Traditional Communities Hold Keys to Building Resilience to Climate Change

Traditional communities hold keys to building resilience to climate change

2015 was the 3rd hottest year on record, and 2016 promises to keep up with this hot trend. On April 22nd, 175 parties (175 countries and the European Union) signed the Paris Agreement. IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (2013) notes that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased”.

Climate change is real. Climate change will certainly impact our everyday life, if it already isn’t doing it. While in big cities and developed countries we have the tools, mechanisms and funds to combat climate change effects to some extent, less developed countries and remote communities are hit harder. How will they cope with climate change impacts? How can they become more resilient?

Many traditional communities around the globe still have a powerful tool that is being recognized, to some extent, as a main ingredient in creating climate change resilience: traditional knowledge. It is a key part of the solution to addressing climate change impacts and traditional and indigenous communities are now recognized as key partners in seeking solutions to a global problem. Including traditional knowledge in projects that focus on building climate change resilience means also building sustainability of our environment and communities.

Traditional communities have always planned their lives according to changes in weather patterns and their environment. Fishing, fruit picking, hunting of certain animals, planting – all are well timed according to the local climate and weather. Because of this, traditional communities were among the first to notice changes in weather patterns. They were also the first affected by these changes.

Because of their flexibility, some communities are already increasing their resilience by changing their planting or hunting schedules, looking for technologies (accessing underground water where water became scarce), diversifying their crops, changing supply storage methods or even moving to a different area.

Two important notions in studying resilience are vulnerability and adaptive capacity.

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity and its adaptive capacity (IPCC).

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences (IPCC)

These communities and their environment are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The Building Climate Change Resilient Communities course looks at how to determine the adaptive capacity of a community and their environment to cope with climate change impacts. It is very important to understand that all things are connected: climate change resilience means also building sustainability of our environment and communities.


Village Earth Global Affiliate Cambodian Rural Development Team Enhancing Access to Clean Water


Here is some point about the CRDT activities at the moment. We are working to help the rural communities to develop themselves and have access to new livelihood activities while reducing their impact on the environment and their consumption of natural resources. One of the challenge for rural communities is also to face the climate change, as we are living the driest season ever in Cambodia.

SHG training center

SHG training center

Water supply 2

Community Water Access Point

  • Water Supply: funded by ‪#‎AusAid through Direct Aid Program, CRDT facilitated the construction of 2 small solar powered pumping and water supply systems which were recently built in Pu Cha village, Sre Preah commune, Keo Seima district, Mondulkiri province.

Now the whole village of 78 households are not worried about water access and they are started to think about improving their livelihoods, health and sanitation with home-connected water.

Water Supply

  • Environmental Education: sensitize workshops and training are on-going in the Mondulkiri area to raise the rural communities’ awareness about protecting the environment, reducing uncontrolled hunting, fishing and logging activities, and improving the agricultural productivity by practicing new agricultural techniques. The goal here is also to help the communities face and adapt themselves to the climate change.
  • Enterprises: CRDT is also encouraging the development of small enterprises with skills and capacities training, and loaning through the creation of Self Help Groups.
Self Help Group training

Self Help Group training

Learn more about/Support CRDT

Village Earth Global Affiliate: “As We Move Ahead, ICA Nepal for Social Reform”

(Acknowledgement to donors 2) The collected amount being handed to founder of SSDRC, Ms Sabita Upreti(right)by Ms. Ishu Subba, Executive Director (left) of ICA Nepal.

The collected amount being handed to founder of SSDRC, Ms Sabita Upreti(right)by Ms. Ishu Subba, Executive Director (left) of ICA Nepal.

Acknowledgment to Donors!

With the collaboration with Village Earth ICA Nepal was able to support 40 autistic children residing in Special School for Disabled Rehabilitation Center (SSDRC) with hygienic food for two months. SSDRC, which is situated in Bhaktapur District of Nepal admits and provides facilities free of charge for the students receiving education from there.The students there belong to various marginalized communities like indigenous and so-called low caste groups of Nepal. The school gives priority to more needy and vulnerable children who cannot afford to get the better schooling for their children. On the basis of poor economic condition, rural origin and severity of autism, children are admitted in the school.All of the children are autistic and receive special education including various physio-therapies in the school. The school provides them day care facilities with various vocational trainings, therapies and education.

(Acknowledgement to donors 1 )Happy faces of students at (Special School for Disabled Rehabilitation Center) SSDRC

Happy faces of students at (Special School for Disabled Rehabilitation Center) SSDRC

With an aim to improve physical hygiene of the children and support the organization for managing food items for 2 months for 40 children with Autism from age 3-13, ICA Nepal uploaded the project in the website of Village Earth. The amount which was collected after the effort was handed over to founder of SSDRC, Ms Sabita Upreti. The therapy sessions and education as well as vocational trainings are expensive affair and lack of financial support compromises the proper care of the needy children. SSDRC is dedicated to provide optimum support for the development of the children there. ICA Nepal along with SSDRC is very thankful for the generous support of the donors for the noble cause.

In brief: Training and Facilitation for Capacity Building

ICA Nepal is currently working with diverse groups of the society ranging from people living with disabilities, school teachers, development workers, young people, women and Rotarians through social artistry initiatives. International Trainers, Ms. Janet Sanders from USA and Ms. Evelyn Philbrook from Taiwan have been facilitating series of Social Artistry Leadership Trainings this month. Social Artistry Leadership training facilitates the development of skills and potentials in both individuals and groups in ways that enhance their societal awareness, liberate their inventiveness, increase their ability to work cooperatively with others, and raise their levels of self-esteem.

