Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Three Vignettes of Successful Projects

Recently, I was asked by my Program Director to provide three vignettes of success Rural Community Development Projects in our sites.  To give an update on some of the work we've been involved in I've provided a copy of my report to him below.  These projects have come at the expense of much fear and loathing, but in the end Melinda and I feel very proud and accomplished after having perservered to be able to see the results.  Indeed, we are at a stage in our service now where much of the groundwork we've laid over the past year and a half is starting to pay off.  In addition to the projects mentioned below, we've also got two other grants pending, one to replace the ceramic tile in our school and another to help buy materials to support a garden project there as well.  We've also almost finish a World Map mural project at the school, which we've used to teach elementary kids geography (pictures to come in further post).

I hope that you enjoy reading about the work you see below and know that your support of our Peace Corps service has helped make these successes possible, whether it be all of the assistance in our preparations pre-Peace Corps to just reading and following the blog and inspiring others with the positive actions which you perform in your individual lives for your family, friends and community.

Vignette #1:


When Melinda and I first arrived in Hone Creek, we were surprised to find that the Corredor Biológico, my counterpart organization, had not incorporated the Hone Creek Elementary School into its Environmental Education Program.  We asked Karla Murillo, the Program Director, why this was the case and she said that a couple of years back the school was involved in the Program, but that there was a fall-out from an incident where she had planned a school field trip complete with transportation and food, but when the bus showed up to pick up the kids on the day of the event, nobody was at school and she had not been notified.  When she confronted the teacher about it, the teacher said it had never been planned for that day and when brought to the attention of the school principal, the principal sided with the teacher.  Consequently, the Corredor decided to pull its support for environmental education for the school.

Fast-forward a few years into future - Melinda and I have had our first few meetings with the Principal and they have been fairly icy and unwelcoming.  We're not sure we want to work with the school at all and Melinda is concerned as this is the only school in our community and she is a Youth Development volunteer.  We've been told by the Corredor and other parties that the principal is difficult to work with and it is almost impossible to collaborate there.  We think about giving up. 

We finally schedule our first few environmental classes and they appear to go well and the principal warms up to us a bit, but not too much.  Over time, we persist as the principal treats us unpredictably, some days quite bruskly, not having time for us to communicate what we want in another language, which then makes us all the more anxious to communicate with her.  But we keep persisting, continuing with our environmental education classes.

In February of the 2012, we finally receive a donation of recycling bins that I had been working hard on for now more than 4-5 months from Florida Bebidas and we finally begin a nascent effort to recycle in the school.  Melinda and I receive a donation of materials to paint a world map mural on one of the school walls and we sand and re-paint the wall in preparation for the mural.  The school principal is finally starting to see results which we've worked very hard to achieve over our previous year of service and she's finally starting to smile.  She invites us to a parent / teacher meeting where we're able to introduce ourselves to the families of the kids in the school and ask for their support in our projects.  We're also invited to administrative meetings with teachers to present some of our projects.  Doors are starting to open and we're starting to finally feel accepted.

In April we are in the principal's office and she mentions that she's got a meeting with the Corredor Biológico that day.  She didn't explain why so we didn't think much of it at the time.  We scheduled some environmental education classes and went about our day.  Later that week we run into Karla from the Corredor and ask her what the meeting was about and she tells us that they've reincorporated the school back into the Environmental Education Program and we know that this has happened with the effort we've taken to make the bridge between my counterpart organization and the school.  Nobody thanks us for our effort, but it isn't necessary.  We're just happy because the work that we've been performing with the school is leading to sustainable environmental education once again which will hopefully last long after the time we COS.

Vignette #2:


Melinda and I arrived in Hone Creek with the challenge from my counterpart organization, the Corredor Biológico Talamanca Caribe (CBTC), to help them start the first domestic recycling pick-up program in Talamanca and perhaps all of Limón.  As those that have worked in the field of solid waste management well know this task doesn’t come without significant obstacles, especially given that our community has a population of 1,500 and is located in the poorest canton of Costa Rica, according to the United Nations Human Development Index statistics from 2009.

Melinda and I, and our counterpart Karla Murillo, who is in charge of the Environmental Education Department sent out 50 invitations to the neighbors of the CBTC to our first presentation on solid waste management after about 3 months of time integrating in our site.  We ordered snacks and had a coordinated presentation ready, but unfortunately not one community member showed up.  After significant hard work in putting together the invitations and developing the presentation, our expectations were significantly deflated, but not broken. Our counterpart organization and we decided to go back to lick our wounds, go back to the drawing board and reassess our approach.

 Approximately six months later we decided to start a pilot recycling program in one of the streets in Hone Creek.  We coordinated with a local pastor to allow us to use the space in his church for the presentation.  We sent out invitations to everyone who lived on the street, which also happened to be the same one in which Melinda and I live, giving us a better chance to draw attention to our project knowing that the neighbors knew us better than the previous group we invited to our first presentation.

