Reflection-Action Trip Participants and Partners Make Statement on Climate

I helped write this Statement on Climate that the PC(USA) released this week. It stems out of the the trip that members of the PC(USA) took in December. It brought together reflections from folks from the U.S., Peru, and Bolivia (and technically a Cameroon and a Brazil national, both of whom now live in the states). Rebecca Barnes, who runs Earth Care with the PC(USA) led the overall writing process.

I enjoyed seeing the final product of this shared writing process. Also, I am expecting push back, as well as, support from those around the church.

Anyway, please take a moment to read the statement.

Statement on Climate Justice:

A Faithful Response

We, youth representatives of diverse organizations and Christian institutions from Peru and Bolivia and pastors, elders, and young adults in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), met in December 2014 in Lima, Peru for an international gathering on climate change organized by the Red Uniendo Manos Peru with the support and accompaniment of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

  • We believe that climate change poses unprecedented, unjust peril that affects the most vulnerable populations.[1]
  • We are particularly concerned by the excessive, inequitable level of consumption that has created most of the recent climate disruption.[2]
  • Every day we hear and see the evidence of climate change in the change of seasons, food production, availability of water, disappearing glaciers (Andean glaciers have shrunk by 40% in the last 30 years), rising sea levels, and the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.[3]
  • We are seeing a new wave of “free” trade agreements being proposed as a source of prosperity. These agreements often are instruments of foreign investors and transnational corporations that will lead to greater inequality and accelerate the destruction of nature.[4]A current disturbing example of this is the Trans-Pacific Partnership.[5]
  • We know that if nothing is done to change these realities, we risk leaving the planet we borrowed from our ancestors uninhabitable for future generations.[6]

Faced with this situation, we feel that it is our duty and calling to stand in solidarity and to act faithfully for climate justice. With political will and people’s actions, we can influence things for the better. We support our brothers and sisters around the world who are defending access and equitable use of water and other common goods; who face political circumstances that favor extractive activities that harm their community; and who are speaking and acting against environmental, social and economic injustice. We believe that all creation is sacred, and that the human person has inviolable dignity. The Andean concept of “buen vivir” claims a good, joyful and sustainable life for all people and all the world, and affirms our belief that God created the world and called it good and placed humans in the world to care for it (Genesis 2:15), and that Christ came so that all may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10b).

Therefore, we urge:

  • Action by national and global authorities on adaptation and mitigation of climate change, paying particular attention to vulnerable populations;
  • Adoption of climate measures as well as active participation by individual countries in binding international agreements between countries, such as the UN COP meetings;
  • Rigorous review of extractive industries and others that accelerate greenhouse gas emissions, impact water quality and quantity, result in deforestation, and endanger the earth’s resiliency;
  • Financial and research support for renewable energy and energy efficient technologies, in order to build resilience in both urban and rural populations;
  • The building of healthier environments through more dynamic local economies.

And, we commit ourselves to:

  • Engage in a process of education to understand and address root causes of climate change, poverty and inequality;
  • Accept our past and present responsibilities for these root causes, embracing appropriate personal commitments and communal actions that will transform current realities;
  • Accompany local organizations and populations vulnerable to climate change, sharing their stories and valuing their contributions and leadership;
  • Seek a way of life that promotes harmony between humans and nature, while untangling ourselves from an economic model of endless growth and lifestyles that perpetuate socio-economic and environmental injustices;
  • Strengthen the leadership capacity of the youth, women and men from our organizations and communities;
  • Work on changing the system that advances climate change;
  • Reject any climate “solution” that furthers global inequalities or the commodification of life;
  • Pray for one another, support one another, and call others in the church and society to join us in being conscious of the consequences of climate change and active supporters of climate and environmental justice for a healthy world for all.

Lima, December 2014

[1] “unprecedented peril posed by global warming and climate change…: and “With our Lord, we will stand with ‘the least of these’ (Matt. 25:40) and advocate for the poor and oppressed in present and future generations who are often the victims of environmental justice and who are least able to mitigate the impact of global warming that will fall disproportionately on them.” (The Power to Change: U.S. Energy and Global Warming, 2008, approved by the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA), p10, p2)

[2] “We reject the claim that all nations should shoulder an equal measure of the burden associated with mitigating climate change. Industrialized nations like the United States that have produced most of the emissions over the last three centuries deserve to shoulder the majority of the burden.” (The Power to Change, p2) and “Those of us living in the United States have a unique moral responsibility to change our energy consumption practices”

[3] These and other impact of climate change are listed in Power to Change, p6 and p10-12.

