Eco Tourism

On Sunday I went with Alex, Estela, and Cori, the other Sister Cities volunteer, to Cinquera, a quiet town tucked into the folds of the mountains at the end of an extremely bumpy dirt road.  It was one of the historic areas during the armed conflict in the 80s, as the mountains surrounding the town were filled with guerrilleros and suffered countless bombardments by the armed forces.

“If they had a bomb and couldn’t find where to drop it, they would just come drop it on these mountains,” we were told by Rafael, a former guerrillero and current park ranger in the municipality’s 1,600 acre Eco Park.

In front of Cinquera's church, where the bell tower shows visible damage from gunfire and bombs.  These bomb shells now serve as the church bells.

In front of Cinquera’s church, where the bell tower shows visible damage from gunfire and bombs. These bomb shells now serve as the church bells.

Eco Tourism is one of those trendy words these days, right up there with “Organic” and “Fair Trade” and “Farm Grown” and “All Natural”.  It’s been picked up by the marketing genius that puts leaves and brown writing on a label and in so doing convinces the people that it’s healthy and environmentally friendly.  Costa Rica is a great example of a country famous for offering tourism that both preserves and offers access to natural treasures like forests, beaches, and rivers.  It makes us feel good about ourselves and our vacations when we feel like we’re enjoying nature and helping to preserve it.  From a lounge chair under massive banana leaves and screeching monkeys, it’s easy to feel far away from the capitalist machine that we all know deep down is eating our souls and our environment.

But a visit to Cinquera’s rapidly growing Eco Park — which saw 13,000 visitors just last year — made me think about what is at the heart of this whole Eco Tourism thing.  There are those who argue that the term is an oxymoron, that the high-traffic and structural development intrinsic of tourism does not fit within the scope of ecological preservation.  And a lot of the time, those people are right.

Rafael guides us through the historic and ecologic tour of the park.

Rafael guides us through the historic and ecologic tour of the park.

I think it is important to think about what motivates these kinds of projects, and that determines a lot about the nature of such initiatives.  Eco Tourism projects that are started with the vision of a BUSINESS opportunity to MAKE MONEY are doomed to lose sight of the principles of preservation and natural integrity.  They become assets to be used to maximize profit.  But if you’re doing Eco Tourism because you want to protect the important resource of a natural area and people’s ability to remain connected to it.

The Cinquera Forest Eco Park was created because the former guerrilla fighters felt indebted to the trees that protected them from bombardments and provided shelter and food during the 12 years of armed conflict.  It was because they knew that the cycles of water, land erosion, and growth depend on a healthy forest.  All tourism development is secondary to those motivating factors.

Sister Cities staff and community leaders hike the trail in the Eco Park

Sister Cities staff and community leaders hike the trail in the Eco Park

The hostel is simple, and there’s nothing flashy about the tourism there.  Some people would rather not learn about the history of the conflict in that forest, but the team that manages the park insist that history is a part of the park that cannot be left out.  According to some tourism experts, they are not doing all they could.

But what is definitely true is that this forest has given life to the community of Cinquera and to the people who have rebuilt their lives and their community in the 21 years since the armed conflict ended.  And I think we have a lot to learn from them.

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No means NO!

Gold mining is bad — it’s as simple as that.  In industrial quantities it requires the use of toxic chemicals and irrational quantities of water, and inevitably results in illness and suffering for the population, and environmental effects that are lasting and non-erasable.  And thanks to the insistence of the Salvadoran people, El Salvador is uniquely gold mining-free.

The Mesa, or the National Round Table Against Metallic Mining, presented the text of the proposed law before media and representatives of various organizations on Tuesday of this week.

The Mesa, or the National Round Table Against Metallic Mining, presented the text of the proposed law before media and representatives of various organizations on Tuesday of this week.

There used to be active gold mines around the 1880s to 1970s, but the fad waned and it didn’t seem to be that profitable of a prospect in El Salvador.  The sites of those mines are still plagued by contaminated water and devastating levels of disease in the population. But then in the ’90s as gold prices began to rise and interest was renewed, transnational mining companies began wanting to poke around in El Salvador again.  In 1995 a law passed in El Salvador allowing mining exploration, which gave companies permission to do studies in areas where it was thought that mining was viable and then request permission from the government to get digging.  Luckily, the noise made by the people ensured that no permits were actually granted, but these greedy companies were not deterred.

