I have been beating my head against a brick wall for more than a year with our patronato (homeowners' association). We have accomplished some things but neighborhood participation could be so much better.
I do know about these things! I have six years experience and know that neighbors who are not kept informed are not going to feel or act like a part of the group. Neighbors who don't believe that they have a say aren't so willing to pay dues. Neighbors who never find out about a meeting or find out mere hours before it happens are probably not going to come − as proven by our attend- ance in the past year.
One suggestion is that we send a written announcement of the meetings and what is to be discussed a week before and a reminder the day before. I've volunteered to do the announcements and get them copied. The only thing that I need from the others is to know the meeting date in advance.
I know this works even in Honduras! I know it because when we tried to start a patronato a few years ago, we had 30-40 people attend the meetings, compared to 5-6 using the our current method. We've had at least 20 "emergency" meetings in the past year and I can tell you that NONE of them were a true emergency that couldn't have waited a few days in order to notify the neighbors properly.
Another suggestion is to have one or two nice, friendly people meet and greet new neighbors and inform them about the patronato, instead of having a guard send them to a grouchy, rude old man who demands money from them. Well, in my actual suggestion, I left off the part after "instead" but most knew what I was talking about. That would be tougher because it would require volunteers.
The neighborhood newsletter was my idea, of course. I would bring up the idea and the negativos would pooh-pooh it, saying "nobody cares". Finally, a few weeks ago, I just sat down and wrote a newsletter, translated it on Google, and asked a neighbor to edit it. I formatted it and printed a color copy and asked the President for his permission to send it out. He loved it. (More about that in another article.)
There are two or three extremely negative people who object to every suggestion by saying "This is Honduras" as if after seven years I don't know that. It's so aggravating because often they don't even let me finish what I'm saying so they don't even know what my suggestion is going to be before they object to it! That's rude.
The strange thing is that many of my suggestions are less what some might think of as the brusk, efficient, bottom-line N. American manner, and more what you might think of as the Hispanic way, as they have to do with friendliness and respect for the neighbors.
The other night after 2 1/2 hours, we left the "emergency" meeting before it was finished. We hadn't had dinner and it was after 9:30 p.m. Yes, I was fed up and ready to give up for the umpteenth time.
The next day, two different neighbors told me about what happened. It seems that after we left, one of the negativos made a disparaging comment about me wanting to do things gringo style, apparently expecting the group to laugh or applaud or something. Instead, another neighbor yelled at him that "We can learn a lot from gringos. They are much more advanced than this country! She knows what she's doing." Another neighbor said that I had good ideas and that the patronato needed me. "She is somebody that gets things done." My supporters even had a little meeting out in the street after the meeting to discuss the problems with the negativos. So there, Señor Negativo!
I thought of something that I'm going to say the next time someone assures me that there is no need to change what we do because "People don't care", "People are apathetic", "People will never get involved", "People won't pay", and so on. I'm going to say, "You are exactly right. If you always travel the same road, you'll always end up at the same location."