[4] “The goal is not free trade, but just and sustainable trade. It is essential that reduction of global poverty be a central moral consideration in trade debates…” (Hope for a Global Future: Toward Just and Sustainable Human Development, 1996, approved by the 208th General Assembly of the PC(USA), p. 26) and “continue the monitoring of trade agreements and support for efforts that strive toward international cooperation on fair trade, respect for diversity and common concerns for a peaceful, just and sustainable world.” (Resolution on Just Globalization: Justice, Ownership, and Accountability, 2006, approved by the 217th General Assembly, p.9)

[5] To urge Congress to halt “Fast Track” legislation on TPP, to go:

[6] “This moral obligation involves our commitment to the poor and margnized among the present generation, but it especially includes our responsibilities to future generations. Actions taken or not taken today will impact the welfare of the planet for centuries to come.” (Power to Change, p.6).

Smile!: Am I biasing the narrative?

After a couple months of floundering, I am definitely beginning to improve. I am improving my overall demeanor when interacting with artisans. I increasingly enjoy each interview.

I am more aware of the way our different backgrounds will manifest themselves. I am also comfortable knowing there is much I do not realize about our differences. I am confident that we can weather the challenges of any unexpected differences. For that and probably other reasons of which I am ignorant, our interactions have become vastly more amiable.

Unfortunately, there is one required part of my job with which I doubt I will ever be comfortable. I do not like asking the artisans to smile for the camera. Rather, I do not like having to ask a second time. A follow-up request means they did not agree to the initial request.

Refusals are awkward. For me. For them. For everybody.

The awkwardness is not why I feel so uncomfortable. The majority of my interpersonal conduct is fairly awkward. I’ve always managed.

No, my discomfort stems from something far more systemic than an awkward exchange.

I abhor putting a positive spin on the lives of those in poverty for the comfort of the well-off.

Alright, perhaps that statement is overly and unnecessarily pessimistic. In fairness, I will provide some context.

When Daniela first explained this project to me, she outlined that it was critical that the artisans smile. She said that would be difficult, referring to the numerous photos without smiles on the Bridge of Hope website, but that it was a common request from clients.

Similarly, the purpose of the video interviews is to provide Bridge of Hope’s customers, the intended audience, with a window to the lives of their producers. That is an admirable pursuit and an answer to increasingly complex commodity chains, which masked the struggles of producers to the consumer. Transparency improves solidarity between artisans so it befits fair trade.

Transparent messages are rarely clear-cut and concise though. These artisans have dynamic work lives that are difficult to express in short, digestible snippets.

I wrestle with whether I can reconcile transparency and accountability to our customers. It’s an editor’s dilemma. What do I cut? How does that spin their story? Is that transparent? Is the authenticity I have in mind unattainable?

Not every artisan group has a commercial-worthy success stories. Most are understaffed, underequipped and under-skilled. Consequently, most struggle to meet deadlines and stay creative.

This was most true for, Tupaq Yupanqui, whose situation I detailed in a previous post. They receive minimal orders and are struggling to meet the quality standards for export to fair trade shops in the United States. During our visit, we discovered that each member had unique knitting needles, which contributed in a large part to their quality struggles. While that’s a good discovery overall, the group was founded in 2007. That length of time speaks volumes to their success.

The older members of Tupaq Yupanqui seemed disdainful of my request that they smile.

Daniela suggested that minimal success creates a sort of vicious cycle. Groups with little success do not tend to prioritize their fair trade work because they are working to support themselves through countless other means like farming, construction work or clothes washing.

Of course, it is far more difficult to succinctly explain why a group does not prioritize their fair trade work. Sure it makes sense when you take the time to read, but many supporters and clients want to hear that fair trade is making a positive difference.

Other more successful groups are happy to smile and share during their interviews. Even in these interviews though, a moment comes when the group brings up a recent drop in orders. My guess is that the demand for fair trade artisan work, a decidedly luxury good, has not recovered post-recession.