The training aims to tap inherent human capacities for greater imagination, compassion and resolve. This training aims to use multiple styles of thinking and expand the contemporary leadership challenges to manage the complex social and organizational issues.

(In brief training and facilitation) two participants engaging in an activity to enhance deep listening skills at Social Artistry Leadership Training organised for differently abled people

Two participants engaging in an activity to enhance deep listening skills at Social Artistry Leadership Training organised for differently abled people

Community Development Initiatives

In order to empower civil societies and local community, ICA Nepal has initiated community development activities in remote and rural locations of far and mid-western region of Nepal. With the series of intervention, ICA Nepal aims to improve the living standard, social and economic status of the marginalized community of the region and thereby preservation of human rights, actions against discrimination, implementation of rights and laws, restoration of peace and justice.


Call for support: Rural Women Struggling with Unsanitary Way of Dish Washing

(call for support) Local woman in Parbat washing dishes outside her house without any sanitary approach

Local woman in Parbat washing dishes outside her house without any sanitary approach

The problematic topography of our country has constrained development. Parbat is one such example of the case. The topography hinders development in many ways but as the fate of most of the hilly districts Parbat faces proper hygiene, water crunch and sanitation issues. The unsanitary way of washing dishes makes the area prone to water borne epidemics and infections, water pollution and promotes unhygienic practices. The people here have no basic awareness about the impact of such unsanitary way of life and moreover they don’t have enough capital to spend for the construction of the basin which would prevent them from many diseases and also make the surrounding beautiful.

The latest project uploaded in Village Earth aims to curb this situation by constructing sanitary dish washing pits in 100 households of the area where proper facility of dish washing is not accessible. The water collected in the pits can also be reused for farming purpose. This project, ‘construction of proper dish washing basin and reuse of grey water in a remote village of Parbat’ is designed to provide the villagers of Parbat district with sanitized dish washing pits with the purpose of maintaining healthy and sanitary practice. Once the fund is collected, project will be implemented within 6 months by ‘Kali lamaya laghu udhyami mahila sahakari’, the women-cooperatives based in Parbat. Therefore, with this project we aim to induce reusing culture in the area, promote hygiene and proper dishwashing system. Therefore through this, ICA Nepal likes to take an opportunity to request support to help the local rural women of Parbat.

Learn more about/Contribute to ICA Nepal

Village Earth Global Affiliate Human and Hope Association Providing Cambodians with ‘Sew Many Opportunities’

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Recruiting villagers to study in the sewing program at Human and Hope Association (HHA) is no easy feat. The staff at this grassroots organisation based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, have to spend weeks on end driving around dozens of villages, promoting the benefits of training and conducting assessments. Well, usually, that is. Over the past few weeks TEN villagers have approached Human and Hope Association to be part of their seventh generation of sewing students due to the increasing popularity of the program. People are seeing the advantages of the ten-month sewing program at HHA, and they want to be a part of it.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

The sewing program at HHA has developed substantially over the past three years, and now they retain 100% of their students who study with them. These students learn for three hours a day, five days a week. They take care of a garden at HHA and receive rice and vegetables as a stipend for studying to ensure their families are well-fed. On Fridays they study life skills and learn about topics such as domestic violence, marriage laws, anger management, job skills and hygiene.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Over the course of ten months they learn everything from how to use a sewing machine, to making school uniforms, to designing their own traditional ceremony tops.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

After studying in the program for three months the students have the opportunity to take out a microfinance loan with HHA. They purchase a machine to practice their lessons at home and begin fixing and making clothes for their neighbours. They begin repayments six months after first receiving the machine so that they are confident in their ability and are not pressured to pay back their loans straight away. This microfinance program has maintained a 100% repayment rate over the past three years.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Upon graduating, armed with a diverse set of skills, HHA’s students seek employment in sewing shops, run sewing businesses from their homes or are hired by HHA to make products for a fair wage. Just last week HHA introduced refresher workshops, with students participating in monthly workshops for five months after they graduate, to ensure they continue to develop their skills in Cambodia.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Around 95% of the students in HHA’s sewing program are female. Women in Cambodia face many issues, particularly with gender equality and roles. This program is incredibly empowering for the women who study as they learn that they have the ability to stand on their own two feet, and a voice to stand up for their rights. This program not only allows women to learn a skill and earn a wage, but it also gives the students confidence, and promotes independence.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Take for example, Chomrong, a third generation sewing student. A mother of three children, Chomrong was only able to study until grade seven because of poverty in her family. She began working as a builder, earning just 88 cents a day. She eventually got married and moved to Siem Reap. Her husband was also a builder, but they didn’t earn enough money to feed their family properly. As a result, their children would fall sick often and they would be pushed further into poverty because of the hospital fees.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

In 2014 Chomrong began studying sewing at HHA. Not only did she learn how to sew, she also studied life skills and was more confident to stand up to her husband. Her son began studying in HHA’s preschool program and he learnt Khmer, hygiene and good habits while her daughter studied English.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Chomrong took a loan to buy a sewing machine through HHA’s microfinance program and set up her own business at her home. She began to be well-known in her village for her high quality work. For that reason, HHA also hired Chomrong to be their seamstress, giving her an extra source of income.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

In 2015 Chomrong graduated from HHA’s sewing program. She paid off her first loan and took out a second loan to buy a hemming machine. Business is going so well that Chomrong and her husband are currently building a new house, replacing the wooden/bamboo structure they have lived in for so long.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Chomrong regularly speaks at HHA’s events to promote their programs to the community and show them how her life was transformed with commitment and hard work.



