Apr 29, 2011

"Good, and how are you?"

Man, it's hot in Playa Grande Ixcan, ya know? If you know a bit of Spanish, the name "Playa Grande" probably gives you images of thatched huts, hammocks, white sand, and margaritas. Well, I'm in the opposite place. Playa Grande Ixcan is here:

Pretty far from the beach. Pretty far from any paved roads for that matter. This is a low-lying, hot, and humid region, and to get here, it's about 3 hours drive on an unpaved road. There wasn't internet in the town for a few days, but it triumphantly returned this morning. So I've been able to check my email and catch up a bit. And write this blog post!

In this region, EcoLogic supports a group called "Mancomunidad de la Frontera Norte," which is an alliance of mayors from neighboring municipalities close to Mexican border who have come together to lead their communities in sustainable development and improve education and healthcare. Ixcan is one of eight municipalities that make up the Mancomunidad de la Froentera Norte, so it's just one particular area where we're working within quite a large region. EcoLogic is helping the Mancomunidad within particular communities located close to forests that are in need of protection and sustainable management. This means, installing fuel-efficient woodstoves, introducing agroforestry techniques to farmers, establishing tree nurseries, and giving trainings to volunteer park rangers referred to as guardabosques, or forest guards.

This week, EcoLogic is in Ixcan to facilitate a total of 8 consultations within communities to the southwest of Playa Grande Ixcan. These communities range in size from 120 to 400 families, one of which is a full two hours out of Playa Grande on even bumpier roads. Though we've been working in this area for several years, we're now able to really ramp up our efforts because of a recently formed partnership we've developed with Heifer International.

Before each EcoLogic project begins, we perform what we call a "Community Consultation" which is sort of a diagnostic to try and identify the top priorities of the community - is it water? schooling? a particular illness? a political concern? This way, we're able to all get on the same page from the beginning and tailor our work to the needs and concerns of community members.

Participating in these consultations has been such a great experience. Our Guatemala Program Officer, Francisco Tzul, has been the main facilitator with the support of the tecnico in Ixcan, named Antonio Chipel. There are 9 steps to the consultation, which takes about 3 hours and ends with a lunch. In the first two consultations, we had between 50 and 70 participants in each with representation and participation from men, women, and youth. Getting people to show up to any meeting is hard work, especially when there's tons of work to be done and no such things as vacation or personal time off from work. Just getting people to come together is a testament to the hard work of Antonio Chipel, the Mancomunidad network, and the relationships and reputation we've already established in the area. It also reflects the interest and concern that community members have to improve their communities and their lives.

I have 2 community consultations under my belt and 5 more to go! Pretty exciting to see a project at the beginning stages. It'll be great to follow the project as it develops.

There's plenty more coming your way soon - more news from Ixcan, and an upcoming trip to our project in the Sarstun region on the border of Belize and Guatemala. Which reminds me that I went to Belize, Tikal, and Semuc Champay during Semana Santa last week and didn't even blog about all that!!! Geez. I wish I wasn't so detailed and I could just quickly write about these experiences, but so much happened and there would be so much to report.

- Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues Project and documented his time working from EcoLogic's regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 

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