Do I include this request for more orders in the videos? I’m often torn. I want to tell an honest story, but is it in poor taste to include their need for more orders in videos created for their clients?

I do not have the answers to those questions. As the only one who views all the interview footage, I likely overthink it. At the same time, it is exactly that position that requires me to be cautious.

My role affords me substantial power over the narrative. I am the bridge (no pun intended) between artisans and customers. I help amplify the artisan’s voice. I have a genuine responsibility to relay their words without swaying the message.

Unfortunately, that is impossible. Customers lead busy lives. I do not fault them for not wanting to sit through an amateur short film even if they prioritize solidarity in their lives.

As a result, I keep the artisans’ videos below five minutes, which I consider a stretch.

In five minutes, I cannot feature every answer from an interview or every word spoken by every artisan. So I cut and I paste until I have a straight-forward short film on a group. I try to feature the artisans’ voices and downplay my own as much as possible.

Privileging artisans’ voices is one of a few solutions I have implemented to reduce my natural bias.

Additionally, I will share these interviews with the artisans at our 12th annual gathering in March. Also, I will provide each group with access to the digital files, as well as a few hard copies of photos from my visits.

The intent is to honor that the artisans are equal, if not more important stakeholders to the customers.

What can a fair trade customer or retail store do on their end? Well, you can start by watching videos and seeking to learn more about artisans. Following that, ask fair trade collectives and intermediaries like Bridge of Hope to share the footage that does not make the cut. At the same time, recognize that some information is privileged. Transparency ends where privacy begins.

Most importantly, for me, for you, for anyone involved in fair trade, continue to face these challenges. Traditional commodity chains erase suffering. This work is some of the most capable at ending that injustice. It is not without issues, but this does not invalidate the larger goal at work.

Reconnecting with artisans in the mountains

This past Sunday night, my supervisor, Daniela and I took a night bus to Huancavelica to start a two-day excursion to visit most of the artisan group members of Bridge of Hope.

The trip took us to Huancavelica, where we took a collective car to the Yauli district intending to meet with members of Tupaq Yupanqui, Sumaq Ruracc and Achka Maki. In the afternoon we returned to Huancavelica to meet with El Mercurio and then take a collective car two hours to Huancayo. On Tuesday, we met with La Esperanza and Llamkay Tuki. Tuesday night, we came back via another night bus.

During the trip, Daniela presented new design ideas suggested by Bridge of Hope clients, while I continued my project of taking photos and videos of the groups to update each group’s page on our website. I also invited each group to an artisan gathering in March, in honor of the Peruvian Day of Artisans. Most importantly, we rekindled and maintained some relationships that had been starting to waver in recent years as the quantity of orders diminished while the time between visits increased. Plus, I learned a heck of a lot about the role that Bridge of Hope plays in assisting artisans. Overall, it was a productive and critical trip on a personal and organizational level.

In fact, the trip was so productive, I have far too many reflections to be offered in one post. I gained a greater appreciation for Fair Trade, thought about ways to model the concept for study, and witnessed notable disparity in artisan success even within Bridge of Hope. I’ll leave that for other possible posts and choose instead to stick with an overview and a short reflection on my own growth.

As I said, the trip was successful. The whole picture obscures a few little hiccups along the way. Some were minimal. I decided to pack light and had far from the proper warm weather attire and rain gear for the mountains, which are currently in their rainy season. Luckily, Yody, the leader of the group, El Mercurio, provided me with a small blanket to help me survive.

Additionally, our first visit, with Tupaq Yupanqui, was something of a mess. Daniela had prioritized this group, having organized a workshop on improved weaving techniques for them. Unfortunately, we learned upon arrival that the group did not have the necessary tools and materials for this workshop. Likewise, several members arrived three and a half hours later. This slow morning meant we had to cancel our visit with Achka Maki, as we were too far behind schedule to meet with them and be able to move on to Huancayo that night.

Daniela was visibly upset and frustrated, but persevered to show them new design ideas and have a frank discussion about communication. Also, she agreed to provide funds for them to buy the necessary tools for each group member.

Looking back, that perseverance was inspiring. Especially, alongside my own floundering. Admittedly, I was not surprised that the whole process seemed to break down. I’ve, somewhat unfortunately, come to expect these sorts of hiccups whenever coordinating with folks in the mountains. In some ways, I feel bad being so frank about it, but generally sometimes things move more slowly than people from the outside expect. It’s not my place to make any explanation as to why that is, but it’s what I’ve noticed.

