Heladio Reyes Cruz
Fellow Since 2001
Ecosta Yutu Cuii
This profile was prepared when Heladio Reyes Cruz was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
By encouraging communities in Mexico to understand the impact their way of life has on the environment, Heladio is helping them to maintain their traditional agricultural and hunting practices whilst preserving the environment. Although the devastation of Mexico's rural areas is often blamed on the government or big landowners, communities have contributed to the problems, and have not always been willing or able to stand up to other interests. The aim of Heladio's program is to ensure a way of life in rural communities which safeguards the environment.What makes his project different from others is its mechanism for community organization. Heladio involves the community in environmental protection by fundamentally changing how the people view their everyday environment and practices. Ultimately, environmental use and abuse is about habits. Changing any habit must involve people at a deep personal level to make a real difference. Heladio does just this, using psychosocial techniques to involve and animate the people to want to participate in change. His strategy begins by inviting people to a community meeting to reflect on the past "to remember" what the community looked like, what people did, what animals and plants were there, and how community members used these natural resources. He then asks them to look at where they are now and comment on the changes that have occurred in their village. Through multimedia, theater, and "chats", the people really begin to feel and see the loss and change that has occurred in their community and environment. This reflection sets the stage for the next step. Each community, using visions of where they want to live, actually create their own "code" for how their environment can be sustained - a code of bioregional sustainability. Heladio facilitates this process by introducing a "menu" of ways to achieve sustainability. The communities then can select those closest to their own needs and interests and which contribute most to the code they have agreed on. The benefit of his technique is the strong organizing bonds it creates. People feel a common goal and a common past. This makes it easier for them to face barriers in the future. It paves the way for the more practical forms of support which Heladio's program also provides.