“My future is brighter than before, and I am so happy that now I can provide for my kids.”

It costs $800USD to place one marginalised villager in the ten-month sewing program at Human and Hope Association and the subsequent workshops.

Human and Hope Association need your support to fund 12 villagers in the seventh and eighth generations of their sewing program, so please make a tax deductible donation today!



The Economic Logic of Resource-Scarce Communities: A Guide for Western Community Workers

Social Safety Net

For western community workers (whether they be expatriates from a western country, locals raised in relatively affluent western educated families or settlers on colonized lands) the economic logic of resource-scarce communities can seem confusing, irrational and even counter to their own best interests.

If this profile fits you, you’ve probably asked yourself:

  • Why do people seem so unwilling to save a little bit of money or contribute to the operation and maintenance of a well, pump or irrigation scheme?
  • Why do people seem hesitant to improve their situation?
  • And of course; Why does the community seem be causing problems for this person or family now that they are achieving some success?

In this post I will attempt to provide some answers to these questions and in the process, explain some of the logic of resource-scarce communities. To do this I will draw on concepts from the field of substantivist economics and economic anthropology but I will also do my best to ground these concepts in examples from my own experience working in resource-scarce and indigenous communities around the world. My hope is that readers will take away with them a more nuanced understanding of and respect for culturally embedded economic systems.

To begin this discussion I would like to define what I mean by “resource scarce-communities”. When I use this term I am generally referring to communities that do not have access to the resources and institutions available in the wealthier advanced capitalist states say in North America and Europe. I am purposely trying to avoid using terms that directly or indirectly cast judgement by using a word such as “poor” or “developing” because I don’t want to imply that moving in the direction of an advanced capitalist economy is by any means the “correct” path and certainly not the sustainable path. In many ways these communities demonstrate some of the most efficient and sustainable use of resources anywhere on the globe (a phenomena related to what will be discussed in this article). Furthermore, while often cash-poor, that does not necessarily mean they are poor in natural resources just that instead of producing for the market a larger percentage of production is for direct consumption or exchange. Furthermore, compared to their economically “richer” neighbors, these communities often demonstrate much greater social equality and may even rank higher in many standards of human well being. However, I should also point out that many communities that fit this category are not doing well, struggling against one form or another of social or economic exclusion. In fact, it has been argued that such communities, rather than being anomalies in an increasingly global capitalist system, are in fact promoted by capitalists because they offer the “lowest possible wage” (Wallerstein 1995) and the exploitation of “producers who work without wages” (Werholf 1984). 

Social Safety Nets


Social Safety Nets

To begin understanding the economic logic of resource scarce communities we need to first understand how people in resource-scarce communities manage risk. Everyone, regardless of where they live is exposed to varying levels of risk whether it be a broken leg, an automobile accident, sickness, losing a job, failure of a crop, fire, flood or any countless ways our livelihood can be adversely affected. In wealthier countries, there exist various institutions (public, private and nonprofit) that help us reduce risk including health and life insurance, national welfare and food-stamp programs, unemployment insurance, home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance, savings accounts, pawn shops, even credit cards and your AAA membership can be seen as tools to manage risk. Nonprofit institutions such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters, housing and job training and placement programs also help us reduce risk by ensuring that people have the necessities for survival and can even help us get back on our feet. Along with institutional safety nets, there are also informal channels where the community steps-in and helps people  in times of need by giving or lending money, food, clothes, shelter from friends and family or possibly by giving us a job or referral.

Combined these institutional and communal responses make up the social safety net. As you might expect, social safety nets vary from country to country and community to community. As described above, they can be grouped into two broad categories; institutional safety nets and communal safety nets, defined below.

Institutional safety nets are social programs run by local and national government bureaucracies including social welfare (guaranteed income), food distribution, subsidized housing, health insurance, etc. But it also includes non-governmental actors such as church programs or non-governmental organizations, local food banks and shelters.

Communal safety nets are informal or culturally mediated responses to a crisis that occurs within communities, families, and between individuals and friends. Communal safety net responses might include giving or lending money/ food/ shelter/ land/ livestock/ childcare/ etc.

Both of these types of safety nets exist more or less simultaneously. As one might expect, the less developed a country’s institutional safety net, the more its citizens must rely on their communal safety net. In fact, according to the World Bank less than ⅓ of the world’s poor have access to some sort of institutional safety net. And on the other end of the spectrum, the more developed a country’s institutional safety net, the less its citizens must rely on communal responses and so they have a tendency to atrophy over time (read Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” for a good discussion on this trend). And because of this, we in western countries have little appreciation for or understanding of communal safety nets.


Leveling Mechanisms

Leveling mechanisms are socio-cultural institutions and norms (a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group) that function to distribute scarce resources among members of a community. Just like social safety nets, these mechanisms exist in both western industrialized economies as well as mixed and subsistence-level communities. Again, the primary difference is that in advanced capitalist economies, these mechanisms tend to be more integrated into the institutions of the state where in subsistence-level communities they tend to be more ritualized or normative. An example of a leveling mechanisms can be cultural or ritualized obligations such as the potlatch, a gift giving feast common among tribes in the Northwest North America or among the Shipibo people in Peru’s Amazon basin who would traditionally host feasts for the entire community whenever a large Paiche fish was caught.

