Guest post by Stephanie Rosenbaum, Team Peru 2015
“You’ll want to manage your expectations.” I heard that phrase first on a Skype call during Fall 2014 Policy Analysis Class. We were talking with half of the AASD- two out of the four members of the organization were crammed onto the screen, looking quite cold and about as thrilled to be there talking to us as we were to be talking to them (background: it was 3 PM on a sunny September Thursday afternoon. Being inside a stuffy room was no one preferred location at that time). But the point was valid, even beyond the conditions of the day.
I didn’t really have any idea what to expect before going down to Peru- I had never been to the country, or the continent before. I knew it was likely going to be rainy and cold, except for when it was hot. And the altitude could be a problem, we were warned. So I packed a bunch of rain gear, hiking clothes, hiking boots, only one book and lots of socks and left my house at 3 AM to get to SFO in time for my flight hoping for the best. And really, it was the best. Not every moment but in general, and in hindsight, so much of what could have gone wrong didn’t, and most of what could have gone right did.
So what exactly could have gone wrong? In my more worry-wort moments, I thought of constant, drenching, freezing downpours; debilitating altitude sickness; other kinds of sickness you might expect in a rural Peruvian mountain town; unfriendly people not interested in taking our survey; feeling completely cut off from the research process because I don’t speak Spanish; crappy team dynamics…etc etc. I can find multiple things to worry about in just about any situation, let alone one as unknown as this was.
But…those things didn’t happen. Well, most of them didn’t. It only drenched us in rain a few times, and it wasn’t totally freezing. I didn’t get altitude sickness at all. I did get the flu but that was something that could have happened in any country. People were incredibly friendly, my lack of Spanish wasn’t a problem (and during my time there my Spanish skills markedly improved!), our team had the kind of serendipitous lack of personality clashes that make it clear that no matter how many team building exercises you do (we didn’t do any), chance will always have a say in how a group of people get along when thrown together 12 to a house, 24 hours a day at 11,000 feet.
What does this have to do with the idea of managing expectations? Because I went in expecting neither the best nor the worst, I was open to everything. When something good happened, it was a lovely bonus surprise and when something not so good happened it was eaiser to shrug off as just a part of the experience. If I’d had a set of expectations in my mind, I would not have been open to a lot of the possibilities that only became reality once we were actually in the country and I probably would have been a lot more upset by anything negative because it would have been interfering with my little mental plan, even if my mental plan had very little in common with reality.
Confession time: I’m a planner. Back home in Monterey, I plan just about every hour of my day. I mean I write down what homework I’m doing when, which hours I’m going to eat what meals and where I’m volunteering when. And in the past, when I’ve traveled I’ve leaned more towards that same system. (As a side note, I think this probably stems from spending so much time in rehearsals both at home and abroad- you need to schedule carefully to be on time when you’re a performer.) But travel isn’t a rehearsal. And I’ve been discovering the beauty in an unscheduled, and therefore expectation free, hour. And that possibility multiplies exponentially when you’re somewhere completely new. If you think you know exactly what to expect, you miss those possibilities.
So what’s the point? As I see it, there are two prongs to this point: one, that old cliché you hear about how much you learn about both yourself and the world while traveling is actually pretty true, and two, managing your expectations and being open-minded are very good things indeed.
Posted in Guest Posts From Students ,Team Peru Reports February 15, 2015
Guest post by Joy Mulhollan, J-Term 2014 Peru Policy Course Participant
Team Peru January 2014 was divided into four groups, studying in either Calca, Lares, Choquecancha, or Suyo. For the Calca group, our goal was to conduct ten surveys per day, so the seven of us divided into two teams. To not run the risk of surveying the same person and to cover as much ground as possible, we organized ourselves through maps and randomization. On one of our first days we used a satellite image to hand-draw maps of the area, dividing Calca into five quadrants and labeling all the streets, with Chris’ help to identify key landmarks. We also were responsible for completing a site survey. Utilizing a smartphone application and GPS functions for mapping on a group cell phone, we documented businesses, evidence of crime, government and law enforcement presence, and various forms of infrastructure.