There is definitely current exploration, but no current extraction in El Salvador.  The Canadian company Pacific-Rim has even gone so far as trying to sue the country of El Salvador for denying their request for a mining permit (which was denied on environmental grounds), citing Free Trade agreements made in the mid 2000’s as grounds for the denouncement.  The current government has stood firm against such pressure, but elections are coming up in February, and who’s to say how the next government will respond?

That’s why the National Round Table Against Metallic Mining presented their new proposed law on Tuesday of this week, which will be presented in the legislative assembly on October 1st by a mass of people who are planning on marching the decree right up to the front door of the legislature.   I like this law, because it’s simple.  In 8 articles the law says:

There will be no metallic mining (exploration or extraction) in El Salvador.

There will be no exceptions made that might allow metallic mining in El Salvador.

Any further laws — past or present — that might seem to make it seem like mining is ok are overruled by this law.

No means NO!

Plain and simple, just like that.  Mining is bad, and it doesn’t have any benefits for El Salvador, so why would we want to allow it?  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we approached other issues with this attitude?  The pueblo has a capacity for seeing things with this kind of clarity that perhaps lawmakers and businessmen do not have.  And that is why it is eternally and extremely important for people to be aware of what is going on around them, and to stand up when something is wrong.  We can’t expect lawmakers and businessmen to make right decisions on their own, and that is what the United States needs to learn from El Salvador.

When we will say No means NO?

Independence Day

Exif_JPEG_PICTURESeptember 15th is Central American Independence Day, the day that the Republic of Central America declared independence from Spain in 1821.  Over the course of the next several decades, the Republic began breaking up into different countries.  There was a group of people who were proponents of a single Central American republic, and many of those people were concentrated in the area now known as El Salvador.  But the forces of division were stronger, and by 1859 El Salvador was the last chunk of Central America that hadn’t broken off – hence its tiny size – and that year El Salvador declared itself an independent, free, and sovereign nation.

Students at the school in Guajoyo from 4th through 9th grade participate in traditional folk dance at this year's Independence Day Celebration.

Students at the school in Guajoyo from 4th through 9th grade participate in traditional folk dance at this year’s Independence Day Celebration.

Independence Day is an ironic holiday though, because many of us argue that El Salvador never really achieved independence, and certainly is not functioning as a sovereign nation today.  Ever since its independence in the 19th century, El Salvador has been at the mercy of the economic whims of the world’s super powers.  In the 1870s, Central America saw the construction of the first railroads, which made it possible for agricultural products to be easily transported to the Atlantic coast and exported to Europe, where the thirst for coffee was insatiable.  These railroads were built with money mostly from England, a project that made millions for English investors in coffee and the handful of Salvadoran coffee plantation owners, while stripping the population of lands and indigenous identity.

Then in the 19th century the United States emerged as a superpower, and took on the role (which we still maintain today) as international police and powerhouse of all the Americas.  The US built the Panama Canal – another major project of economic interest – and needed to protect their dominance in the Central American region so they could keep getting richer off the exportation and transportation that their new canal enabled.

Students dressed in traditional attire and donning symbolic items that represent the heritage of El Salvador paraded through the community on Saturday.

Students dressed in traditional attire and donning symbolic items that represent the heritage of El Salvador paraded through the community on Saturday.

The US dug its hands deeper into the pockets of El Salvador by giving loans to the government that were paid by the country’s import and export tariffs, and began buying off the railroad and mining companies that formed the backbone of trade and wealth in El Salvador.  In that way, the gringos managed to get their hands on great power in El Salvador, and with the support of the Salvadoran government.

See, it’s been the same story for centuries now: the people who control business and most of the land in the country are those who are in political power, and it is in their favor to maintain strong ties with the United States because their businesses and products benefit from the US market or the loans given by the gringo government or institutions.  But the problem is that this kind of relationship has historically only been beneficial to that small group of people who maintain political, social, and economic power.   In theory, the way international politics works is that each country is looking out for its own best interest, and will make policies and agreements that favor their national interest.  But the flaw in that theory is that countries with less power – like El Salvador – are often handed over by their own leaders to the whims of the global superpowers so that a few can benefit.

So, according to theory, can you really blame the US for looking out for its own best interest?  But in practice, can you really expect countries with a weaker economy and less development to stand up to an economic power like the US?

