I suppose it's time to write about my work, actually. I've been introducing you to my community (although the lack of cell phone/Internet capabilities there makes my descriptions few and far between), but haven't explained anything about what I actually live there to do. As I'm leaving Internet land again tomorrow and I have a million things on my to-do list, I'm going to make you a list.
Basically, I work with a group called SembrandoPaz (Sowing Peace) that has been a peace and social justice resource for communities affected by the armed conflict on the Carribbean Coast. Most of the communities they work with are displaced- either in the process of return of to their former land or post-return and trying to rebuild their former security and stability. This basically adds up to a focus on human dignity: attempting to rebuild the fractured social fabric through processes focused on dignity. Here's a list of some large and small things that make up that wide vision.
Productive projects: these are agricultural projects that focus on supporting people to work the land again. Because of the Free Trade Agreement and climate change and a zillion other factors that make this region vulnerable, a lot of my current focus is on food security.
Example: The community is frequently left isolated by the rain, meaning that basic food/supplies can't get in. I'm working with several projects that intend to produce things normally imported. One job: I've been sitting around, laughing, teasing and planning a chicken raising project with four young women from the community. It'll incorporate both mass market chickens because they generate capital faster and local, strurdy Criollo chickens, with the hope to eventually phase toward the local chickens. They are about to sign the loan and get started!
Securing farming as a lifestyle: this is part of my job, no big deal. Seriously though, the world over small-scale farming is becoming more and more insecure (working on an article about the role of the FTA in all this, stay tuned). We're trying to support and validate small-scale efforts, attempting to make small-scale more viable as the temptation is to sell out, look for work in the city, or shift to cash crops instead of food production. One of the related strategies is funding/encouraging seed saving- to build up the ability of farmers to continue to produce food, year by year, without needing to use their few resources to purchase new seed. I've been hiking up and down steep hills of ñame plants (described in the last post), checking in on the farmers, making sure they are saving seed, encouraging them, etc. I love this part of my job, especially because it means that I know almost everyone in my community and can stop them in the street to ask about their crops. We have great early morning conversations about rain, market prices, and the quality of ñame.
Women's empowerment: I just wrote an article for the SEED publication about my community and it has a lot in it about gender roles- I'll post that soon, so I won't go into detail here. Suffice it to say that the community is very machista- women always have the second say, and have no choice or way to look for change in their work. It's their place to hand wash laundry, supposedly, and that's the way it'll stay. This is where I have to be the most clever. In a male-dominated community, if I start talking about liberation and mujerismo (womanism), I will likely alienate the men and make enemies fast, for both me and the women in the community. We have to look for ways to reinforce empowering ideas/skills/attitudes in culturally-appropriate spaces. As I work with the women on the chicken project, their husbands are also occasionally present. It's a small thing, but I always direct my attention, questions, and ideas to the women, never to the men. Chicken raising is a gender-appropriate job for women, but they have rarely been in control of the planning, finances, and organization. Having a women-only project is a way of giving them some decision-making power that they desperately need. Also, when I get back, I'm planning a bread-baking workshop for women in the community, as a space for us to get together and start building community outside of kids/husbands. We're going to make naan bread over wood fires.
Hanging out: Literally, hanging in my hammock or hanging around drinking cups of sweet coffee with the neighbors. One of the things that we're finding in our communities is that people are acting on such a level of necessity that there is little time or energy to reflect. Mouths need to be fed, which means early to the fields, hard days, lots of household labor: energy spent on the basics. It's a very reactive pattern- people are so occupied by basic necessities that there is little space to reflect and plan for long term action. I see a lot of my job as hanging out and talking with people, giving them the chance to reflect on their experiences and daily life and wonder about the future. I ask people how they feel about living close to their families, having children so young, not having gardens anymore, gender roles... I ask, paraphrase, process, reflect, encourage.
And the last part of my job- animando, or encouraging: Most of my friends/neighbors/community members are just tired out. They've endured the horrible trauma of displacement and return to empty land and the incredible task of rebuilding. Often, their attitude is a sort of an “it is what it is” feeling. Corruption, violence, individualism, rich robbing from the poor, flooding... these things happen, and there isn't very much you can do about it. So why try? I'll explain more as I explore this feeling in the community in the coming months. For now, one of my jobs is working with a group of young men (I call them The Dude Men in English because they are really into their fashion, hair styles, and being cool) to start a fish farming project. Most of them work a small amount of land or hire out for other farmers, but are frustrated at their dependence on the “old people,” as they call their parents, and lack of options. Our first meeting, I sat with them and asked them a few questions about what their goals were, then struggled to keep up as they threw out ideas, work plans, and started to organize their project. I cheer them on (and remind them of the importance of organization and follow-through).
These are my jobs! I'm working on a framework of values/principles so I can feel more centered in my work, but for now, this is what I understand. Of course, my job is so dependent on the community's goals, desires, styles, processes....that I often find myself in balance-and-adapt mode. We'll see how it changes in the coming months.