Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A day of Progress

I sit here in the late eve of Jan 20, a day when the U.S. began the era of a new Presidency, in the moist air of Peru on my foam bed. I have on a wool hat, a scarf, 2 sweatshirts, sweatpants, and I am toasting my lower body with 2 thick blankets. It is surprisingly quiet…but I know that soon the barking of a pack of street dogs will cut through the silence. (5 second gap)àYep, just like I told you…here they come!

Today was a day of Progress, on many levels. The day began with my visit to the AFIDER office. In case you haven’t forayed the land of the DHF website lately (or ever, but I suggest you do), AFIDER is our Peruvian partner that manages the microcredit goal of our organization with our village banks of women. When DiscoverHope began discussing our work at this site in early 2007, we felt strongly about having a cultural Presence with locals involved. AFIDER was a local NGO that caught our attention due to their grassroots style, knowledge of microcredit, and commitment to quality over quantity. Actually, those are some of the greatest lessons I have ever learned about doing development work—1) collaborate by soliciting the knowledge of the people who know what it is to life here and 2) don’t try to force work to go more quickly because your funders want it to. Both of these are values that are integral to our organization.

It was great to see the staff at AFIDER again whom I’ve now known for almost two years. They treat me like a friend and know my humorous style, so there is a lot of laughing when we are together. As a quick aside, with no working bathroom at the office (or anywhere in site), I was quickly reminded about one of the fondest “gratitudes” I have for life in the U.S., plumbing that works. Of course, the day as it was “scheduled” didn’t go according to plan, but went perfectly as things seem to do on the “let it all fall together” Peruvian timeline.

At 9am, women began coming into the office since today was “Dia de Compras” (Product Purchasing Day). Nora left this announcement with all the women before she left for her break in the U.S. in late November. Interestingly enough, we got several calls at the office this morning from women making sure Nora actually came back AT ALL so they could bring their products. Other women didn’t make anything because they didn’t want to invest in materials not trusting that Nora would return. Despite the fact that Nora told everyone she indeed was coming back In January, this lack of trust in her return is a byproduct of NGO’s all over the world, especially organizations run by developed world countries, i.e. U.S. and Europe. People in poverty all over the world have witnessed organizations with their quick-fix mentality come and go and leave them with nothing better than before or nothing sustainable to help them change their lives. This is precisely why the microcredit model is so popular…it embraces the “teach a person to fish so they can fish for themselves” mentality. Without consideration of long-term change, organizations proliferate fear from the dependencies they create with the locals, not to mention the heartache and hardship they leave in their wake.

All through the morning and afternoon, the women arrived at the office and the overwhelming feeling was one of joy. The women were so happy Nora came back, and she has developed such real relationships with them that she was equally as joyful. Nora had organized purchasing day so that each woman could bring 20 items that she made based on lessons taught in a DiscoverHope artisan class. We currently hold these buying days quarterly and pay fair price for these items. For example, in Cajamarca a pair of earring may sell on the streets for 50 cents. We pay almost $2. A table runner weaving made by a woman who raised her own sheep, shaved the fur, spun the wool into thread, dyed the thread naturally with plants, and weaved the tapestry could receive $15 here in Peru for art, while DHF pays between $40-80 for this piece based on all the work put into this organic handmade art. Nora and I spent the afternoon greeting women, helping them display their items, and once all were departed, we chose the pieces for purchase so I could bring them back to the U.S. Tomorrow the women will return and receive their money for the purchases we made (we buy something from everyone), and each women has a sit-down advice session about how she can improve the quality/augment the style of her pieces for U.S. export. (Side note: we also have classes for similar subjects focused on products that are more specifically for the local market here as the styles differ significantly). For those of you who have purchased our women’s items or may some day, these funds are so important as they go into a restricted pot to support further development classes in artisan work for the women. In essence, the circle is completed. (To the right is a pict of me and Aida who brought purses in).

The second part of the day of Progress was Nora and I streaming the inauguration through CNN.com live so we could be part of history. It just so happened that no women came during this time, which was awesome for us. While the video picture was frozen, we could hear the sound and that sufficed for today. AFIDER staff asked us questions about our new President. In general, without getting political on this blog since it’s not the place, we explained a change in the movement of our country…at a time when we are down there is a lot of enthusiasm for this leader as a whole. We all hope, as the rest of the world hopes, this will affect the entire world. When you are away from the U.S., you see literally that the President of the United States is in fact, the President of the World. The power dynamic affects everything. This is pretty intense if you think about it. To the left is a pict of me giving the thumbs up to the fact that the cable was working and we got the inauguration live.

The third piece of Progress today was meeting with the entire AFIDER staff and Board for evening coffee and humitas (like tamales but without meat). Dinner is not a popular meal here and for local folks, is not prepared for the most part. Evening time usually is for cafecito (coffee) and pan (bread). Lunch, or siesta, lasts about 2-3 hours in the afternoon depending on the person and is the biggest meal of the day. This full meeting with AFIDER is always very symbolic as we convene and sign our collaborative contract and everyone witnesses this act. There is something very important about this witnessing that legalizes and legitimizes the entire partnership. After signing the contact, there are the required “formal speeches” that the leaders give expressing their appreciation, their hopes, and anything else they feel like saying. Each speech is completed with a group “Salud” (Cheers) (See group pict to the right, Nora and Maggie—the Gringas, with AFIDER staff and Board).

After signing our contract we began the discussion about our Women’s Development Center: a space where we can bring together women to have classes, study in the small library, learn culinary dishes in the kitchen, utilize technology if they desire, take sewing classes on machines if they want to learn, display their artwork to the local community, and more (and a working bathroom would be incredible!) This project is very exciting to both AFIDER and DiscoverHope, but most importantly for the women for a long-term sustainable method to teach them and eventually hand ownership of all of it to them in the future. We will be launching the plans for the Development Center in February; please write to us if you have any interest in connecting your energy to this space, especially if you are not in Austin and can’t make our Feb event to explore it with us. Tomorrow I will go space-hunting with Jorge, the Director of AFIDER. He said we would do it “rapido” (quickly), but I know better, this is my day long event.

It’s past midnight and being a woman of my word, I missed my deadline for today’s blog…it will post past Jan 20! Good thing I don’t work for a newspaper, I’d be canned. Oh, just realized I am on East Coast time, so for most of you I am still good to go...now that takes a weight of my ol' soul.
To progress, and hopeful creation for our entire world. MM

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