In the India sub-continent there is a long tradition of community work days known as Shramadana. Organizations like the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka have incorporated this as a sort of philosophical foundation of their work.



On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota Lakota families and communities will host elaborate pow-wows, memorials and other gatherings where they give away hundreds and even thousands of dollars worth of new blankets, home and kitchen wares, etc. to anyone in attendance. The entire family is expected to help out either with time and/or money. Plus, they not only feed everyone at these public events, it’s also perfectly acceptable for attendees to bring tupperware to take food home to family members who couldn’t attend. Anthropologists refer to this as generalized reciprocity – which is a general community norm of giving without the expectation of direct return.

A "giveaway" is a type of Generalized Reciprocity

A giveaway on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The items in the picture are distributed to anyone who attends.


Leveling mechanisms can also be more normative, where there are a community expectations that those with more wealth are expected to share, this could be by hosting a feast or party, or paying for work done on the community well, or sharing extra food with their neighbor, or buying commodities from others in the community (even if they don’t necessarily need them).


A person I have worked with for many years on the Pine Ridge Reservation rarely turns down beadwork or other items when people approach him on the street. Once I asked him why he bought it when I knew he had plenty already and he said “I’m doing well right now and he probably needs the cash right now more than I do.” he probably also knows that if he ever gets in a tight spot and needed cash he could turn around and sell those items to someone else.


Leveling mechanisms are especially important in mixed economies where a greater percentage of exchanges are non-market (non-cash based). In such communities there is often a scarcity of cash yet there are certain vital commodities and services that require cash like gasoline, bus tickets, medicines, fertilizers & pesticides, motorcycle parts, radios, Coca-Cola, TVs, etc. The fact is, modern amenities are largely cash-based and the increasing desire for these things creates a greater demand for cash. When cash is scarce in a community, leveling mechanisms and norms can help spread out the available cash preventing it from being hoarded by any one person or business.

Alternative currencies are a powerful tool in cash-scarce communities that make it possible for people to convert their surplus labor into a relatively durable and exchangeable commodity. In the example above, my friend knew the person selling the beadwork needed the cash more than he did so he exchanged it for the beadwork – not for his own selfish need but for the benefit of the other person. In this case, the beadwork served as a form of alternative currency on the Reservation. Commodities like this can then be exchange for cash from the people who possess a surplus of it. On Pine Ridge, everyone knows the value of these alternative currencies and virtually everyone participates in this important informal economy because they too one day may be in a similar predicament and need to rely on others. By helping others out when you can you strengthen your status and reputation in the community. Another way to think about status and reputation is as a form of “social capital” which is a form of wealth that is interchangeable with economic capital. For example, by helping people in the community, it is possible to bank-away social capital to be expended at a later time, either in a time of crisis, lack of cash, or to buy influence in the community.


Managing Free Riders

Here’s where things get particularly interesting. For both safety nets and leveling mechanisms to function there has to be a way to mitigate the problem of free riders. Free riders are actors who derive benefits from a common property resource, in this case the safety net and the leveling mechanisms are the common property resources, without giving their fair share in return. With institutional safety nets, the problem is ensuring that everyone pays a fair share of the taxes and does not draw on benefits unless they truly meet the pre-defined criteria and enforcement is usually handled by the State social workers or tax collection agencies. For communal safety nets, the problem is ensuring that each person helps others when in need and draws benefits more or less to the same extent as other members of the community.


A few years back while working on a community project in Peru’s Amazon basin, we were invited to be part of a minga (a community work day) where a large part of the community came-out to help rebuild the thatched home for one of the community members. The otherwise labor intensive project took no time at all and at at zero cash expense with 10-20 men doing the labor and the women cooking and making chicha to keep the group happy and hydrated. We figured out later that our wise host used the event as an opportunity for the community to get to know us and dispel some of the rumors swirling around the community about the strange gringos in the community.

Community "minga" - Amazon Basin Peru

Community “minga” – Amazon Basin Peru

●     But how does a community enforce this normative expectation so the problem of free riders doesn’t compromise people’s faith in the community and their own willingness to help others?

●     What would happen if someone didn’t participate in the minga?

Well, I’m certain missing one minga wouldn’t dramatically affect your status and reputation in the community but missing multiple ones without an excuse might. And when it came time for you to rebuild your house, you might find it pretty difficult to get anyone to help.


As you might imagine these normative incentives and pressures can be a powerful mechanism of social control within resource-scarce communities. This is also how these mechanisms protect against the over-exploitation of natural resources. While there is a lot to be gained by maintaining a positive balance of social capital, there are also numerous ways these systems can restrict behavior – behaviors that a western community worker might feel are positive or necessary. For example, micro-entrepreneurs might find it difficult to save sufficient capital to start or grow a business because they’re torn between saving cash or maintaining their good standing in the community. Those who do find some success without sharing the wealth can expect a negative lash-back from the community in form of dirty looks, slanderous rumors, a strained ability to engage in social or economic transactions, unwillingness of community to allow you access to communally managed resources like land, water, hunting rights, etc. or in the worst case even outright attacks on your person and property.