Here are some of the examples of how El Salvador is not operating as a sovereign nation today:

  • Even though El Salvador is a country of agricultural production with capacity to produce all the basic grains consumed within the country, increasing percentages of basic grains (including corn and beans) are imported, and mostly from the US.
  • Infrastructural development – like roads, electricity, and water – depends on projects funded by organizations in other countries.  The Salvadoran government is easily manipulated by the governments of those countries, who might say something like  “if you want the $$ to build these roads, you should probably pass ____ law…”
  • Most of the major products consumed by this increasingly consumerist society are made by mega international companies that dominate the market and make the emergence of Salvadoran companies for Salvadoran (and international) consumption impossible
  • Free Trade policies that enable more powerful countries to benefit from cheap labor in El Salvador – which perpetrates poverty instead of ending it – while making it easier for already wealthy international companies to dominate the Central American market as well.
  • A Canadian mining company is trying to sue the country of El Salvador for refusing to allow them to mine gold in El Salvador, due to the detrimental environmental and humanitarian effects.  El Salvador should have the right to deny foreign companies from getting rich at the expense of Salvadoran wellbeing.
Kilmar, one of the youth who participated in the Peace Band, bears the heat of the midday sun.

Kilmar, one of the youth who participated in the Peace Band, bears the heat of the midday sun.

So this Independence Day perhaps what we are celebrating is the struggle for independence, the struggle that began long before 1840 and continues today.

Agrochemicals — Part III

I posted less than a week ago about the deaths and illnesses being caused by the uncontrolled use of toxic agrochemicals throughout El Salvador, only to find out a day later that they had just approved a law in the legislative assembly that addresses just that.  The decree is awaiting approval by the President, Funes, but all signs seem to point to his approval.  I’ll try to give an overview of the decree in layman’s terms, and if at all possible, NOT be boring in the process.

In essence, the decree is actually just a modification of an existing law that was not being complied with and that was severely lacking.  The modifications prohibit the use of 53 agrochemicals, the names of which might as well be in Chinese for me, but in a recent press conference, it was explained that many of these chemicals are among those found in people suffering kidney failure.  The goal is to have these 53 checmicals 100% eliminated from the country over the course of the next 2 years.

Another main component of the decree is that it requires that all agrochemical containers have instructions and description of contents in Spanish.  What?  You mean they didn’t before?  Yes, that’s right.  Granted, a large percentage of the farmers using and buying these chemicals are illiterate, but even for those who do know how to read, they had no way of educating themselves on safe dosage and use of these toxic chemicals.

A third principal component of the decree is the restriction of areas where crop dusting from airplanes is permitted, and outlines severe monetary punishment for anyone that breaks this law.  Currently, planes drop huge amounts of agrochemicals on crops — large proportions of which are applied to sugarcane — that are often directly next to where people live.  This new decree creates a boundary of 100 meters from any residences, and also prohibits the use of crop dusting where basic grains are grown, which includes corn, rice, and beans.  The challenge now will be for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to force compliance.

The discussions inside the assembly where this decree was being discussed were interesting as well, and help shed light on the different political lenses through which this issue can be seen.  Representatives of the right wing argued that these agrochemicals are necessary to combat plagues that drastically affect crops and that, as a result, small farmers will be the most affected by this law.

However, Estela Hernandez, a representative of the Environmental Commission who spoke as representative at the assembly, responded by asserting that small farmers will actually benefit the most, since they are the ones currently in closest contact with the chemicals and forced to use them in order to compete and participate in the larger market that is drived by mega agro producers. Plus, there are actually lots of biological alternatives that have already been explored and implemented.  Hernandez emphasized that the people who will be hurt the most by this law will be the business people who make their millions on importing these chemicals.

In summary, this law is a really positive step in the right direction for environmental and health protection, but will depend on the continued participation of the Salvadoran people and responsibility in its government.  But let’s give it a fist pump for a step in the right direction!

Que viva el medio ambiente!!!!

Mercedita

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I lived on the other side of the river in Valle Nuevo when the war began.  We had always lived in those parts, but when the armed conflict started we had to guindar, flee to the mountains leaving everything behind.  There are people today who don’t believe me when I tell them that there were times when we would go 15 days without eating anything more than the few leaves we could find.  The father of my children died in the guinda; he got a terrible fever and because we were hiding without shelter in the mountain, he never got better.  We buried him in sandy earth, and now that the land has been redistributed I don’t even know where his remains are.

