Archive for December, 2010

Groundswell made a significant impact in 2010, and we have exciting plans for the year ahead. Our strategic objectives for 2011 are:

  1. Empower 500,000 people living on less than $1.25 per day to improve their lives.
  2. Consolidate and sustain: Consolidate strong partner programs for lasting impact in Haiti, Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali.
  3. Spread the results: Include new partners in two additional countries.
  4. Strengthen local food systems: Test and refine practical strategies for strengthening local food systems across five countries. We will launch a three-year action and learning process in Haiti, Ecuador, the US, Burkina Faso and Ghana by facilitating learning crossvisits among partners, identifying effective practices, testing them on the ground and evaluating and documenting outcomes and lessons.
  5. Build a learning community: Facilitate learning among Groundswell partners and allies on effective principles and practices for supporting rural social change.
  6. Strengthen the global movement: Support communities and organizations in the global north and the global south to connect in support of healthy farming and food.
  7. Tell the story: Document and share our work to influence rural development programs and policies.

Please check in often to learn about our progress and collaboration. Happy New Year!

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“Mobilising our greatest resource for continuity and change: people”, by Steve Sherwood

“Mobilising our greatest resource for continuity and change: people”, by Steve Sherwood

Steve Sherwood, a Groundswell co-founder, wrote a compelling article titled, “Mobilising our greatest resource for continuity and change: people”, for the latest issue of Farming Matters, the flagship publication of the ILEIA Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture.

Steve examines some of the ideas, including those of anthropologist Ronald Wright and Honduran farmer-philosopher Elias Sanchez, that have influenced rural education and then summarizes his thoughts on effective partnerships for learning.

He writes: “…locally led learning processes need to:

  • help individuals in understanding themselves as learners (through open discussion of learning styles and processes of critical reflection);
  • encourage individuals to expand their learning experiences and styles (overcoming barriers and exploring new strategies);

    Farming Matters - Partnership for learning

    Farming Matters - Partnership for learning, ILEIA Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture

  • employ a variety of instructional approaches (so that participants experience different ways of interacting and learning);
  • create an environment in which tolerance and diversity can thrive; and
  • create a climate in which collaboration exists (where participants work with one another as resources).”

In addition to reading Steve’s article, I highly recommend you peruse the rest of the magazine. Among other things, it explores what the various stakeholders in small-scale farming learn from each other, how they learn to work together, and what motivates them to collaborate.

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“Message in a Bottle: learning our way out of unsustainability”

“Message in a bottle: learning our way out of unsustainability”, Professor Arjen E. J. Wals.

“Message in a bottle: learning our way out of unsustainability” is the title of the provocative inaugural lecture given by Professor Arjen E. J. Wals upon taking up the posts of Professor of Social Learning and Sustainable Development, and UNESCO Chair at Wageningen University on May 27, 2010. Professor Wals describes the fundamental shift in education required to save the planet.

The lecture’s focus on sustainability seems particularly relevant in mid-December, as Americans and much of the rest of the world engage in their most rampant consumption, and perhaps begin to reflect on what the next year will bring and what they can do to better themselves, their families and their communities. Professor Wals’ lecture carries a warning and shows us a way forward. It is also worth the read for Groundswell supporters because some of the learning concepts he discusses are implicit in our people-centered approach.

I encourage you to read the whole lecture, but recognize that many people may not have the time to do so during the holiday season, so below I have included a number of excerpts in an effort to give you a sense of the greater lecture.

Is there a way out? Can the tide be turned? When the market fails and there are no invisible hands reaching out, where or who do we turn to? When over 600 billion dollar is spent annually on advertising, and over 100 million trees are cut annually for junk mail pushing products in the USA alone? When more than two million PET bottles are ‘consumed’ every five minutes everyday in the United States alone? When the drive to consume appears infinitely greater than the drive to sustain? When individualism and materialism rapidly become the global norm? When it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a world without continuous economic growth?”

“As pointed out already, environmental educators and environmental psychologists have long known that raising awareness about the seriousness of the state of the Planet is no assurance for a change in behavior or a change in values. In fact it has been shown that just raising knowledge and awareness without providing energizing visions and concrete practices that show that there are more sustainable alternatives, will lead to feelings of apathy and powerlessness. The nature of the sustainability crisis – characterized among other things by high levels of complexity and uncertainty – suggests that people will need to develop capacities and qualities that will allow them to contribute to alternative behaviors, lifestyles and systems both individually and collectively….

In addition to much needed suitable forms of governance, legislation and regulation, we need to turn to alternative forms of education and learning that can help develop such the capacities and qualities individual, groups and communities need to meet the challenge of sustainability. There is a whole range of forms of learning emerging that all have promise in doing so:  transdisciplinary learning, transformative learning, anticipatory learning, collaborative learning and, indeed, social learning are just a few of those. These forms of learning show a high family resemblance in that they:

  • consider learning as more than merely knowledge-based,
  • maintain that the quality of interaction with others and of the environment in which learning takes place as crucial,
  • focus on existentially relevant or ‘real’ issues essential for engaging learners,
  • view learning as inevitably transdisciplinary and even ‘transperspectival’ in that it cannot be captured by a single discipline or by any single perspective,
  • regard indeterminacy a central feature of the learning process in that it is not and cannot be known exactly what will be learnt ahead of time and that learning goals are likely to shift as learning progresses,
  • consider such learning as cross-boundary in nature in that it cannot be confined to the dominant structures and spaces that have shaped education for centuries.

The above characteristics make clear that the search for sustainability cannot be limited to classrooms, the corporate boardroom, a local environmental education center, a regional government authority, etc. Instead, learning in the context of sustainability requires ‘hybridity’ and synergy between multiple actors in society and the blurring of formal, non-formal and informal education. Opportunities for this type of learning expand with an increased permeability between units, disciplines, generations, cultures, institutions, sectors and so on.