Conducting the household survey gave us a unique opportunity to interact with the community. One of my favorite respondents was a man in his 80s. After we finished his survey, he invited us behind his home to see his garden, where he grabbed his harmonica and performed a short song for us. It was so great to be able to have that experience, and I know it’s something I’ll never forget. Another favorite surveying memory occurred during the first week, when when we were invited by a woman to conduct the survey in her yard. Her two children were running around the yard, and the girl picked flowers and shyly watched us from a distance. After the survey concluded, we began our post-survey debrief, and by the time we had made it to the end of the street, we turned and saw the little girl was running after us. She gave us the big, pink flowers she had picked, then turned around and ran back home.
Experiences like these really helped us feel welcome in the Calca community. I personally learned a lot about the Sacred Valley, details of what it’s like to work alongside the AASD, what it’s like to work with interpreters. I even gained professional experience interacting with some Calca government officials. Although there certainly were some unexpected challenges, every day brought opportunities for learning and improving upon what we had done the day before.
Posted in Uncategorized February 26, 2014
This January, a group of 25 students from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) traveled down to the Sacred Valley to put their semester-long theories into practice. What began as a Policy Analysis course in Monterey with Professor Jeffrey Dayton-Johnson segued into a field course that placed students in Calca, Lares, Choquecancha, and Suyo, Peru, to conduct surveys and interviews in remote rural communities. The research design was created throughout the Fall semester in the Policy class, which focused heavily on the country of Peru and issues of poverty and connectivity. Co-taught by Professors Jeff Dayton-Johnson, Fernando DePaolis, Kent Glenzer, Robert McCleery, and Phil Murphy, the Policy Analysis: Peru course brought together multidisciplinary approaches to learning about and analyzing international development policy.
Great photo of the Lares survey team in action.
The course is an exciting step for the Andean Alliance (AASD), as they have been an important partner in the process since the idea came about in the Spring of 2013. The AASD has collaborated with the class and the professors as key informants on the development landscape in the Sacred Valley as the class shaped the research study from September to December. They have facilitated the entire organization of the winter practica, preparing all the communities for the students’ arrivals, and getting the local governments on board with the research being conducted. The AASD hopes to utilize the data collected in Peru not only to inform their organization and the MIIS community, but to better inform the local and regional government.
Awesome photo of a greenhouse, skillfully taken by J-term participant Maritza Munzon (IEM/MPA)
The partnership between the Andean Alliance has strengthened over the years. The organization has served as learning partners for various MPA class research and evaluation projects, has co-taught the Community Social Change workshop, and has now been a key partner for a research design that could have deep repercussions for both policy informing and policy change at levels in and beyond the Sacred Valley of Peru. We look forward to hearing about the experiences and results of the policy students who spent this winter with the Andean Alliance on this groundbreaking research initiative!
What a great shot! Photo of a community assembly in Choquecancha, skillfully taken by J-term participant Ximena Ospina (IEM/MPA)
Posted in Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Immersive Education ,NGO Network ,Uncategorized January 23, 2014
Guest Post by Matt Jira, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
After two solid years of studying development at MIIS (which included DPMI, Development Economics, and Development Theories and Practices), I thought I had a firm grasp on what community development looked like, and how it should be approached. Then, this little one-credit workshop that I decided to take at the last minute in order to fill a gap in my schedule radically altered my understanding of development. I felt like I was on an episode of Community Development Myth Busters. I had originally viewed this workshop as an opportunity to refine my view on community development, but left realizing that something greater than simply my view needed to change. The view of development that I owned was shaped by the books that I had read, and the lectures and learning experiences in which I had participated. I began to realize that there is a greater power, or paradigm, that is driving a lot of the mainstream development epistemic community; and that paradigm is in desperate need of change.
It seems as if the term “participatory development” exists as a requisite ancillary of community development (as it rightly should). Yet, our understanding of what participatory development entails is often skewed by our Western development lens. In the vast majority of community development case studies that I have reviewed, participatory development existed by virtue of “community ownership” of the development process or project. Regardless of the extent to which a village council, self-help group, or town government is able to make decisions and hold the proverbial financial reins; whoever owns the visioning process, the timeline, and the overall definition of success, owns the project. The Andean Alliance was able to show us in three short days, just how effective and meaningful community development can be when it occurs organically. This “organic development” means that the projects are generated within the community, implemented on their timeline, and measured by their standards. The role of a development organization within this concept shifts almost entirely to capacity building and advising; a role in which fewer personnel, and greater amounts of humility, are required. For the most part, this means shifting away from what we think is right, and working with them to find effective ways of developing what they think is right.
