Friday, June 10, 2011

Flexibility and patience...

One of the first pieces of advice I received when I arrived in Pana was that working with any NGO – like Oxlajuj B’atz – would require patience and flexibility, as things rarely go exactly as planned.  My first thoughts when I sat down to review my work plan for the summer as a Fellow for Nest/OB were that though it was an ambitious plan for just two months, with careful planning, hard work, and ample preparation, I would be on track to complete everything before heading back to the U.S. at the end of July. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that true to the initial warning I received, no matter how prepared and on-track I may be, there are so many other things that can – and will – come up along the way.

OB's fair trade store

 This past week, Darcy and I spend time writing and revising the surveys and questionnaires that we will need to gather the information necessary to compile a production guide, look book, and marketing collateral for Nest and OB, anticipating that we would start visiting communities and meeting with artisans by the end of this week. However, we soon learned that no matter how prepared we were, this simply would not be possible. Typically, OB visits each community no more than once per month, and even then it can be difficult for OB facilitators to accomplish all that they need with the women in such a short time, much less make extra time for us to complete our own projects. 

 The language barrier adds another layer of difficulty to our projects, as in most of the communities, no more than a few women speak Spanish (with the rest speaking a variety of indigenous languages). This means that in order to conduct our surveys and testimonials, we either need to be accompanied by one of the facilitators – assuming they have the time to assist us with translation – or to hire a translator, which is problematic in itself as Darcy and I are already strangers to the women and adding another complete stranger to the mix would make it less likely that the women would trust us enough to give the honest, complete answers that we are looking for. Moreover, we were warned that even if the women talk openly and honestly with us, we may not be able to obtain all of the answers we want, as most cooperatives work with so many different groups and NGOs that identifying their relationship with one specific group may be next to impossible. Knowing this, it’s possible that even when we do make it to the communities, we will have to continue revising and reworking our research methods, and that no matter how perfect our surveys or questionnaires may seem at the beginning of a project, we must always be open to adapting them to the results were are getting – or not getting – in the field.

As wonderful as working at OB has been so far (and it truly has been, with such a committed, dedicated, and interesting staff and such a beautiful office space), I’m anxious to start going into the communities myself, to meet the women whom we are seeking to help, and to make some tangible progress on the various projects that we have begun preparing for this week. But rather than stressing over what I can't do right now – for reasons completely beyond my control – I’m striving instead to prepare as adequately as I can, to take advantage of my time working in the office to get the ball moving on as many different projects as possible, and to take things one day at a time. And I keep reminding myself that even though Pana is slowly starting to feel like home after only one week, I have seven more weeks to go…plenty of time to accomplish all of my goals, have great experiences, and even make some mistakes along the way.

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