification system installed by Messiah College. A small water distribution program was started and is serving approximately 30 families in the Trigo community. However, the current system is not large enough to do a community-wide distribution.

Quality Education

In the Olimpo and surrounding communities there are no high schools. It was proposed by the community to consider building a High School in the Trigo community. The Vision of Trigo y Miel Directors, Victor and Lety, is to build a church that eventually will include a Christian high school. The children in the community can go to local primary and middle schools then advance to the Trigo high school.

Teacher training for educators in the community can be hosted by the Trigo staff. Tutoring on the Trigo compound will be offered to students who are falling behind in a particular subject area. For students who fail to pass standard graduation exams or cannot pass enough courses to graduate there will be a GED equivalency course offered at Trigo sponsored by the State of Oaxaca.

Also a campaign to provide students with much needed school uniforms, school supplies, and health checkups is being launched.

Economic Development

Small business training will be at the core of our economic development plan. Training budding entrepreneurs is essential for a sound business development strategy in Oaxaca. Forward Edge will introduce a Business Startup Training (BST) curriculum to Victor that can be used to train people on the basic principles of starting a new business in their cultural context.  Economic development in the Trigo community is about stimulating the local economy with micro-business opportunities.

Our first attempt to create jobs is through the Operation Enduring Homes (OEH) business. OEH, led by Tom Hogan a Forward Edge missionary, currently offers employment opportunities to six men in the Trigo community.

Additionally, a woman in the Olimpo area has been identified as a supplier of Tortillas for the community. Her process for making tortillas is one hundred percent by hand. By providing a manual tortilla maker we can possibly triple her production and create spiritual opportunities through Gospel business training and follow-up. Our hope is that as the business expands we will be able to provide jobs and increase market share.

Community Security

Community security has long been an issue within the Zaachila district of Oaxaca. Recently the community rallied together in cooperation with the Government of Oaxaca to address the issue of community security. The result of the meeting is a commitment from the government to patrol the community and oust members of the organized gang “June 14th” that were terrorizing the community.

An amazing circumstance happened when the president of the Olimpo community resigned, Victor was elected as the community’s new president.  This positions Victor to speak into the affairs of families in the community and creates a platform for God to do great things through Trigo y Miel.

Human Resources

By partnering with Victor and Lety in starting a new church in the Trigo community there will be a need for additional human resources. Victor and Lety will remain our Oaxaca country directors which includes Trigo y Miel oversight along with overseeing our community development work in the broader community. We’re proposing to move our Oaxaca Communitcations Coordinator, Jose, to the new Trigo y Miel program coordinator position assisted by his wife Raquel. Raquel will maintain her current role as the Child Sponsorship Coordinator. This will give Victor and Lety the needed bandwidth to pastor their church and oversee our Oaxaca location. Tom and Wendy will be fully involved in the earth block project which will create the need for a service team logistic coordinator. We anticipate interviewing and hiring for this position second quarter 2018.