In March, while visiting one of the local’s coffee finca, Peg stumbled across some old hand tools. They were no longer a part of the routine of local farmers but very much a part of their history. The moisture that fills every breeze had deteriorated the wooden and iron rudimentary implements and not one local person was impressed by their existence. Peg, however, saw an opportunity to turn a piece of local history into an instrument for community building.
Five months later, for one very busy weekend, our sleepy little hamlet more than doubled in size as more than 750 people came to experience what began as an idea to exhibit old farm tools that grew into two days of entertainment, sharing of traditional foods, handicrafts, music, in what everyone now says will be an annual event. Peg’s little idea, big vision, and even bigger commitment helped community members to learn valuable organizational, planning, marketing, and task management skills and to ultimately experience the joy of working together to accomplish a goal. And they did so with great success.
Both the mayor and the local representative made in-kind and cash contributions to the effort. Community members contributed their time and talent as they divvied up the responsibilities through numerous committees: publicity, stands, sports, entertainment, logistics and others. They did a fabulous job!
Along with the intriguing displays of farm equipment from days gone by, there was ongoing entertainment. University students impressively performed some complex Panamanian folkloric dances while donning exquisitely designed dresses and a couple danced the Congo. The school organized an elegant competition for Queen, in which the most talented teenagers danced across the stage to live music. On Sunday, Peg and I demonstrated some international folk dances, including one from the United States called 12th Street Rag, which was created by black Americans in New Orleans as a take-off on a staid Scottish dance. A group of local teens demonstrated their martial arts prowess through combat demonstrations and by breaking some pieces of lumber with their well practiced kicks. There were soccer and volleyball competitions and a marathon, the winners of which walked away proudly with handsome trophies. There was even an exhibition of some very striking quarter horses.
Local agriculture and environmental groups had booths, as did some national government agencies. MIDA (a government agency that supports farmers), after I gave them some technical assistance, was able to share their slide show. The local town councilmen showed a video of the village displaying its attractive scenery and agricultural products, some of which are distributed across the country. APRE, a producers association with nearly 100 members, shared some of the products of the region. ADATA (whom I helped with their website, see http://adataeng.megabyet.net/,), Fundiccep and Giropila, local environmental groups, also attended, selling promotional items and providing education materials.
So what exactly do Peace Corps volunteers do? We support the local people as they discover that they are capable of doing great things. Peg injected them with some organizing tools and task management skills and was a continuous source of motivation and encouragement with just a slight assist from me with technical support, booth wiring, and trash management. I obtained a donation of trash barrels, arranged for their transport, sawed them in half since they were way too big, bought plastic bags for them and for vendors. In an amazing display of energy the locals made sure everything was cleaned up. As a result the fairground was a appropriate backdrop for the clever booths and huts the locals constructed for the occasion.
This fair brought enthusiasm and a sense of community to our village, some earnings for worthwhile local charities, and the community learned many valuable lessons. They learned that they are capable of working together to create something that benefits them all. They learned that trash is something that must be planned for and managed if they want to protect their quality of life. And they learned some very practical and replicable organizational skills that will last them for a lifetime.
They are already using their new skills to evaluate the event and begin planning for next year. While I was recuperating from minor surgery Peg took the 10 hour bus ride back home to attend the first post-event meeting.
This group is going to hold the fair next year. Peg had them write their suggestions and concerns on sticky notes, and she organized the notes into a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. This is one of the PC’s methods for strengthening organizational skills. As a result they have the sound beginnings of an organizational plan as they start to build upon their threats, look for new opportunities, deal with their weaknesses and form strategies to deal with threats.
Thanks to Anita for her contribution to this story.