When I started working on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a graduate student in Anthropology, one of the first assignments my academic advisor gave me was to review and code transcripts of interviews with recipients of a newly established microfinance program. One of the most common observations I made was the frequency with which people would describe the challenge of dealing with the expectations that friends and family had for money, products, or discounts after they started to get their business off the ground. This created a lot of pressure for people because they feared getting labeled as “stingy” or more serious forms of ostracism. This is not surprising since one of the foundations Lakota culture is generosity or in the Lakota language Wacantognaka – one of the four sacred virtues. Many of those same participants stated how they felt Lakota culture was incompatible with capitalism. Possibly it is greed with which Lakota culture is incompatible? If you think about it, In western culture, there are very few normative limits on the accumulation of wealth and the expectation for sharing wealth rarely extends beyond the immediate family. For the Lakota, the expectation to share wealth extends to the entire community but especially to one’s extended family known as the Tiospaye and most certainly to your Tiwahe (immediate family).


The video clips below captured by Village Earth show residents of the Reservation describing these normative pressures.



Principles for Understanding the Economics of Resource-Poor Communities

So, with all this in mind, let’s return to our opening questions.

Why do people seem hesitant towards improving their situation relative to others?

If you’ve been frustrated by what you can only interpret as a “lack of motivation or drive for success” then maybe you should consider more carefully the pressures that “success” creates for people in communities with high normative expectations for sharing and steep penalties for “free riders”. This might seem harsh or even “backwards” until you consider the extreme risk that people are exposed to in these communities. Their family and community might be their only assurance that they will not one-day fall into dire poverty and will be cared for into old age. Your project may be here for a few years but they will have to contend with their community for the rest of their lives. Placing too much emphasis on improving the situation for individuals or isolated families may be too narrowly focused and contain an inherent western bias. Notwithstanding, we should engage in a dialogue with communities to explore what degree the community safety net is a response to the failures, absence of, or exclusion from institutional safety nets and whether our energy would be better focused on making these institutions more comprehensive and/or inclusive.

Why does the community seem be causing problems for this person or family now that they are achieving some success?

A metaphor that is commonly used to describe this situation common in resource-scarce communities is “the bucket of crabs” which refers to when crabs are in a bucket and one tries to climb out the others immediately climb on its back trying to get out as well making them all fall back into the bucket. However, I would argue that this metaphor is only focused on the negative side of this. I would argue what is happening here is that this negative community response, while seemingly irrational and spiteful, is actually a very rational communal response to mitigate the problem of free riders and to ensure that limited resources are spread out. We have the same mechanisms in the west they just seem more rational because they are built into our judicial and tax system and not by community members taking things into their own hands. Discussing this openly in communities may help everyone understand the social and economic utility of these pressures and allow them to possibly create more constructive responses. Part of that discussion should explore the relationship between these responses and macro-level institutions. For example, the imposition of western state-level structures (e.g. laws, land tenure systems, political organization, etc) on indigenous cultures around the world did not simply replace what was there before, but instead, they created overlapping systems, one enforced by the institutions of the State and one enforced by cultural institutions and norms. As you might expect, this overlapping of cultural and western institutions can create a lot of tensions. For example, a person wanting to use some land to raise livestock or build a house, according to cultural norms that person might be required to ask permission from an elder. However, say another person who wants to use that same land might undermine that decision by gaining approval from the State. The responses to such cultural transgressions can be swift and brutal and can tear apart the seams of a community. An open discussion about these tensions should be approached with care but if successful, could be the start of a journey towards reconciliation and the forging of solutions.

Why do people seem so unwilling to save a little bit of money or contribute to the operation and maintenance of a well/pump/ or irrigation scheme?

As we discussed above, in resource poor communities it is common for there to be a scarcity of cash. In such situations, it makes little sense to hoard cash away when there exist other options such as saving an alternative currency that can be exchanged at a later time for cash OR simply relying on the community’s existing social safety net which is likely experienced in raising cash in a short period of time for things that have a high priority. If the community is unwilling to raise funds for the repair of a pump or tractor, it probably means they have more pressing needs for that cash. A clear reason why community workers must prevent themselves from imposing their own analysis and priorities on communities.

What steps can we take to design programs and policies that support and build upon these vital community systems?

  1. Seek to understand how the social safety net and leveling mechanisms work in the community you are working in. Ask questions like:
    1. What would happen if someone broke their leg or if someone’s crop failed – how would they make ends meet?
    2. What the responsibilities do people have to care for their immediate family, extended family, band/tribe/clan, neighborhood, community?
    3. What happens if people don’t meet that responsibility?
    4. How are the elderly cared for?
    5. How do you know if someone is “poor” in this community?
    6. How do you know if someone is “wealthy” in this community?
    7. What happens when people are wealthy but they don’t help-out others?
  2. Seek to understand how your programs might positively or negatively affect a person’s standing in the community (social capital)?
    1. How can we design this program so that other people/families/communities don’t become jealous or resentful.
    2. If you are successful at starting this business/farm/etc, how do you think people in your family or community will react?
    3. How can we ensure that other people don’t become jealous or resentful of your participation in this project?
  3. If this pump/tractor/latrine needed a new part that cost $50, $200, or $500 how would you get that money?
    1. If you don’t think you need to save that money, are there other things we can make or collect that can be exchanged for cash in an emergency?
  4. Build dialogue around the historical interaction between the local safety net and state structures.
    1. When does conflict emerge and how might this be mitigated?
    2. What institutional safety-nets do you have access to and how might you be better served by them?
    3. What actions can we take to make these institutions more comprehensive and inclusive?
  5. Above all, instead of working against these important and deeply embedded cultural systems, find ways to make them an integral part of your strategy and programs.