Unsurprised by the slow morning and mildly confused as to whether or not I should wait to get started, I sat alongside Daniela, occasionally taking pictures. I am still working on moving past my frustration with these scheduling miscues, because they are exactly what holds those in privilege back from helping others in solidarity.

For example, my video interview was objectively worse with the Tupaq Yupanqui than the other groups that were far more organized. I struggled to connect with this group. Later, it became clear to me that Tupaq Yupanqui’s lack of organization comes from a lack of notable success with fair trade. Those that are the most need are often the toughest to help.

Of course, sometimes groups stay unresponsive and that is very frustrating. Daniela circumvented the question of when to stop offering support, by offering more autonomy. She is pushing all groups, including Tupaq Yupanqui, to seek out and submit workshop ideas for approval by Bridge of Hope.

Admittedly, the strategy of participatory development is not a new one. It’s not a silver bullet. Still, it aligns far more with the fair trade schematic and will hopefully lead to group empowerment, even if that is arguably unmeasurable.

After the slow start with Tupaq Yupanqui, we went on to have a far more successful set of meetings with the other artisan groups. I conducted more fulfilling interviews, developed a slightly more inviting approach, and decided to share the best photos with the artisan groups and show the videos at our gathering in March. It’s a small gesture, but one I think will truly help build and maintain relationships.

Plus, Daniela and I had some much needed bonding time. It’s not that we didn’t not get along before, but we were often on different pages. My hope is that going forward, we will both work better together for the greater cause of BOH.

From here my plan is to write a few other posts with more targeted reflections on the trip. If those don’t come out, my apologies. I have quite a lot of video editing to do in these next few weeks.

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Mulling over my #FastForTheClimate

On Saturday, January 31st, I participated in my first ever day-long fast as part of the international interfaith movement, Fast for the Climate.

The movement started in December in anticipation of the COP 21 in Paris during December 2015. Every day leading up to that conference, one organization from an international network of participating interfaith organizations will fast. The Joining Hands Network Peru selected the last two days of January.

Like most short-term disciplinary challenges, I wish I could say fasting was far easy than it was. Of course, that would be dishonest. From 9 p.m. the night of the 30th to midnight of the 31st I grew increasingly irritable, headachy and tired.

I pushed myself to stay up until midnight so that I could reward myself with a fried egg and rice, only to find out on Monday that the daily fasts end at 6:00 p.m.! That is to say, I go the distance.

I also took some time to reflect on what the point of fasting is, keeping in mind that my decision to fast has an unobservable and likely negligible effect on climate change.

Is it to reduce consumption, which will in turn reduce the overall contribution to greenhouse gases? I mean that is technically true, but it seems bold and ignorant to use that as a central defense.

Perhaps the meditative quality of fasting will help folks deepen their resolve to end climate change. Of course, we are well passed the time for creating resolve. We need action.

Could fasting help people think of bold new actions to fight climate change? Perhaps. Of course, that doesn’t seem like it would pull so many folks together in solidarity.

I tend toward the argument that the fast is meant to draw attention to the issue of climate change and work through international solidarity that we want to see binding action taken against climate change in 2015.

Fast for the Climate is building on the history of fasting as a means of calling attention to invisible or unrecognized issues, which was most popularly used by Gandhi. Of course, this fast is nowhere near as challenging as those taken on by the popular founder of nonviolent protest. Instead, it reflects the unity that disparate and oft at-odds international organizations find in their shared resolve that climate change must be stopped.

What’s more, these organizations united to participate in something with negligible effect on climate change. In my opinion, negligibility only emboldens the choice to fast. Every day, someone, somewhere in the world is fasting for the climate. That steadfastness reflects an unprecedented shared resolve that climate change must be stopped through actions at the local, national, and international level.

Hopefully, the leaders of COP 21 will take the time to listen and pay attention.

Recognizing privilege & honing compassion

Recently a friend poked fun at my service in Lima, or rather the whole concept of a white North American coming down to volunteer for a year in Peru.

“…Kyle,” he wrote, “I wanna go to Lima and do what I can to help out, but how’s the LTE connection for my iPhone? Also, I don’t eat anything with carbon in it anymore.”