The big shift inherent in drifting towards this type of development, is the great divorce from the results-driven Western development approach. It is impossible to embrace this slower, more sustainable style of organic development while maintaining the traditional ideology. This shift towards a more endogenous style of development does not, however, require that we divorce ourselves from the participatory paradigm. Par contre, we simply need to redefine it in the light of this new ideology. A participatory focus is still an intrinsic component of any true community development process. Nonetheless, we must redefine ownership, and our role within this participation, and allow things to progress at the pace of the community instead of the pace of the donor. However, until our ideology shifts (and all of the things influenced by it: M&E structure, project timelines, ownership, accountability channels, etc.), this move towards a more organic form of development will remain hindered on a large scale.
Posted in Uncategorized May 28, 2013
Guest Post by Lily Thorpe-Buchanan, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
Some of the most meaningful discussions we had during our weekend workshop, Community Social Change, were surrounding the idea of “downward accountability.” This, essentially, means maintaining accountability to the community you are serving. Although I’m not a fan of the phrase, the idea behind it, in my opinion, should be the idea driving all development work. We explored this idea in a number of ways during our time with Aaron and Adam, including when we mapped concepts of community social change, and in exploration of a number of case studies surrounding the Andean Alliance. This is one of the things I also appreciate most about Adam and Aaron and the Andean Alliance as a whole, as they seem to adhere to this as a key value underlying everything they do within the organization, which is illustrated by Aaron’s story of turning down a large grant because the work was not in line with what the community needed.
In considering this theme of accountability, I find myself with more questions than answers. How do other organizations maintain this “downward accountability?” It seems like much of this comes from the relationship and trust one builds with the community, but especially for far-reaching organizations, that have programs all over the world, and high turn-around rates for individuals in each location, this is a huge challenge. Should more work be trusted to smaller, grassroots organizations, like the Andean Alliance? How would this impact capacity, and the very nature of the smaller organizations?
Posted in Uncategorized May 21, 2013
Guest Post by Emily Patrick, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
Community Social Change is a unique development process that is immensely dependent on local practices and community history. The AASD has taken a very unique approach to working within, and ultimately, becoming a part of, the communities in which they operate. Their approach is based on respect and in many ways, is dependent on organic processes that emerge over time. Given their commitment to working in these communities for the long run, building relationships without specific expectations or pressures is a wise avenue to pursue. In many cases, development professionals fall into the trap of arriving to situations with a myriad of prepackaged designs and intended outcomes. With such a ridged arrival, the potential for truly organic emergence of locally relevant processes is less likely. Having a truly organic approach to development in the region may actually be a tremendously innovative approach. Understanding more about the impact of the AASD approach is something that will be revealed over time.
Working within a community, whether it is for a long or short period, is heavily dependent on power dynamics that emerge as a result of interaction approaches on behalf of the community members and development workers. The effort AASD makes to become part of the community through meaningful relationship building is powerful. A lingering question for me is, how does the community change as relationships with ‘outsiders’ develop? How does this relationship interact with traditional development processes and the emergence of organic processes?
Posted in Uncategorized May 21, 2013
Guest Post by Franck Lemperle, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
In the last couple of months, since my first day at MIIS, I have been trying to understand what exactly social development means to me. I could not find any answers which would enable me to prove my current enrollment in this school. The world population is over 7 billion people and one third of this number tries to develop its knowledge to keep moving forward, without ever thinking of looking back to see what they provoked. Who is accountable for the hungry or those who do not have enough water? Who is accountable for those two hundred children who will have died in the world because of a lack of food or water by the time I will have finished this paragraph? Am I? Are you? Here is the question I have been asking myself since January.
Being one of these 7 billion people who decides to follow the path of social development is a tough question and needs a deeper reflection to justify any implications in this sector. Social development is not spared from corruption or bad management by those who take advantage of this “market” that might be very lucrative, to the point that they forget the moral code of each of us who is involved to improve the life of millions of people. The solution is maybe to reduce “the capacity” and to think more like a human being. We must come back to the source of who we are and ask ourselves what is the purpose of what we do? We should think like a human being who has honest ethics on a human scale. The world became capitalistic, and globalization is one of the powerful forces in the world today; did social development take the same path? If so, the first actor who would be reached is the community.