For more on this topic check out the following online courses part of our Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development: Community MobilizationMicro-finance & the Role of WomenSocial Entrepreneurship and Enterprise DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development, and Community Participation and Dispute Resolution.

5 Ways Mapping Can Help Empower Your Community and The Tools You Need to Do It.

If you’re a community leader, organizer or researcher it’s likely you’ve heard about the growing role that mapping is playing in community development, advocacy and research. It’s also likely that, while intrigued by the concept of community mapping, you don’t yet understand how mapping could be used in your particular issue or community context. But it’s likely that an even bigger barrier to community mapping is the belief that you need formal training in Geography or GIS to utilize mapping in your community initiatives. My goal in this post to begin demystify community mapping by showing you some of ways it can be used and some of the tools that can be used to do it.

5 ways community mapping can be used to help empower your community. 

  1. Defending territorial rights– It’s a common situation where communities/individuals have certain rights within a particular territory but have difficulty defending those rights or restrictions because they can’t prove if a violation is occurring within that particular territory. For example, indigenous Shipibo communities In Peru’s Amazon basin have territories that were assigned to them in the 1970s. Within those territories they have certain rights to regulate oil a gas extraction, logging, settlement development, etc. However, it’s one thing to point to a boundary on a map and another thing entirely to identify where that boundary exists on the ground. With simple low cost, consumer-grade GPS (or GPS smartphone apps) or even a compass, they can determine if a violation of their territory has occurred and have the evidence needed to alert local government officials. Other examples of territory defense include: indigenous mapping and counter-mapping.
    Peru Community Mapping Workshop

    Territory mapping workshop facilitated by Village Earth with Shipibo Communities in Peru.

  2. Revealing Socio-economic Disparities – Visualizing socio-economic disparities with maps can be a powerful tool for influencing the public, policy-makers, and donors. Socio-economic data such as the availability of low-income housing, areas under heavy gentrification pressure, crime and policing, domestic violence, exposures to pollution, traffic or transportation patterns, etc. can all be mapped and by doing so can reveal disparities experienced withing and between communities. In fact, any data that has associated geographic markers (coordinates, addresses, neighborhoods, census tracts, cities, counties, etc) can be used to populate associated geographies on a map – using various fee GIS software such as Quantum GIS and/or free online mapping tools such as Google Maps or QGIS Cloud.
    Map created by Village Earth using freely available data from the USDA to map the relationship between food insecurity and agriculture production.

    Map created by Village Earth using freely available data from the USDA to map the relationship between food insecurity and agriculture production.

  3. Individual / Community Planning – You no longer need to be a government agency to utilize mapping tools for community planning. In fact, empowering undeserved communities to do their own planning and mapping can be a powerful hedge against impositions from the top-down. On Native American Reservations across the United States, many Native American landowners possess land allotted to them during the General Allotment Act of 1887 but because of various exclusionary policies by the Federal Government, have not been able to utilize them for agriculture, housing, etc. Despite the fact that many Native landowners would like to live on and utilize their allotted lands there are numerous hurdles to doing so. One of the largest hurdles is the lack of information available about their land holdings. In an attempt to remedy this situation, Village Earth developed a map book and later an online mapping resource. The purpose of these tools is to take freely available (but difficult to find and compile) information and make it easily available to Native landowners. This information can be used to locate their original allotments scattered around the Reservation which is the first step required to consolidate them.

    Online mapping tools like Village Earth’s “Pine Ridge Land Information System” can be set-up easily for low-cost and with little technical knowledge.


  4. Monitoring Lands – The proliferation of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery through websites sites like Google Earth has made it possible for anyone with a computer (or smart phone) with an internet connection to monitor vast and remote tracts of land for such things as illegal logging, overgrazing, settlement expansion, deforestation, ocean health, expansion of urban slums – the possibilities are endless. Plus, few people realize that you can access nearly 30 years of historical images allowing for historical comparisons for this like forest loss, agriculture development, rates of urbanization etc. and you don’t need to be a GIS expert to access it.
    Village Earth developed a tutorial for how Native American Tribes can monitor their Reservation lands for overgrazing.

    Village Earth developed a tutorial for how Native American Tribes can monitor their Reservation lands for overgrazing.


  5. Discovering and/or Revealing Spatial Relationships  – The proliferation of high-resolution satellite and aerial imagery has also made it possible to map previously unmapped geographies from your desktop computer or smart phone. For example the freely available Google Maps or Quantum GIS make it possible to map in high resolution “polygons” (e.g. the boundary of a forest or farm), “lines” (e.g. roads, rivers, trails) and “points” (e.g. housing units, well locations, latrines, car crashes, police incidences). These things can be mapped as a layer directly on top of an aerial in Google Maps or Quantum GIS or on site using a smart phone. Once these things are mapped, QGIS or even MS Excel can analyze this data against other data sets. For example, you could perform the following queries; What is the average distance of wells from households?, What is the average number of grocery stores per mile on Native American Reservations vs. non native communities?, or What is the average number incidences of police use of force in majority black communities vs. majority white communities.

Map developed by Village Earth using Quantum GIS combining freely available USDA food security data and agriculture census data.


To get started with community mapping it’s a good idea to clarify the question you are trying to answer OR the message you are trying to convey.

