Wednesday, June 29, 2011
So tomorrow marks exactly one month since I arrived in Guatemala. Bad news for all of you back home: I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to leave. There’s something about Guatemala, and the people who live here, that just sticks with you and doesn’t let you ever forget.
Darcy and I have had a wonderful time over the past week spending time with new friends and exploring the lake. We’ve made a great group of friends here – locals, volunteers, visitors – and almost every evening, we gather at our friends café to play bilingual scrabble. We were considering taking some Spanish lessons at one point, but we realized that spending a few hours each evening playing scrabble and just talking with friends is about as good of language practice as we’re going to be able to get! Not to mention the amazing coffee that I’m slowly becoming addicted to…
After a weekend of town-hopping around the lake – Friday in San Pedro, Saturday at La Iguana Perdida, a tiny hostel in Santa Cruz where we relaxed, made some new friends, ate delicious food, and witnessed some pretty cool fire-spinning – we returned to Pana on Sunday for a paella lunch at La Palapa and to go on our weekly market trip. Though it's been fun and exciting seeing so much of Guatemala these past few weeks - from our community visits to volcano hikes to day trips - it's also always really nice to get off the boat or the bus or the pick-up truck and walk down Calle Santander and feel like it's home.
The first half of this week has been a blur of meetings and new faces around the office: Ramona, OB's Executive Director; Claudia, a designer who will be working with Reyna in the store and on product design; Charlie, a new OB volunteer who will be working on marketing and publicity; and Kate, a Nest Fellow based in Antigua who is doing some work around the lake for a few days.
On Monday, we joined the community facilitators in their prep meeting for their upcoming catalog workshop, which they will teach in the communities throughout July. The facilitators asked Darcy and I for our opinions on the workshop, both from our perspective as American consumers and as representatives of Nest, so we made a few suggestions, mostly concerns about actually gathering the information for the catalogs that we’ve experienced so far in gathering information for our production guide and look book for Nest. I could tell that our input was highly valued, but in the end we left it up to the facilitators to plan and implement the workshop in the way they felt was most effective.
Then, on Tuesday, after our usual staff meeting and a delicious staff lunch of chile rellenos – and tortillas – Darcy and I sat down with Andrea, Lucia, and the other facilitators for a monitoring meeting. The goal of the meeting was to come up with a consistent measure of success to determine whether or not the upcoming catalog workshop is effective in each community. Again, we were asked to share our opinions on why it would be important for an outside organization like Nest to see that an artisan group has their own catalog, and how we could best communicate this importance to the women during the workshops. And again, I could tell that my suggestions were both carefully considered and challenged, which was a great learning experience and a true demonstration of the democratic, empowering community that OB seeks to foster both within its staff and within the communities where it works.
All of this made me think more about my own role within OB and within the sphere of development in general. I came to understand that, even if Darcy and I had the so-called “expertise” to come up with a brilliant new plan for the workshop, or to teach the workshop ourselves, this isn’t (and should not be) our role. The facilitators understand the complexities and dynamics of the communities and the artisans better than I ever will, and it’s far better for me to take a step back and foster their own growth than swoop in from a different culture and society and try to impress my own ideas and wills upon the process. Of course, I can help and I can make suggestions – but I've been learning to respect my role as an outsider and consider when and how I can best contribute, even if it's in a different way than I originally thought.
In the monitoring meeting Andrea said to the facilitators, “You are the experts here, not me. You know the women best. In the end, these decisions are yours.” Andrea could have sat down at the meeting and told the facilitators what she felt would be the best way to measure the success of the workshop, but instead she helped the facilitators work through the process themselves, taking the time to come up with the answers on their own. It was an amazing process to watch from start to finish, and I can’t wait to actually see the workshop implemented in the communities next month!