Without a social change background and with only a limited perspective of what I am talking about, AASD has changed my view of what community social change should be and which approach might be the best to help communities in need. What I’ve seen during this workshop is honesty, engagement, sharing, involvement; what I did not see is any barriers between these actors and the community. All these virtues enable a frank contact with communities and lead to a humane and ethical approach which might be the minimum to realize upstream of the process of development. This weekend opened my mind to the process that ought to follow a strategy of community social development. It has to follow an organic way, a human way to build a solid pedestal to improve the lives of millions of people. AASD is the perfect model of an instinct behavior for the sake of social development.
In the context of this workshop, the case study was very helpful to understand what is happening in the Lares region. Working on it in-depth was a very good opportunity to understand these different concepts of what are the main ideas of the community social change. The framework we created during the first day was very powerful and illuminated the case study. Our case study has been theorized thanks to the framework, and both juxtaposed each other. Working on the case study greenhouse project taught me that the community is not always the priority of the different stakeholders and that a lot of work has to be done to address the question: who has the right to do something in a different cultural context?
Posted in Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 21, 2013
Guest Post by Haroon Noori, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
The Community Social Change workshop helped me broaden my perspective of development in rural areas; embedding AASD’s experiences into the workshop’s curriculum further refined my understanding of community social change. This workshop was also a great complement for my Social Sector Needs Assessment class here at MIIS.
After the framework was developed and applied to our case studies, and when the skits were performed, I came to realize that community development is not a simple task. It is slow, frustrating, and complex. It is even more complex in communities that have complex sociopolitical and cultural structures. Reflecting on this point and also that community development is dealing with people, I have come to realize that we – as prospective development practitioners – should be very much aware of the social and cultural anthropologies of the communities we will be working in. Without understating power and other social structures in communities, the goal of community development and social change might not be conceivable in any meaningful way. Moreover, one has to have strong facilitation skills (as I noticed in the case of Aaron and Adam) to be able to tackle the power dynamics within a community, to be able to foster a democratic environment for the exchange of dialogue, to promote awareness, and to facilitate activities.
AASD’s bottom-up strategy of community development work in Peru (helping communities to recognize and develop their abilities and potentials and organizing them to respond to their own problems and needs) reinforced and contextualized my understanding of the definition of community development.
Posted in Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 15, 2013
Guest Post by Mandy Kruse, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
This class highlighted the time, effort, and buy-in that is required to achieve social change by engaging and involving communities. In our case study specifically the projects failed – failed because there was not a strong leader in the schools to support the project. The problem was not so much funding, as it was buy-in. Aaron and Adam even said lack of funding shaped their initial strategy and strengthened their commitment to slow and thorough development work. That is not to say that development organizations do not need funding; there needs to be balance.
That is the biggest takeaway I got from this class. I think it should be recognized that we do not always have the resources or the time to do development in a way that is inclusive, relevant, and effective. However, if development intervention is not sufficiently inclusive, relevant, and effective, is it worth the time (however short), or the funding (especially when it could be allocated more usefully)? When working in community development we must always be asking ourselves if the work we are doing is actually worth the funding we get, and even more so, worth the time of the community with whom we are engaging? If we do not satisfy these things, we can do a lot more harm than good.
Posted in Agriculture Projects ,BLOG ,Guest Posts From Students ,Immersive Education May 15, 2013
Guest Post by Charlotte Carr, Community Social Change Workshop, April 2013
In the MPA program at MIIS, we are urged to approach development work with participatory asset-based methods. This dictates that development practitioners should identify the pre-existing strengths of a community and develop programming that builds on these strengths. This approach aims to create sustainable community-driven development programs. Asset-based approaches typically utilize participatory methods, seeking to include the community in all steps of the development program process, and are usually sustainable in part because they are based around structures already in place in a community. The opposite, and frequently practiced approach, would be for an outsider to enter a community and identify what they perceive as problems, and work to implement a foreign solution in the community. By not integrating the programming into the community through participatory approaches and building on strengths, the results are typically ineffective or unsustainable.
An idea that struck me during the Community Social Change workshop, that goes along with the ideals of asset-based development, was offered by Aaron Ebner during the panel discussion. He said, “in the history of development, people have looked for the neediest, but we should be looking for those with the most potential.” To me, this idea exemplifies the best practices taught in the MPA curriculum, as well as the development processes used by the AASD. The assets of the community the AASD has identified are the community members themselves. The community members are not targeted because they are perceived as the worst off, they are the farmers and weavers who have the most potential to use their pre-existing strengths to empower themselves and their community.
Posted in Uncategorized May 9, 2013