Types of questions that can be answered through mapping:

  • How much territory are we losing each year?
  • How do we know if our lands are being degraded?
  • Does where you live determine the quality of policing, food, water, transportation you have access to?

Types of messages that can be conveyed through mapping:

  • This is how much forest we’ve lost over the last 5-10-20 years
  • These are our ancestral lands that have been stolen
  • This is how much tiger habitat has been lost to deforestation
  • This is the decrease in areas of low-income housing over the last 10 years.

If you would like to learn more about community mapping including the different applications, tools, ethics, and methods check out Village Earth’s online Community-Based Mapping training which is part of our online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development.

Tiyospaye Sakowin Education Center to host three native youth healing camps on Pine Ridge this summer.

Youth Camp 10

In recent years there has been an epidemic of youth suicides across Indian Country and especially on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In response to this crisis, a coalition of community-based youth programs on the Pine Ridge called Tiospaye Sakowin is planning three youth healing camps during the spring and summer 2016. We need your help to make sure they have the resources needed to make these camps a success! Please considering making a donation today.
Hoksila/Koskala(Boys/Young Men) Camp: May 26-30, 2016

Wakanyeja (Children) Healing Camp: July 6-10, 2016

Wikoskala (Girls/Young Women) Healing Camp: July 28-31, 2016
The camps will be held at the Tiospaye Sakowin Ceremonial Grounds, next to former Oblaye Store, approximately 2.5 miles south of Sharp’s Corner on the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota. The Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation) care for and protect their young by putting them in the center of the herd. Our Young Relatives, ages 0-17, who have experienced trauma, loss and /or grief are invited to come to the “center” and participate in healing camps. They will be provided with education and healing opportunities, with emphasis on nurturing their Nagi (spirit) toward a strong, mind and body. Young women, up to age 18, who are pregnant and have experienced trauma are welcome to attend either the children’s camp or Young Women’s camp.

Wicoti Wokiglega (Camp Goals)

To give life to the values, gifts and teachings provided by Tunkasila and Unci (Grandfather and Grandmother) ancestors for the well-being and healing of our people, which include:

  • Wacante Ognaka– To have a warm and compassionate environment for youth who have experienced trauma, grief and loss and their parent/guardian and siblings. All youth are treated
  • Woapiye – To offer an opportunity for the youth (and their family if they wish) to receive a spiritual purification or “wiping off” of the spiritual residue left by the trauma they have experienced.
  • Wopakinte -To offer an opportunity for the youth to begin or strengthen their healing through
  • Woyuskin– to provide a happy, fun and accepting environment
  • Lakol Caswicatun Pi – To provide an opportunity for those youth who do not have a spirit name to receive one through ceremony and to have a public acknowledgement of their spirit name to reinforce their Lakota cultural identity
  • Wicozani – To provide an opportunity for wellness screenings health and mental health
  • Wowasake – To provide an opportunity to strengthen the mind, body and spirit
Click image above to download PDF flyer and registration form.

Click image above to download PDF flyer and registration form.

Camp Directors/Advisors – Rick and Ethleen Two Dogs, [email protected] and Gene and Cindy
Giago, [email protected] For registration, contact Camp Coordinators as listed below. Once registration is confirmed, additional information will be provided for preparation and participation in the camp. There is a limit of 20 participants per camp due to limited resources and space. See registration deadlines on registration form.

Koskalaka (Young Men, age 11-17) Wicoti – Joe Giago, [email protected], 605-441-2794
Wakanyeja (Children, age 0-11) Wicoti – Saige Pourier, [email protected], 605-454-3150
Wikoskalala (Young Women, age 11-17)Wicoti– Randilynn Giago, [email protected],605-454-5178

Camp Coordinators

Sponsored by: Tiospaye Sakowin Education and Healing Center

Donate Now to Support the 2016 Youth Healing Camps


Hard and Soft Appropriate Technologies and the Technology Generation Process

Community well project - Amazon Basin, Peru

Community well project – Amazon Basin, Peru

Appropriate Technology (AT) is a way of thinking about the choices and the applications of technology to solve a problem or to create something, such as a structure, a machine, an instrument or a system.

Appropriate technology “involves a search for technologies that have beneficial effects on income distribution, human development, environmental quality, and the distribution of political power—as well as productivity—in the context of particular communities and nations”. — Darrow and Saxenian

According to Jequier (1976) Appropriate Technology “represents what one might call the social and cultural dimension of innovation.” The idea here is that the value of a new technology lies not only in its economic viability and its technical soundness, but also in its adaptation to the local and cultural environment. Assessing the appropriateness of a technology necessarily implies some sort of value judgment both on the part of those who develop it and those who will be using it, and when ideological considerations come into play, as they often do, appropriateness is at best a fluctuating concept.

Faulkner and Village Earth founder Maurice Albertson (1985) defined technology as “knowledge, skills, organization and machinery related to the production of goods and service.” Then they define appropriate technology as: “the skills, knowledge and procedures for making, using and doing useful things, while making optimum use of human, natural, and person-made resources in the village—with ‘optimum’ determined on a village-specific basis by the villagers themselves”.

They further break down AT into appropriate hard technology and appropriate soft technology with the following definitions:

  • Appropriate hard technology is “engineering techniques, physical structures, and machinery that meet a need defined by the village, and utilize the material at hand or readily available. It can be built, operated and maintained by the local people with very limited outside assistance (e.g., technical, material, or financial). it is usually related to an economic goal.”
  • Appropriate soft technology deals with “the social structures, human interactive processes, and motivation techniques. It is the structure and process for social participation and action by individuals and groups in analyzing situations, making choices and engaging in choice-implementing behaviors that bring about change.”