In those times before the war there was poverty just like there is now, but the main difference was that in those days our currency was the colon.  If you had 5 or 10 colones you had some money – 5 colones is equivalent to about 2 quarters today, and you can’t buy anything with that.  Anyhow, in those days people would walk to San Marcos to buy the things they needed; sometimes we would sell a chicken for 12 reales and we were able to buy everything we needed with that.  But we never really had money, just in that brief moment when it passed through our hands when we would sell some animal, but then we would buy salt, lime, oil, and things like that with the little bit of money we earned.

But still, the poverty then was horrible, and it was because of that very poverty that the war had to happen.  The owner of the hacienda where we lived was named Julio Grimalde, and he gave us a little piece of land to live on and to grow our crops, but we had to pay for that land with corn.  Nobody used fertilizer or anything back then, and if you didn’t grow corn you had to find some way to buy the corn to pay the patron; or if something happened to the crop the same, we had to scrape by to buy corn for the patron.  Only rich people ate corn; we poor people ate millet, food suit for the animals.

Some men from San Salvador started to come out to organize the people; they told us that all of this that was happening to us – the poverty, the mistreatment – didn’t have to be that way.  The guerrilla groups had already started to form throughout the country, so they were organizing people in the communities so that some would join the guerrilla – as my sons did – or to stay informed about news of what was happening.  But when the guinda came, we had to run with only the clothes on our backs and our children held tight by the hand.  The armed forces would arrive at any given moment, and for that reason we lived all those years in constant fear day and night.

Thankfully there were some good people that lived in the towns that weren’t so affected by the conflict, and sometimes the guerrillas would steal away to the town to bring back corn for us to eat when we were on the run or in hiding, and with those small bits we sustained ourselves.  There were also some places where they would send children to seek refuge, and people with small children could go with them.  I didn’t send my children there because my older children were fighting in the guerrilla and I had to be close so I would know if they lived or died.  They killed my son Manuel in 1984, and my other son, who was named Juan Antonio, was in the national police and they killed him too in 1991.

And so that’s what it was like when we were living in San Carlos Lempa when the people form CRIPDES came and told us we could come to stay in Guajoyo, that we wouldn’t have to keep fleeing.  Since we were fed up with all the mosquitoes there, we told them yes, and that’s how we decided to come here.  They looked for people who lived in the area before the conflict to come repopulate, and supposedly there wasn’t going to be any fighting with the people who came.  I think that all of us who came were full of fear, because this hill was full of the armed forces.  It was a miracle of God that they never attacked us.

We were 22 families that came on November 5, 1991, and we had to make the road as we went along, because this road that had existed since before couldn’t even be seen any more.  We arrived in trucks and they dropped us of right here where I have my house today.  Each family started to make their little hut, and those people who helped us would bring food because we didn’t have anything and there were no crops in the fields.  The first day we brought nothing, but a few days later they brought us some sheet metal to put roofs on our huts.  We were always afraid, because the armed forces passed close by, and sometimes search lights would pass overhead looking for people in the guerrilla, but the presence of organizations like CRIPDES and our sister cities gave me faith that we would be ok.

When they announced the Peace Accords in 1992, it was a huge celebration, because we didn’t have to live in fear anymore.  I was mostly happy because I knew we wouldn’t have to move anymore.  I remember feeling so much freedom because we didn’t have to live with that fear.  There were 7 of us who had arrived here for the resettlement: my husband and me, two daughters, two grandsons, and my son who was in the police, but he was killed shortly after we arrived.

This struggle that we suffered through had to happen, and for me I believe we were able to achieve what we wanted.  Now we have land, and it’s not that we didn’t pay for it, because we paid for it in the blood of our children and brothers and sisters.  The dream we had was simple: just to be able to work, have a house and a few animals, and live our lives in peace in one place.  And look at us now – I feel like a rich person, because we have a house, some animals, and we eat good food.  We don’t eat millet anymore, we grow and eat corn.  I feel like my generation that lives here and that has suffered to be here has achieved what we wanted, and we can spend our last days in peace.