Currently we are witnessing an avalanche of interactive methods and new forms of knowledge co-creation involving a wide range of societal actors with different interests, perspectives and values but with similar challenges. Although these differences are viewed as problematic by some, they are seen as crucial by others.

Educational psychologists for long have argued and shown that learning requires some form of (internal) conflict or dissonance. Exposure to alternative ways of seeing, framing and interpreting, can be a powerful way of creating such dissonance. However, for some this may lead to too much dissonance and a defensive response which leads to tighter hold on his or her prior way of seeing things, while for others it might lead to a re-considering of ones views and the adoption or co-creation of a new one. Dissonance can, when introduced carefully, lead to, to borrow a key concept from Marten Scheffer, a tipping point in ones thinking. Such tipping points appear necessary in order to generate new thinking that can unfreeze minds and break with existing routines and systems….”

Read the entire lecture.

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Farmer leader in Maissade, Haiti showing soil conservation work undertaken by internally displaced people.

Farmer leader in Maissade, Haiti showing soil conservation work undertaken by internally displaced people.

As the one year anniversary of the terrible January 12 earthquake approaches, many of those who have contributed to Haiti relief and recovery efforts have expressed frustration at the lack of progress.  As much as 20% of Haiti’s total population remains displaced and more than a million people are doing their best to survive in makeshift tent camps.  Now, a cholera epidemic is killing and sickening thousands of Haitians, and the country has just struggled through poorly organized elections!  People ask themselves how this can be when the world has mobilized to help on such a massive scale?  Why hasn’t all of the money donated and pledged been delivered? Is it worth donating to help Haiti?

We would like to provide you with a brief accounting of the money donated to Groundswell and Partnership for Local Development (PLD) to respond to the earthquake emergency:

  • Through November 1 we had raised $375,787 for earthquake response and recovery.
  • All of this money has now been spent on short-term recovery programs, supporting rural families to host over 10,000 people displaced by the January 12 earthquake.
  • 7% of the $375,787 raised was used for Groundswell administration and program support.
  • 3,097 displaced people participated in traditional work groups between February and October 2010, earning a total of $99,894.62 (an average of $32.25/person) through short-term work opportunities focused on rehabilitating productive infrastructure in the villages that were hosting them. They used the money for food, medicine, shelter and to send children back to school.
  • 96 hectares (233 acres) of farmland (representing approximately 1,000 farms) was improved using proven soil conservation techniques.
  • 65 kilometers (40 miles) of rural roads were repaired, providing access to isolated communities.
  • 414 family water filters and 239 community and family latrines were constructed, which together provide safe water or sanitation to some 10,000 people. Participants also received training on essential health and sanitation practices.
  • 13,200 trees were planted to protect critical watershed areas and farms, to reduce erosion and to provide resources for fodder, fuel and construction.
  • 25,694 kilograms (56,646 pounds) of seeds were secured for the planting season. Farmers were able to purchase this seed from local partner organizations at a reasonable price. This was necessary because seed prices skyrocketed after the earthquake and most farmers could not afford them.
  • 146 women affected by the earthquake received small loans to rebuild their businesses.
  • 12 locally run stores were created to sell subsidized basic foods (beans, rice, salt, etc.) and other essential supplies (batteries, basic medicines, etc.) to displaced people and host families, allowing them to get by on their reduced incomes. Subsidies are being gradually removed.
  • 50 displaced families received materials and technical assistance to build shelters.

It is worth mentioning that we are now supporting peasant organizations to respond to the cholera outbreak with education, oral rehydration, water purification and antibiotics.  Community health committees are leading the response locally and coordinating with government health posts where they exist. We have even provided basic support and resources to some of the overstretched health posts.

On December 2nd Steve Brescia, Groundswell’s International Director, spoke with Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of PLD. Steve asked Cantave if the support is making a difference in Haiti.  He said:

We cannot confirm what is happening with all of the money sent to other organizations.  Almost eleven months after the earthquake, if you ask me if I see any reconstruction process happening in Port-au-Prince, I will answer that we don’t see it.  At the macro level, the government and the United Nations are managing the country, and most of the Haitian people do not feel comfortable with what is happening.   But if you ask me what did Groundswell and PLD do with the money received, I will answer with the reports and numbers we have given, but I will also invite anyone to go to the rural areas to ask the same questions to the local organization leaders.  They will tell you how many seeds they were able to buy for the rainy season.  Many were able to harvest and reimburse local seed banks, and they are now hoping to build more community grain storage silos to have food and seeds for next planting season.… They will tell you how they used it to give people short term jobs, to rebuild roads, to do soil conservation.  At the grassroots level we are building confidence of the people.  Communities are getting more confident in themselves when they plan and carry out activities and see the impact.  Now we are focusing with them on the long term solutions.  We are trying to move away from the emergency response.  Now, responding to cholera needs to be a part of the long term solutions as well.”

Your donations to Groundswell and PLD have been well spent.  But money alone is not what is needed for Haiti to reverse its downward spiral. What is needed is a sustained, people-centered, nation-wide initiative to re-create strong, healthy and viable rural communities as a foundation for Haiti’s future development.  Haitians must lead the way.

Groundswell and PLD have proven that locally-led development processes can produce profoundly positive changes on a wide scale in Haiti with relatively little resources. Beginning in 2011 we are launching a three-year initiative to support 20 peasant organizations representing over 345,000 people to create strong, healthy and viable rural communities as a foundation for Haiti’s future development. There is hope for Haiti. It’s the Haitians.

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