This past week, I went to the various communities in two rural districts outside the city of Ayacucho, the campo. I’m unsure of the geographical distance, but the drives to the both districts, Totos and Maria Parado de Bellido (MPB), took about three hours* each.
The visit was part of the final evaluation period for CEDAP’s development competition, Pachamamanchikta Waqaychasun, which is Quechua for “Let’s Conserve Our Mother Earth.” Between March and November, the participating families, communities, and delegates** work to implement various developments within their homes. CEDAP sponsors workshops on conserving soil, purifying water, local farming, and organizing the home to help. After the final evaluation of the familes development, the two top-scoring families, delegates, and communities receive a monetary prize.
I headed to Totos for four days and then MPB on Friday. If you’ve been reading closely, you’ll notice that I spent four less days in MPB then I had originally planned. In that one day though, I spoke to members of four communities in MPB who were at market in the district capital, Pomobamba. I made the call to take a shorter trip to MPB in favor of regrouping.
During the four days in Totos, I struggled with various challenges. First, I have little experience being the lone outsider. I have been to rural areas before, but this was the first time I went as the lone gringo. I find it much more challenging. Yet, I could have overcome that because it is central to the YAV year.
Instead, it had more to do with feeling disconnected from CEDAP. It’s no secret that I communicate less than I want with my supervisor and the rest of the office. On this trip though, I realized this is limiting my ability to help.
This lack of communication is partially a survey I prepared flopped. The goal was to get a representative sample of the economic lives of the poor. It also flopped due to a few of my own mistakes, like forgetting to include certain questions as I rushed to put together a survey.
Also, I could not walk the evaluators through the survey because they learned about it three days before the evaluation started. Understandably, they did not like the additional work and in many cases they did not fill it out. They added that many families felt the survey was invasive. I never got that answer when conducting the survey, but I expect that’s cause of the novelty of speaking to a gringo. There’s loaded racial stuff there, but pragmatically, it was helpful.
The logical step should have been for me to stick around longer and be the one feeling out the survey. Yet, I realized that even when I was filling out the survey the results were far too inaccurate. I will still try to do some statistical analysis, but it is likely to flop for various issues ranging from statistical power to sampling bias.
Overall, I got a little overwhelmed. Once I learned that I would need to stay in MPB with only the evaluator and no members of CEDAP, I felt it was best to take the daytrip and then come back home and regroup. It reflects a shortcoming, but at the same time I do not think it will limit my work.
Basically, it was unrealistic to think the survey would work. You need more than two days of planning to pull off an informative eight-day survey. Instead, this trip was about familiarizing myself with districts and the families therein, which I did.
Totos is larger and fairly spread out over different altitudes, but full of largely similar communities. MPB is more densely packed around its capital, Pomobamba, with equally homogenous communities.
Plus, I interacted with families and gained experience overcoming language and cultural barriers. I often felt uncomfortable pushing for concrete answers, but I also enjoyed working with them to get accurate approximations of the answers. Plus, I enjoyed the challenging of translation into and out of Quechua as needed. Many thanks to the various members of CEDAP, for helping there.
I also realized that I need to learn to articulate a more nuanced opinion of poverty that encompasses the differences between urban and rural poverty, and its structural variants.
I did not meet a family that was struggling with hunger. They had plenty of food. In fact, many of them are net sellers of food, which was a huge finding for my economic evaluation. Plus, they are consuming the crops they grow instead of selling them for less nutritional calories like noodles and rice. That seems to be the result of CEDAP’s encouragement and push for them to keep a small garden for vegetables and fruit, in addition to their larger cereal plots.
Also, every family had electricity, water, and access to propane gas. These families have access to radio and television. Granted these were all second hand, but many families also had cable. They have cell phones and some access to the internet.
Now, I need to be careful here. I do not want to fall into the trap of saying that these families are not struggling, so the help is unnecessary. Instead, I need to consider how our standards of livings differ. Not how mine is higher, but how they differ based on different circumstances. For example, none of the families had bank accounts. Yet, no one complained from the lack of a bank account.
That being said, it’s a structural issue. Structurally, most did not see any reason for a bank account or access to loans, but that does not mean they should not have access. Insufficient credit markets are a real problem in the developing world.
Likewise, many of the families had pleasant lives when things were going well. One family noted that someone had recently stolen a large amount of their guinea pigs that they were planning to sell. The result? They just lost them. There was no way to find the burglar and no insurance market.
Essentially, sudden shocks can quickly snowball into major issues. Of course, communities provide informal insurance markets via support, but that has its limits. For example, it does not account for community-wide natural disasters.
This more comprehensive approach will be invaluable moving forward.
I also confirmed my discomfort with the method of competition. During the evaluation we entered families’ homes to take photos and assign point values to how well they organized their wardrobe or made a map of their house. It felt very paternalistic.
Of course, some tasks were good. Points are also awarded for keeping a compost and how well the families maintained their garden. Others had mixed results. Points are awarded for families’ initiatives. Sometimes that meant points for a list of family values and at other times it had to do with whether they setup a solar shower.
Overall, I do not like the point system. Ignoring paternalism, it turns development into a terminal goal. Plus, it is ineffective. Organizing your clothes in a wardrobe is not going to revolutionize your standard of living if you do not farm well.
Also, I don’t think CEDAP considers whether a family was already doing stuff before the evaluation. Also, I saw nothing recognizing the fact that richer families are more likely to be successful in implementing changes. So essentially, you could win for stuff you were already doing and it enables the rich getting more money.
Somehow, I plan on letting CEDAP know my reservations about PW. I really hated walking into people’s homes and taking photos of their rooms. A member of CEDAP, David, indicated that the competition is voluntary for privacy purposes, but I’m not sold.
Yet the most important lesson, was that I need to be more forward about communication with other staff members. Not only will it help me feel more relevant, but I’ll be able to help CEDAP far more. Many shortcomings in my survey could have been reduced had there been more initial communication.
I’ve already started working on that. I directly asked Tulia what she is seeking out of my economic evaluation and learned that I may need to reconsider how I do my work over the year.
*Keep in mind that Ayacuchanos rarely drive faster than 80 km/hr (50 mph) and many of the roads wind around the mountains.
**Delegates are those who have won in the past, but no more.