From paper to reality

Now that I’ve been here for nearly 2 months, I’m finally beginning to get into the work of being a Sister Cities volunteer.  Like I said in my last post, things move slowly here.  But I am learning about the decision making process and what the trbajo organizativo – organizational work – looks like in Guajoyo and in El Salvador in general.

The Austin committee is funding several projects in Guajoyo this year, and I’ve been involved in the slow process of seeing those projects go from paper to reality.  The project I’m most involved in, as it involves the youth and that is one of my areas of focus while I’m here, is a youth-run cyber café.  The Austin committee collected 4 used computers to donate, which the youth hope to use to start a community space that brings technology to students and adults alike.  As it is, anyone who wants to use a computer has to pay 50 cents to take the bus or pickup (which only pass about 6 times a day) into San Nicolas to go to the cyber café, which charges $1/hour for internet use.  Such an excursion ends up costing at least $2 (transportation there and back plus time in the café) and at least 2 or 3 hours.  It’s a great project that, once in effect, will be a huge support not only to Guajoyo but to the surrounding communities.

But getting it off the ground is quite a feat.

First, it requires gathering a group of dedicated community members – in this case youth – who are going to see the project through.  We planned a preliminary meeting last week on Wednesday, but nobody showed up so we moved it to Thursday.  Thursday only the president of the community council, 2 youths, and myself showed up.  We ironed out some details, like sending a few people out to gather cost estimates for the project (for things like an internet modem, desks, printer, etc), and we planned a follow up meeting for this coming Tuesday – tomorrow.

The process of calling a meeting is still something that bewilders me, a product of the facebook generation.  I am used to meetings being planned at least a week in advance and details about the meeting being published online and in some cases in writing.  Here, in this community of oral communication, planning a meeting just means informing the right people, and they spread the news through the community.  They go to the soccer field at 4:00 when there is sure to be youth gathered.  They go to the church on Saturdays and Wednesdays where people gather weekly.  Or, they just walk up and down the main road poking their heads into the yards of people’s houses as they pass by, shouting the important information to residents as they lounge in their hammocks or pat tortillas by the fire.

Then the meeting itself, if it is scheduled for 3:00, people begin to show up at 3:30and fill the plastic chairs arranged haphazardly in spots of shade.  By 4:00 or 4:30 the meeting begins, and an hour into the meeting people finally warm up and start to contribute.

Meeting with the Junta Directiva

Meeting with the Junta Directiva

The idea for the cyber café came from the youth, and has evolved since it was first mentioned as an idea.  Since a certain amount of funds are available, it is the job of the youth committee to figure out how to execute the project within the limitations of available funds.

There is an irony in the speed of decision making here.  On the one hand, it moves at a slug’s pace, but on the other hand, decisions are made swiftly without waiting for full attendance or participation.  At meetings I’ve attended in the US, it seems that decisions made usually require follow up and the input of individuals not in attendance.  But here, those who show up are those who have a say.  If the meeting is called to elect a new committee, those who show up are the candidates, and it’s tough luck for those who don’t.  So I hope that enough youth who are really interested in seeing this cyber café project through show up to the meeting tomorrow, because those in attendance will be the ones who design the project and make decisions.

One critique I have to offer, and that I brought up in our last meeting, was the need to constantly come back to the question: “How will this benefit the community?”  The cyber café, for instance, will definitely benefit the community, but the moments when the conversation got lost down an unproductive path was when they strayed from this foundational question.

I’m getting used to the whole process, and even initiated two meetings of my own this week.  We’re starting an English practice group for those who want to improve their English outside of the classroom.   The second meeting was on the very important subject of dance in the community.  I called it a dance class, and I did teach some swing dance moves, but it was really just an excuse to get together and dance on a Saturday morning.  I’m looking forward to more of these meetings

First (un)official Swing Dance Class in Guajoyo!!!

First (un)official Swing Dance Class in Guajoyo!!!

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5 thoughts on “From paper to reality

  1. Wow you have been busy. I love the swing dancing photo and that you had this “class.” A question about the cyber cafe: Is it at all feasible that this project and perhaps others that are youth driven and youth oriented might have the effect of encouraging more of the youth to stay in Guajoyo? Do you have any sense of this? It seems like a cyber cafe is a great idea. I wonder, aside from earning potential and political “freedom,” what other things the youth of Guajoyo think they will find in the U.S.? I suppose the allure of money is strong, but if they had certain things there would they be less enticed?

    • I think anything that shows young people that they can have an impact in the community and that they can have a dream and pursue it can be a motivator to stay here. Some, however, have the so-called American Dream so deeply entrenched that they can think of nothing more noble than to risk their lives and family unity to go to the states. The oldest son of the family I’m staying with is a perfect example of this. His dad was in the US for a few years until he was deported, and he talks about that time as the glory years, and how easy life is in the US. I tell him all the time his dad was lucky, that every day it’s getting harder and more dangerous to come to the US. But this 17-year-old only dreams of the US.

      However, for others, I think for them to see that they can dream something up and then be a part of making it happen is a huge motivator to stay here. Sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes you can dream and dream and nothing will ever come of it, and that’s when people look for hope elsewhere.

      • Thanks Catie. I think we in Austin would like to encourage the young people of Guajoyo to impact their community, to dream and to pursue those dreams. I’m interested in learning what the young people dream of. You mention the the father in the household where you stay talks of the “easy life.” Do you feel this is a common dream? Is money a major motivator? Doing something new and adventurous? Does leaving Guajoyo seem to be more parent-driven or kid-driven? It’s difficult for me to think of ways to encourage the young people of Guajoyo, but I’d like to learn about their lives, so as to do a better job. So, during your time there, as you learn of things related to this cause, I for one am eager to hear about it.

  2. “At meetings I’ve attended in the US, it seems that decisions made usually require follow up and the input of individuals not in attendance. But here, those who show up are those who have a say.”

    That’s a pretty awesome way of making decisions. I wonder if meetings in the US tend towards the former way of decision-making due to our independence; it almost feels like communities here end up being more interest groups – if the group doesn’t cater to our interests, we’re free to drop it. Maybe not so in Guajoyo?

  3. I love the picture of the girls dancing. I think that it looks more fun than the “traditional” dance that they have learned in the past. I think that all the projects that you are working on are really good. For example, kids have been taking english classes in school for a long time, but no one there can speak english at all because they never practice it with a real english speaker.

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