 As the hour arrived to start the discussion, we sat in the church with the first attendee, an 8 year old girl from our English class.  Karla Murillo showed up, but had to leave as she very obviously appeared to be ill and to our dismay we were concerned we would have to do the presentation on our own.  Fifteen minutes passed by and we’d had a couple of others pass by and one elderly lady who decided to stay.  At this time, I decided to take the matter into my own hands and walk house to house dragging people out to attend the meeting, including a neighbor, Don Justo, who quit his work in chopping down bananas to join us in the discussion.  We sent around the attendance sheet and 17 community members were now present, but we were still concerned that we’d be doing the presentation alone; however, as soon as we were about to start, Viejo (Don Cruz, but he prefers solely Viejo), who is in charge of the local recycling center in Patiño, a neighboring community to Hone Creek, showed up to support us and help make consensus on how we would approach the pilot initiative.

The pilot project turned out to be a success, but we changed our strategy from merely having community presentations, to going door-to-door education and bringing awareness to the benefits of recycling and proper solid waste management.  We expanded the project street by street, until we had currently covered the entire center of Hone Creek, approximately 200 houses visited with 33% participating in the project frequently, while another 17% participating inconsistently (a total of 50%).  We’ve also including businesses including one of the Internet cafés, the local Palí and the local banana plantation at the entrance of town.

As a part of our work, we’ve created brochures regarding the reasons why and what can be recycled and a pick-up calendar so people can remember the dates.  As a demonstration of the sustainability of our project, our counterpart organization has used the data of our work in meetings regarding the 5 year Talamanca Municipality Plan to Manage Solid Waste.  We have been asked by the indigenous Bribri community of Shiroles to share our successes and failures so they can replicate the project in their community.  We’ve trained the Junior Red Cross Volunteers and new Peace Corps volunteers in the regions on the education aspect of the project so they can perform the same work in their communities.  There’s still plenty of work to be done, especially inside the Hone Creek School, but we have 9 months left before we close service and this project now has some serious wings and our community is on the verge of flying. 

Vignette #3:


In early 2012, Moises Leon, Program Director of the Rural Community Development Program and Stephen Lanning, Rural Community Development Volunteer in Hone Creek, Talamanca, sat down with Stephen’s counterpart agency representatives, Rosa Bustillos Lemaire (Executive Director) and Juan Carlos Barrantes (Director of the Agroecology Department), of the Corredor Biológico Talamanca Caribe (CBTC) with the idea to install solar panels to highlight the disastrous effects of climate change, promote the use of safe and clear energy alternatives and to encourage the adoption of other conservation practices to moderate the effects of global warming.

After more than 9 months working with his counterpart, Stephen Lanning has facilitated the allocation of funds to support this project from two Peace Corps grant sources, CRUSA and ECPA, which cover the majority of the projects cost of almost $14,300.00, with a third source of funding pending in a collaboration in the project from IBM as a part of their “Building a Smarter Planet” initiative with a tentative start date to install the panels in November 2012.  Purasol, the solar panel provider, has offered to arrange for a 10% discount on the materials and installation, given various community contributions arranged by the CBTC.  The solar panels will also be connected to the ICE energy grid by a two-way meter, and any surplus energy supplied by the CBTC will be sent back to the ICE grid for use by the greater ICE network, with energy credits given to the CBTC to help pay for any energy cost incurred during low solar production periods.  The panels themselves will be connected to a real-time Internet tool which will show the actual energy savings generated by the panels, which will be key in both auditing the energy savings, as well as for an educational tool to be used in classrooms and demonstrations.

As a pre-requisite to the project, the CBTC must attend an energy conservation workshop presented by the Peace Corps office and IBM, as well as provide materials, lodging and manual labor the day of the installation.  Additionally, the CBTC will use its network of 19 member organizations and its 15 member schools in its Environmental Education Program to bring awareness to climate change and encourage other organizations, communities and individuals to take steps, both small and large, to confront one of the substantial issues of our time, with the holistic approach that it will take the initiative of every citizen to mitigate the effects of global warming.  Moreover, the CBTC will promote the project and education on global warming on their website, as well as provide demonstrations and information regarding climate change, alternative energy and solar power to their more than 1,000 annual visitors at their headquarters. 

Sustainability is at the center of the project, given that solar power is one of the most sustainable sources of clean energy.  Additionally, the panels themselves have a lifetime of 20+ years.  Indeed, the CBTC does not see this project as merely the installation of the panels and the saving of funds on electricity expenditures which they can re-direct to other projects, but in the years of education and demonstrations that they will provide regarding climate change, which complement their several other projects regarding global warming including reforestation in the Sixaola and Carbón river basins, promoting seed banks and food security, encouraging sustainable cacao production and the diversity of agricultural production, and their Payment for Environmental Services program ( Pago por Servicios Ambientales – PSA) which reimburses regional farmers for conservation practices which preserve the biological corridor in which plants and animals migrate between the upper Talamancan mountain range to the Talamancan coastline.  Given the sustainable nature of this project and the wide network local, regional and national scope of the project, including the participation of IBM in both financing and collaborating in the project, this project has a tremendous ability to bring awareness to thousands of individuals and organizations regarding climate change.

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