The jest was a light-hearted follow-up to a post in criticism to those who let fear for personal safety hold them back from helping in poorer areas. He is very critical of those who allow their comforts and classist fears hold them back from working in the trenches for real change.

His joke held shed some light on some recent thoughts I have been struggling with regarding my YAV year. I started to feel a little disingenuous ranting about my problems and sadness in an unfamiliar world through my blog. Sure that ranting has helped me process and, I believe, come to some important realizations for myself, but how can that justify a whole year of just being here.

Added to that are my post-YAV plans, to starting working at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in September. That fits scarily well into the stereotype of the disingenuous white savior complex: Spend a year abroad, help minimally, and self-actualize. I distinctly remember not wanting to live that experience out when I sign on to my YAV year.

I don’t know if self-actualization is not a justifiable reason to call myself anything other than a glorified tourist. I know, I know the YAV program pushes “being present” over “doing,” because the missionary position is highly problematic (wink). Regardless, I have been wrestling with the YAV theme, “A year of service, for a lifetime change” and whether it emphasizes the self in an equally unproductive and problematic way.

Plus, I know this experience is not unique to me. Every YAV chooses to face similar struggles during the year. Every YAV rants about those experience (some more constructively than others) to some degree or other in a blog, or other outlet. Every YAV reaches some major self-realizations and epiphanies, which I cannot demean.

Then consider how many programs out there also emphasize being present and introspection through accompanying “the least of these.” (Hint: There’s a bunch.) My concerns are not just restricted to myself, but have bearing on larger, increasingly popular choice for my generation.

So what are these challenges I keep ranting about? What am I struggling with?

Mostly, I face emotional and social struggles. I do not want to demean those for a second. They are real and they have been some of the most challenging in my life. Of course, it’s the problems that I do not face that are evident of my privilege. Plus, I have chosen to experience this year and all its struggles. That’s equally privileged.

Take for example those who do not have a choice to live in another culture, the refugee or the economically disenfranchised migrant. I am experiencing a miniscule portion of the struggles they face.

Even those who might choose to migrate to the US or other western country with documentation would face far more pressure than I have to assimilate. As Jed observed once, there is immense privilege to coming to Peru as a North American. No gringo moves to Peru and gets told to just find a job, settle in, and join the melting pot.

No, I’ve lived comfortably with the support of the YAV program behind me. With room and board covered by the program I am never wanting for food nor shelter.

Even taking into account some objectively unsafe moments from November, I have felt notably safe this year. I was also supported by the YAV program throughout that whole process, keeping my fear for my life to a minimum. In the months after the program is still checking in with me.

You know that the majority of refugees and migrants, documented and undocumented, don’t get? Support from a national church.

Therefore, I cannot try and claim that I am overcoming unheard of adversity. I cannot claim any part of the story of the unprivileged migrant or refugee.

You know what I have learned though? It is really hard to keep going even with my relative privilege. I’m here to volunteer and be present with those I meet in Peru and yet on more than one occasion I’ve considered calling it. I’m glad I did not and it would be strange if the thought never passed my mind.

With that in mind, how many of you have ever gotten a little frustrated with those who migrate to the U.S. from less wealthy countries? Those who arrive with far less privilege? Perhaps thought that they needed to earn a place in the U.S. or got confused when they did not persevere through losing their job? Maybe you are aghast at the numbers of migrants that struggle with addiction or alcoholism? Maybe you’ve given up trying because they are just so antisocial?

Guess what? They’re going through a lot worse crap than me during a year when I’ve grown far more antisocial, far more argumentative, far more frustrated, and all-around less happy than ever in my life in spite of all my relative privilege.

So try and be more compassionate. I know I will be from this year on out.

And therein lies how I am able to defend this year: compassion. I have always tried to be a compassionate person and yet, I be more so.

While at Macalester, I had a plethora of uncompassionate moments with those from other parts of the world. As a supervisor of an international staff, I on more than one occasion assumed English ability, which helped literally no one. It may have even led one of those student workers to lose credibility as a worker. I feel terrible about that and there are many other instances when I could have done better and better was deserved.

This year, I am further developing my sense of compassion. Hopefully, my experiences will also help you be more compassionate in your daily life. Honestly, it’s one of the few ways I feel comfortably coming so close to the post-college white savior.