Welcome to ADES
#CommunitySolutions | On 2 September 2019 I started my first week at ADES and while – on the work front – it wasn’t very productive yet, I got a first impression of how the teams work and what it is they do.
Our offices are located in Guacotecti, a small village in the Cabañas department (in the North of the country). They consist of a very green complex with 4 small buildings - one is the previous house or "Casa Vieja" which is the original building and still has an old bread oven attached to it, one are the first generation offices, a capacitation centre with a hall and dormitories (where I sleep during the week), and a cafeteria or "Comedor". In addition, there is a small greenhouse, vegetable patches, lots of trees, grey-water filtration trenches (they're prettier than they sound!), and - not part of the infrastructure: a beautiful watchdog called Toto.
The constellation of the 24 employees itself is quite interesting, as about 70% of the staff are from the same community – Santa Marta, 70% are women, which seems to be the norm in the NGO’s we’ve visited here sofar, and 80% are under 40. The strong social ties are also visible in the organisations’ rituals, which consist of taking the bus together from Santa Marta, eating breakfast and lunch together in the Comedor, playing football once a week, having a meeting amongst the female workers once every two weeks to discuss gender issues, and a general meeting with all members every Monday (I guess the last one is a normal business practice).
So on my first Monday I got to meet everybody during the team meeting, where the executive director introduced the two new team members: Sandra will be doing an investigation on the state of human right’s in Cabañas department (where most of ADES’ work is located) for 2019 – something ADES monitors and reports on regularly. Last year the focus was on the right to water, the years before were closely related to ADES’ fight against the mining industry which was very much present in the Cabañas department. And then it was my turn: “Welcome to the Swiss -South African that – together with the project management team consisting of Jaime and Lidia - will solve all the funding problems and improve the teams collaboration across the organisation through an institutionalized training on project cycle management”. My team-member insisted on mentioning the South African part, “to break the stereotype that all Africans are black...” Well, for one the South African part created great conversation starters throughout the week and the second part put on the pressure and created very very very very high expectations (and I’m sure some mental groans from the team – project management being such a popular topic).
Read, read, read - please, no more reading!
The task for the rest of the week was to get to know the 24 team members, their work and the history of the community based organisation. Luckily ADES regularly does Experience Capitalization projects, and there is even a book on the history of Santa Marta and the organizational development during/after the civil war. So I was given around 400 pages to read and some coffee to keep me going. Now while I love to read, doing it 8 hours a day in Spanish demands way more concentration than I possess! But luckily my workstation (currently my laptop, a table in the cafeteria and an electrical output) was well placed to jump people that were heading out to an activity or meeting and ask them if I could join.
Project A: School gardens
This way I ended up visiting two school garden/ #agroecology projects and the community of Santa Marta, historically the origin of ADES and where a large part of their projects take place. The school garden project is actually a Governmental School Program by the Ministry of Education, but the agronomists at ADES were approached to support certain schools in the area as generally teachers are asked to manage the school gardens with the children, but often times they neither have the time nor necessarily the agricultural knowledge – especially if they want to implement agro ecological gardens. The extensionist passes once a month to support the schools, but they don’t necessarily offer agro-ecological advice. So ADES helps the school and, together with students from grade 1 to 9, acompanies them from preparing the soil to the harvest. The school we were visiting had just sowed some vegetables and Nelson wanted to make sure the students were watering them (which they did after a reminder and under his supervision, during class hours of course). And not only the students dropped what they were doing when Nelson came, surprisingly (to me), when we arrived at the schools the directors were immediately informed and came to spend about 30 minutes with Nelson, asking his advice on treatments for the plants, how to motivate the students, and also what to do with the more ornery trees of the school that had mealybugs.
Project B: Mapping of communal lands
Another project I could join the meeting for was with the community’s cooperative (not as I know the term a producing cooperative, but the owners and managers of the communal land). The cooperative is in the process of mapping the communal lands: what is being produced where by whom and with what methods (mostly milpa – maize, and often with the “help” of our friends Syngenta, Bayer, DowDupont &Co), including soil analysis and water points. The end-goal is to make an agroecological community farm for demonstrations but also to produce vegetables for the community and diversify foods (Santa Marta already has a greenhouse where youth from a community programme try to adapt varieties to local conditions - looking forward to visitng that soon!). But first, the planning of a meeting to instruct some community members on the use of a GPS and set up the work plans and transportation to the different sites. The community members will be spending around 7 days each mapping the land – of course “on their own time” (I’m not quite sure how to formulate this, but basically they are not being paid but invest their time for their community – something that is at the core of community-based organisations, and from my experience a bit less common in Switzerland, correct me if I’m wrong…).
Understanding not only what it is that ADES does, but also the history of the organisation and interrelationships between the community, the community leaders and ADES will be very challenging, but I imagine key to getting them on board for a topic that doesn’t make people jump in the air with joy – but which the organisations leadership sees as very necessary (as everywhere, the first things I heard was that the people prefer being in the community than behind a computer…). So hopefully you will be reading and learning about their history alongside me...