Testimonies of the women of Tehuantepec, protagonists in the integral and social reconstruction of the habitat


As a result of the 2017 earthquakes that seriously affected the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Cooperación Comunitaria is developing the Project for the Integral and Social Reconstruction of the Habitat, characterized by the recovery of constructive traditions appropriate to the environment and the local culture, as well as, by the use of local materials and adapted technology that promotes safe systems, resistant to the earthquakes and strong winds of the region.

The Project for the Integral and Social Reconstruction of the Habitat in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.

  1. It provides advice for the reconstruction and reinforcement of traditional houses, as well as for the reinforcement and construction of new houses.
  2. It seeks to reactivate the economy of the women of the region, through the reconstruction of their productive infrastructure, that is, kitchens, ovens and comixcales.
  3. As a transversal axis to all the processes, it promotes the recovery of constructive traditions, the use of local materials, and the participation of the affected population through traditional practices of mutual support of the communities, such as tequios.

What does the integral and social reconstruction of the habitat mean?

Integral and social reconstruction does not only mean recovering the damaged infrastructure, as well as the emotional and physical integrity of the community, but also the opportunity to increase its organizational, technical and training capacities for self-management.

In this sense, a participative training program was carried out, which was given to 718 families, numerous workshops in reinforced construction techniques were given to participants and 135 construction workers. Likewise, as a result of this experience, Cooperación Comunitaria collectively produced with the construction workers three manuals of traditional reinforced construction techniques, two for housing and one for kitchens.

The following testimonies are part of this context:

María Angélica. Comunidad: La Blanca, Santo Domingo Ingenio, Oaxaca

One of the things that we liked the most was to return to what unity is as a people, because before here the community, when we built a kitchen they invited all the people to inaugurate and the people went, so now there was nothing like that. Each one on their own built their own house and looked for things on their own, but now they kind of took us back a little bit and made us see that according to the community there are trees, there is mud, there is tile and wood and we had already stopped using it.

So the community was more focused on making houses out of material, even the kitchens out of material, but this helped us to reflect that we can take back all the natural things and united we will achieve it more easily.

Ecna. Comunidad: La Blanca, Santo Domingo Ingenio, Oaxaca.

A widespread damage was that of the traditional ovens (comixcales and bread) where women make most of their food and totopos (toast) for sale. Community Cooperation Contributes to the recovery of women’s productive activities through the reconstruction of traditional ovens: 256 comixcales and 27 bread ovens; as well as 48 kitchens reinforced with the bajareque cerén construction system.

I am happy, because I had my fire outside, my oven was outside; and now I am delighted with the oven, with my little kitchen, it is fresh, I even want to live here. It is thermal, everything is natural, no cement. Imagine a house made of earthenware, it’s very hot.


This land, it’s very beautiful land.”

Aracely. Comunidad: Cazadero Abajo, Santiago Niltepec, Oaxaca.

Women and the community succeeded in recovering traditional homes affected by the earthquakes. In the Oaxacan Isthmus, although the house is important, the space is lived in a different way and the patio and the smoke stove with its comixcal ovens are a central element. These are the environments where the most significant domestic and neighborhood interactions take place. Aracely says:

I’m happy with my cooking, it’s very good my cooking, very nice.”

Guadalupe. Comunidad: Cazadero Abajo, Santiago Niltepec, Oaxaca.

Using local materials and taking care to respect the natural environment they built 27 bread ovens and 18 traditional kitchens in Ixtepec.

My kitchen is well done; I even want to take it from home. When I saw that we had finished my kitchen, and I saw it, I liked it. I’m very happy that they supported us. I consider that none of us had a kitchen like that.

Reactivation of productive activities

It is worth mentioning that this project is being replicated in 7 more municipalities, taking into account the climatic and cultural characteristics of each area, as well as the use of local materials that change from municipality to municipality.

As a result of this programme, Community Cooperation, with the support of the communities, has rebuilt 78 traditional istmeña houses that have been reinforced and today several members of the community can build with local materials, since traditional construction techniques have been recovered that are adapted to the climate and local culture, and which in turn are more resistant to earthquakes and strong winds in the region.