I have started a new project here in Guido Almada. This project is coming from a newly gained perspective: I realized that the key to successful development (at least here in my community) is through encouraging shared experiences and support among members of the community.
My neighbors are incredibly knowledgeable and unbelievably capable, but their reluctance to pursue change comes largely from lack of tangible motivation. Therefore, I have decided that whatever project I implement next, it would be best served to tap that potential within the community itself—an “auto-catalyzed” process of internal development.
To do this, I want to stimulate communication and ideas between my Paraguayan neighbors. They all have experiences with a variety of organic techniques (partly from working with me, but also from years of farming and work with other governmental and non-governmental groups). The goal is to create a forum and a platform for them to engage with these experiences, share them, and motivate each other to implement them.
I am currently developing a manual that covers a variety of organic and sustainable gardening and farming techniques. As opposed to being a detailed technical manual, it is a very general reference packet that is written in Spanish (most of my neighbors, though they speak Guaraní, cannot read Guaraní) and relies primarily on illustrations to communicate basic organic techniques and principles. After I complete this book, with help from Peace Corps friends who are far greater artists than I, the plan is to hold a community workshop to teach and demonstrate the basics of the manual. The manual will include topics such as deep-bed methods, companion planting, homemade pesticides and herbicides, composting, worm composting, crop rotation, green manures, and several others.
After the workshop, my idea is to give every neighbor a copy of the manual. I will then spend several months working with many of them on a variety of these techniques. Using the manual as a communication platform and their personal experiences as a sort of currency for them to share, I hope that the notion of cultivating these practices will be automatic among community members.
Of course, it won’t be perfect, and I am going to continue spending the next year of my Peace Corps service working with families one-on-one and trying to convince them that my ideas aren’t crazy. Hopefully, as this collective community experience grows, more and more will be willing to accept and attempt such organic practices—especially when the encouragement and stimulus comes from their own neighbors instead of some long-haired, strange-sounding North American in desperate need of a meal and a shower.
This is the plan at least. I have learned enough by this point in my experiences with development (and life, for that matter) to know that the reality will likely not be even close to this ideal. Still, I hope that this project and the concepts I will try to instill along with it will create some sort of dialogue among my neighbors. Maybe that is the key to getting though this communication barrier: to side-step it altogether. Jahechata (which means “we will see” in Guaraní). —Mario Machado