But I feel sad for the youth who fight so much among themselves and for no reason.  We had a reason to fight, but they fight just because one belongs to a certain group and another belongs to a different group.  I hang onto the hope that someday they’ll stop fighting, and that this young generation can someday live well in their little piece of land with their house, caring for their animals and their crops, and living their lives with their families.

Kidneys

I posted several months ago about the terrible contamination coming from sugar cane cultivation in the area where I’m living, and the dramatic effects these toxic agrochemicals have on people’s health and livelihood.  In the past couple of weeks, one of the major newspapers has published a series of stories about the truly shocking scope of kidney failure in this country and its ties to toxic agrochemicals.

Have you ever had a moment where you find out about something really terrible that is being done and that could be stopped, but then you — and everybody else around you — doesn’t do anything about it?  Well, it’s like that.

Here’s some of the stats just to make your jaw drop:

Kidney disease is the number one cause of death in El Salvador’s hospitals.

50 new diagnoses daily of renal failure (kidney disease)

18% of workers in the Bajo Lempa region (where I live) have chronic kidney disease

Alfredo Cristiani, president of the right wing political party ARENA, is one of El Salvador’s main pesticide importers.

The “Dirty Dozen” refers to twelve toxic agrochemicals banned from use in most countries, and which are used without any kind of control in El Salvador.  Many of these chemicals are produced by USA companies (where they are prohibited) and exported to El Salvador

And the best part? Despite strong correlational evidence, authorities continue to say that we just don’t have enough proof that kidney disease is caused by exposure to these chemicals.  Because in the real world laboratory you can’t have a true control group, and you can’t isolate contributing factors, and so nobody will probably ever be able to say “We have done our research, and we have determined that these thousands of people’s kidney disease was caused by exposure to this chemical,” because sometimes kidney disease is caused by diet or genetic predisposition or by other freak accidents.

It’s the same story all over the world in all manner of circumstances: we can’t prove that it was Syria’s government that killed hundreds of civilians with chemicals; we can’t prove that the earthquakes in Texas and Arkansas and other states are direct results of fracking for natural gas; we can’t prove that hundreds of people with leukemia were made sick by toxic chemicals used in the extraction process by Exxon…

But people are sick and lives are lost and the earth we depend on is being mindlessly abused, and for lack of “definitive proof” we simply watch it happen. Because in the end, isn’t there always somebody who is benefiting from these abuses?

Thinking Like a Westerner

After a 2 week tour of the places that are home to me in Texas, I came back to El Salvador, this time with my dad, so he could see this place that’s grabbed ahold of me and won’t let me go.  I had fun introducing him to my host family, presenting him at the church in Guajoyo, walking down the streets with him, and even walking to see the milpa and pick some young corn to bring back and make tamales out of.  And he, of course, got the celebrity welcoming that Guajoyo (and really all of El Salvador) has gained fame for.  Since everybody in the community knows me and sees my comings and goings, they were all attentive to the arrival of my dad.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREHis Spanish is a bit limited, so he did a lot of observing and gesturing and playing with young kids.  I tried to check in regularly to see how he was doing, if he was feeling good and not too isolated.  One day I asked how he was doing because I noticed he was being particularly quiet.  “I’m fine,” he said, “I’m just thinking like a westerner.  I keep trying to think about how I can make their lives better.”

His comment struck home with me, and I think comes from a way of thinking that we could all identify with – “we” in the sense of me and you, my westerner readers.  We like explanations, and when there’s no explanation to inequality we want to fix it.   And I really think that’s a great quality of our culture, that we are raised to be innovators, we seek solutions, we seek resolution to dissonance.  But – because there’s always a but – we don’t always need to fix everything.

Being a volunteer with an organization that funds development projects and other kinds of projects, I think a lot about what is the most productive use of money.  What is it that we’re ultimately after?  For many of us, we step into situations of poverty and we see all the things that we have and they do not, and that makes us uncomfortable.  Why shouldn’t this family, which is full of love and fun and so hard-working, be able to have a house free of mosquitoes, a vehicle so they don’t have to wait on the bus, a flushing toilet, and more than a few changes of clothes?  They deserve such comforts as much as I do, or even more than I do.  We want to fix poverty by filling that gap between what we have and what they don’t have.

Cousins of my host family who want to be when they grow up (from left to right): an engineer, a nurse, and a doctor.

