Posts Tagged ‘sustainable development’

I got in touch with Celeste Hamilton from Idealist.org a few weeks back to have a chat about the Dunham Institute’s Volunteer Teach course, which I’m helping out to promote at the moment.  We ended up having a great chat about all things volunteer and I can only gush in a slightly excessive way about how great Celeste and Idealist are.  If you haven’t signed up for their new “Imagine” project, I strongly advise you to do so…

One of the results of my discussion was a  guest post on Idealist’s blog, La Vida Idealist.  I just got an email from Celeste to tell me that it’s now up online, so you can read a few hundred words burbling on about my experiences teaching in Mexico – enjoy!


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A boat docked in a tiny Mexican fishing village.

A tourist complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long.” they answered in unison.

“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”

The fishermen explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” “We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take siestas with our wives. In the evenings, we go into the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs.  We have a full life.”

The tourist interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?”

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.

Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant.

You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City!

From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?”

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years.” replied the tourist.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting, answered the tourist, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions?  Really? And after that?” asked the fishermen.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

“With all due respect sir, but that’s exactly what we are doing now. So what’s the point wasting twenty-five years?” asked the Mexicans.

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For the last couple of weeks during my teaching and online livelihood investigation, Lou has been steadily tearing her hair out trying to find a reliable home for the donation sent to her by Peros to help the homeless communities affected by the flooding in the Sacred Valley.

It has by no means been an easy road, with community infighting for resources, allegations from all and sundry about the validity of some claims about being homeless/in need of food etc. and a great deal of NGOs stepping on each other’s toes, not to mention the process of starting and managing a project here between locals and extranjeros, an experience akin to herding cats.  There’s also been the overarching issue of how best to use the finances; short-term aid relief or long-term sustainable development project?

In the darkest hour of a haphazard meeting, Lou plucked a solution from the ether; why not buy animals for the affected communities so that they can be reared, sold and eaten?  It covered all the bases for handing self-generating resources over to the communities and avoiding the situation where all the money would be spent after a couple of months, leaving the communities no better of then when the floods first hit.

Amusingly, the most suitable animal of choice turned out to be the cuy, or guinea pig.  These squeaky little furballs are normally classified as pets to be polished off by over-zealous children in the UK, but here they are precious commodities.  Growing to full maturity in about 3-4 months, your average cuy can then mate to produce more (and believe me, they do given half a chance) or be sold to restaurants and suppliers at a tidy profit.  This forms the basis of a very stable business, which has the obvious benefits of additionally generating a food supply and a much-needed source of nutrition to the diets of the locals.  With a certain amount of humoured disbelief, Lou has set the wheels in motion for a guinea pig empire.

She’s been working with a team composed of a range of people over the last couple of weeks, which recent swelled to include a couple of agronomists, specialists in the agro-industrialisation of cuy.  One particular proponent of the crack squad of fur-peddlers has been Carlos, a Cusqueñan who has a powerful desire to help in any way possible.  Sadly, this tends to manifest itself in fairly short-sighted thinking, rushing out to buy building materials at great expense and putting up structures without due planning or consideration for the needs of the community or the wider priorities of the situation.  It seems that Carlos sees the available fund as bottomless and capable of sustaining random unguided projects for all eternity, which it obviously isn’t.

Most of Carlos’ ideas begin with a colourful sketch on graph paper (one presumes to emphasises the engineering importance of the scheme).  Sometimes these drawings include measurements, sometimes not.  Having accepted the cuy project reluctantly (he was angling to put up as many kitchens as possible and keep supplying them with food until the money ran out) he swung into action with these works of art below.

Witness the majesty of...Cuylandia!

When pressed for specific costing on ‘Cuy Land’, three categories were submitted, each with their own question mark (literally) to substantiate the pending financial liability.  Costs, it seemed, were not a factor in this scheme.  No joke, here’s the breakdown in the 4th section of the proposal, “Investment”:

  • Ground: 500m2 * $??? = $????
  • Construction: $????? (does the greater amount of exclamation marks infer a higher cost?)
  • Guinea pigs: $????
  • I have to admire Carlos’ enthusiasm, but the short-sighted nature of his schemes is fairly depressing.  I have to say that it’s a fairly characteristic approach that I’ve seen demonstrated many times in Peru; many people here will insist on taking an extra 20 soles extra out of your hand today without thinking about the possibility that their pushy attitude will lose them future business with you that could add up to a lot more than the short-term win.

    The other sobering point is the complete lack of willingness to take the time to speak to someone who knows what they are doing; Carlos really doesn’t have a clue (his drawings bear strong testament to this), but he’s been insistent in his proposal despite failure to provide costing and also very unsupportive of any alternatives or measures of caution and consideration provided by the rest of the group.  This has demonstrated the double-edged sword of  another characteristic Peruvian attitude; there’s nothing wrong with rolling your sleeves up and having a go, but resistence to experienced or educated advice can be tiresome and potentially damaging.

    All in all, not an easy situation for Lou to manage, but with an increasing number of capable heads around her she’s sure to see the project through to a successful outcome.

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