The CHOICE model is unique because it provides hand ups rather than handouts by teaching communities how to organize themselves to tackle the problems they face. In the community of Peñitas, Mexico, CHOICE helped establish an aquaponics system so the locals could raise plants and fish to eat and sell. However, shortly after this system was established, the water system in Peñitas went out. This was a devastating turn of events for the locals, because without water, the plants and fish that relied on the aquaponics system would soon die, and the program would fail. The cooperative that managed the aquaponics system could have called the CHOICE team for help; instead, they took matters into their own hands.
The women of the cooperative came up with an idea and decided to act. With the help of CHOICE Humanitarian, they had previously built ovens in the community to make pizzas and other baked goods. The women of the cooperative took initiative to use their new resources to help their community. They came together and used the ovens to make pizzas, which they sold throughout the community. With the proceeds from their self-made fundraiser, they were able to bring in a water truck to replenish the water supply in the aquaponics system. However, one truck was not enough to get the community water system running again. Undaunted, the women came together again, made more pizzas, and sold them again. By working together twice to raise the funds for water trucks, the women were able to get the community water system running again and save the aquaponics system, along with all the plants and fish that relied on it.
This story provides a shining example of the success of the CHOICE Humanitarian model. CHOICE strives to help communities become self-developing; to help communities think for themselves and utilize their own resources, so that their path out of extreme poverty can be sustained even when the humanitarian organization that helped lift them up is gone. The women of the Peñitas cooperative illustrate the principles of this model perfectly: when disaster struck, they did not call the CHOICE team or the volunteers from the U.S. who had come to participate in one of CHOICE’s humanitarian trips. Instead they came together and utilized their own resources to solve the problem at hand. By building the ovens CHOICE gave the community of Peñitas the means to support themselves; by encouraging and empowering women in the community to have a place and say in leadership, the women of the cooperative were able to take ownership of their new resources to create a self-sustaining solution to their disaster, benefitting their whole community in the process.
Thanks to the women of the Peñitas cooperative, the aquaponics system was saved and is now flourishing, producing fish and vegetables that will provide both food and income for the community of Peñitas. The self-reliability the people of Peñitas have shown hints at a bright future of continued progress and a self-sustained path out of poverty.