Cousins of my host family who want to be when they grow up (from left to right): an engineer, a nurse, and a doctor.

But is that the most productive use of money? And we still haven’t answered that question of what we’re ultimately after.  Is equality really the main goal?  I think we’ll just find ourselves frustrated if that’s what we’re looking for.  I think what we really mean but just hadn’t thought about is that what we really want is equal access to basic human rights for all.  For me, it is unacceptable that a person has to leave their family and place they are from to work illegally in another country in order to hope to save enough money to build a house for their family.  A dignified shelter is a human right.  It’s unacceptable for entire communities to be exposed to diseases because of unclean water sources, because water is a basic human right.  That shelters be made of cinder block instead of sheetrock, or that water be delivered via a communal well instead of to a handful of sinks and bathtubs inside each house to me is much less of an issue.

And so living here in Guajoyo, that’s what I keep my eyes opened for: in what ways are people denied access to actual human rights?  Of course, we’ll probably never all agree on a single all-inclusive list of what those basic human rights are, but that’s not really the point.  And each of us, knowing that there are others who live much more comfortable than we do or have more than we do will probably want to have more or be more comfortable.  We always feel our house is a bit small, or our phone is a bit janky, or our wardrobe a bit outdated compared to others.  The same goes here, and there are always people who want their house to be more spacious, their TVs bigger, their shoes more comfortable, their distance to the store shorter.  But really, look at life in the US, where our access to THINGS is truly impressive.  Does that really make us happier?  I think we’ll all agree that those who find happiness do not find it in the things they have.

Yes, we think we can fix poverty with things, and I guess that’s what thinking like a westerner looks like sometimes.  We look at all the things we have and think, well I could give so many of these things to people who have less than me and it would make them so happy because they have so little.  And I guess it would be fun for a little while, but it wouldn’t really change anything.  We’ll continue to have more than we need, and they’ll continue to be systematically denied the right to work and live in peace, with the only difference that we are now exporting the faulty mentality that we need more things to feel satisfied.

“Well what am I supposed to do then?!?!?” you’re probably shouting at your screen, gnashing your teeth and threatening to close this tab and peruse facebook instead.  Stick with me; I’m a solutions-oriented westerner too, so I’ve got some ideas for you.

1) Get educated.  You’re taking a great step by reading this blog, learning about the reality of people who live outside your socio-economic and cultural bracket.  Know what poverty in your town looks like, and if you don’t know, maybe try riding the bus one day and just having conversations with people, do your grocery shopping in a poor neighborhood, or offer a ride to a young mom waiting on the bus.  Poverty isn’t that far from any of us, and certainly not just in El Salvador.

2) Think about your basic rights and what you really need to be satisfied.  Chances are, most people would say more or less the same things once we get down to it.  Keep in mind, I’m not talking about comfort here.  That we have a right to be comfortable is a huge lie, so stop believing it.

3) Combine steps 1 and 2.  As you educate yourself – by reading news and blogs and by meeting people and seeing what poverty looks like close to you and far away – look for the places where groups of people are denied those same basic rights you identified for yourself.  Why don’t they have access to those rights?  What kinds of things are being done to address it?  There are lot of really smart people in the world who are very interested in making the world a better place, so chances are you’ll find someone who is doing good work in the areas that caught your attention.  Find out what they’re doing and how you can get involved.

4) If you have money, donate.  Tithing is a central pillar of the Christian faithful, and in many ways it’s more about loosening our grip on our stuff than it is about giving to the right church or charity.  Generosity is a practice, and if we’re in the practice of thinking that we don’t have enough (which, let’s face it, each of us has bought into that lie at some point or another), then even when you really can give in a way that is impactful, it’s unlikely that you will recognize it or be very willing.  Studies show that it is consistently those who have the least that are the most willing to give.  If you’re in that upper 40% that has plenty (if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), let’s work on turning that statistic upside down.

5) Look into what ways your practices are hurting the human rights of others. If you make it to step 5, you’re getting really advanced. One person choosing to buy fair trade items doesn’t actually do anything to the global market, but when that one person turns into an entire movement, then we’re talking about some impact.  You might also think about this in terms of how you vote on local issues.  We usually each vote for what is most beneficial to ourselves, but start thinking about ways that things that benefit you might negatively affect others.

There you have it, an extremely westerner response to the question of how to not think quite so much like a westerner!