October 29, 2015
It was the first time that the AJS-supported Land Rights Committees, groups of volunteers that have committed to helping neighbors with land rights issues, from Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula had met one another, but their interactions made it seem as though they had been friends for years.
Perhaps the reason for these fast friendships is that the committee members have all suffered from the same problem: No evidence of legal ownership of their land. Without a property title, the document that proves ownership, the inhabitants of hundreds of neighborhoods around Honduras have no way to request loans and improve their homes. Instead, they live in fear of eviction by supposed landowners.
The AJS-supported Land Rights team has been empowering poor urban residents to obtain their land titles for the last 6 years through trainings and legal help, and the team has contributed to the hand-over of 60,000 titles. Now the project has moved to a new level; with the support and training of the Land Rights Team neighborhood residents who have already received their land titles have formed Land Rights Committees in order to accompany other neighborhoods in obtaining land titles through trainings and advocacy activities.
On the third and fourth of September, all the Land Committees met in a workshop held by the Land Rights team. A central goal of this workshop was to measure the comprehension of the land titling process of the Land Rights Committees. The Land Rights team had given the eight committees four class sessions previously, each about a specific step in the titling process, so the members were ready for the exams.
“We want the committees to be self-sustainable,” said Gilda Espinal, Lawyer and Coordinator of the Land Project. “In order to be self-sustainable, we need to find out what areas we especially need to teach the committee members more about.”
During the break between exams, the attendees presented short plays about the application and the abuse of the Property Law. Each was followed by comments by the other participants. One play described a property dispute that was not resolved by the correct proceedings, but through bribes that were given to several corrupt officials. It appeared that the participants were all too familiar hearing this type of plot.
Kevin, a member of a Land Committee near San Pedro Sula, stated that he has already learned a lot from the workshops provided by the Land Project. “A year ago, when I began as president of the neighborhood council, I didn’t know anything. Not one part of the Property Law. I didn’t know what I was doing,” Kevin spoke, shaking his head. “Look at me now! I have learned a ton, and I am participating in a Land Committee!”
When the time to say goodbye arrived, the attendees felt encouraged, speaking with the firmness that comes from shared experience. “This was not a business meeting,” said one attendee to the group. “This was a meeting of brothers and sisters that want to improve their communities. It is good to work with each other.”