Saturday, August 24, 2013

Planning or Searching?

In the absence of writing in the past month, I have had many discoveries and realizations about Li Ch'utam's efforts in Nueva Mercedes, which was initially provoking and frustrating, but has since become constructive and useful criticism. One can see by looking at the blogs from the past six-months that we have been very involved in the lives of the children in and outside of the school, being a presence in the classroom, hosting an after-school program with computers, arts, crafts, books, movies, physical activities, and initiating weekly river trips. Speaking on behalf of myself and the other volunteers, in our time spent here, there has been many of those beautiful moments of absolute bliss where the children and us young adults, coming from different parts of the world, have lost our sense of differentiation, and to use the cliché, became one. These undoubtedly wonderful and beneficial experiences we have shared with the children, however, is not where my criticism lies.

 What I am most concerned about is our relationship with the adults. Being an organization that is seeking to assist a small rural community in regards to education and well-being, there must be a bridge between the intervening organization (Li Ch'utam) and the recipients (the members and leaders of Nueva Mercedes). I regret to admit that even after six-months of volunteering, this bridge is still inadequate, but to remain positive, it is in the process of construction and I see it as only being a matter of time, full of greater interaction and communication.

These recent criticisms and influences have come from a number of different sources. A month ago we said good-bye, thank you, and hope to see you soon to a wonderful member of our team, Jess Lyga, who was magnificent with the children and likewise very keen about visiting the community in afternoon hours, and interacting with the mothers. Her enthusiasm to embrace the community in the short two-months she was here was admirable and inspiring. Additionally, just today I said farewell to Quentin Veuillet, whose words in conversations I shared with were very eye-opening, even at times aggravating, as he discussed his views that we lacked clear tangible objectives in our work, which he pushed would only become clear through greater dialogue with the adults of Mercedes. Lastly, I am currently reading a book called “The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good”, by William Easterly, a former World Bank employee. The book, loaded with anecdotes and powerful controversial ideas, starts off with his comparison between what he calls Planners and Searchers. In summation, planners work from the top-- “trying to remake the poor in image of the West”-- and introduce ideas without much feedback or investigation as to what is truly necessary in the recipients community, and searchers, on the contrary, are more grass-root organizations that attempt to understand the communities they are working with first, initiating a dialogue, forging relationships and trust, and ultimately together introducing and proposing solutions that are contextually relevant to their reality.

Li Chu'tam, a minuscule organization in comparison to the IMF and World Bank efforts however capable of creating both positive and negative externalities, must strive to be a Searcher, which requires a different effort that is beyond fund-raising and brainstorming, which in a sense is seemingly counterintuitive, as the “western” mode of thinking typically assumes that with finances and human capital, anything is possible.  But to our dismay, we are not in the “Western World” therefore we must train ourselves to think differently. There will be a time for accumulation of funding and for proposals, but for right now, I whole-heartedly believe, in accordance with the beliefs of Mr. Easterly, that our efforts must be focused on simply observing, listening, conversing, and digesting our discoveries to paint a clear picture of Guatemala, the Polochic Valley, and Nueva Mercedes.

At first I considered many of these thoughts to be along the lines of “back-tracking” and making our previous efforts seemingly less valuable, however, I now see it all to be apart of my own personal learning experience in this sort of work. I couldn't be more proud of what we have done in my first six months here, as I still feel that the school and children are the perfect means of becoming acquainted and familiarized with the community. This month I will be shorthanded, with only myself to work with until the arrival of two new volunteers, embracing the exhaustion following a day's work with the school and sharing it with the hard-working men, women and children of a community that I look forward to knowing more about day-by-day.