Living in the biggest settlement in Central America usually means living in dangerous conditions. This was the case for Virginia Davila and Maritza Rodas, members of one of the American Friends Service Committee’s local peace networks in El Mezquital, a neighborhood located south of Guatemala City.

El Mezquital was established in 1982 during a politically difficult time for Guatemala, which caused urban settlements to grow rapidly under poor conditions. According to Virginia, or “Vicky” as her friends call her, people were initially focused only on getting a piece of land, and they overlooked issues like water services, drainage, and security. Soon they realized they needed reach out to local authorities and demand that basic services be provided.

It was clear that community involvement and local organization were necessary. “At the beginning people were afraid, they didn’t want to startle things up because they feared being evicted, but with time and help from organizations such as AFSC we now have the tools, we are more confident and determined,” says Vicky.

There is still work to do, but with the help of the local peace networks, more people are getting involved in peaceful conflict resolution. “Thanks to the support of some religious groups and organizations like AFSC Guatemala, we have been able to work together and improve our living conditions”, says Maritza.

Having the tools to promote community participation has been important in the development of El Mezquital. Today there are several organizations working with children, youth, women, and adults. The growth of these organizations has shown that, when people are given the chance to participate and express themselves, they will join efforts to advance the wellbeing of their community.