Taking each of these concepts, ideas, and arguments into consideration, we provide the following definition of Appropriate Technology

Appropriate Technology is the appropriate use of knowledge, skills, organization and machinery for the production of goods and services that are desired by those people being served. These goods and services are provided in a way that is compatible with nature and the environment, uses only renewable resources (including energy resources), benefits people equally and to the maximum extent possible, and is based on an economic system where the service motive is combined equally with the profit motive.

This definition of AT is speaking in generalities. Therefore, the following is presented to expand on these generalities:

1.   Compatibility with nature and the environment includes:

  • The physical environment
  • The biological environment
  • The social and cultural environment
  • The political environment
  • The atmospheric and space environment
  • The earth environment
  • The auditory, olfactory, and visual environment

2.     Utilization of renewable resources, in order to develop a harmonious and sustainable relationship with nature and the environment, includes:

  • Renewable energy resources to help find a way out of the accelerating energy crises
  • Construction material and supplies
  • Equipment and instruments
  • A non-violent approach taken for all activities
  • In order for all human resources (the people) to benefit to the maximum extent possible, AT must assure that:
  • It is a win-win situation for all people and communities concerned.
  • All persons concerned are involved equitably in decisions related to the project or activity.
  • No alienating work is created (which is disconnected from its products and goals).
  • The workplaces become more democratic.
  • Local communities and cultural traditions are preserved and revitalized.

4.    If the economic systems of both private enterprise and public enterprise are based on the service motive as well as the profit motive, AT will help to insure that:

  • No one person or group of persons benefits at the expense of another person or group of persons.
  • Incomes and standards of living are enhanced and not degraded.
  • No inappropriate or burdensome debts are incurred.
  • Diverse locally owned and operated enterprises are encouraged.
  • The AT will have a beneficial effect on income distribution and productivity.
  • Entrepreneurs will place equal value on, and feel equal satisfaction from, performing a service as well as making profit.

The Technology Generation Process

  1. Technology generation begins with a need.
    High-tech (technology) for the sake of high-tech is irrelevant. New for the sake of new is a waste of resources. Appropriate technology addresses a need by providing a solution that fits with the resources and goals of a village in its relationship to a prosperous future.
  2. Technology does not stand alone.
    Technology must be surrounded by organization, participation, management, decision-making, and financial solidarity. It requires training in its requirement for maintenance and optimal operation and training in management skills required to sustain its operation.
  3. Technology generation requires a technology that fits, a package, a scheme.
    The technology fits local resources and fills an expressed need. It is based on local knowledge of circumstances, social arrangements and what words, and imported knowledge of innovations that have worked for others and have solved similar problems.
  4. Technology should be a complete package.
    The package is the way a technology is introduced in terms that make sense to the people using it. The package includes preparation, installation, operation, maintenance, and replacement.
  5. A scheme is the way a technology is made usable and suitable.
    Nothing happens without a scheme. A scheme provides a way to provide the technology, a way to pay for, develop, and maintain the technology, a way to operate and manage the technology. Schemes involve incentives, agreements, organizations, and commitment. Some we all are familiar with are the Heifer Project and milk schemes.
  6. Monitoring and evaluation of the performance of technology is the privilege and responsibility of ownership.
    Constantly evaluating the performance of an innovation means that you are a dynamic part of continued improvement. You are a continual problem solver and innovator who can keep up with this changing world.

Village Earth is the distributor of the Appropriate Technology Library and publisher of the online Appropriate Technology Sourcebook. Topics discussed in this blog post are also discussed in the following online courses: Approaches to Community DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development and the in-person course Community Mobilization for Chapters of Engineers Without Borders (EWB)


Developing a Shared Community Narrative (Past, Present, Future) Through Community-Based Film

Community-based film

Community-based film workshop facilitated by Village Earth with communities along the Rio Tigre in Peru and Ecuador.

Participatory video can be powerful tool for creating a dialogue and building consensus around a shared community narrative for “where we came from”, “who we are now”, and “what do we want to be in the future.” This post synthesizes the community film approach developed by Village Earth over the course of about 10 years working on such projects on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and with indigenous communities in Peru and Ecuador.

The community-based film workshops, developed by Village Earth, allow entire communities to work together dialogue and link past, present, and possible futures into a shared narrative with the express purpose of communicating with outsiders to raise awareness and support for their situation while attempting to mitigate the distortion or framing of issues by outsiders.


The roots of this approach stem from the cinéma-vérité approach Village Earth utilized in earlier films such as Pine Ridge Session One (2004) and REZONOMICS (2005). In these films we attempted to limit our influence on the subject and topic by avoiding elaborate staging, lighting, large-intimidating cameras, and even narration. However, even with these precautions it was difficult to avoid framing the issues from the outside through the selection of subjects and especially while in the editing room. Yet, despite these limitations the power that these films had to giving form to an emerging narrative for issues on the Reservation, especially the growing movement to recover and utilize lands, was readily apparent. It became clear that film would be a powerful tool, not only to educate outsiders about complex issues but also to mobilize communities for collective action.


Theoretical Perspectives

Village Earth believes that western values are not determinative and that all communities have the right to self-determination. This core belief has guided our work with indigenous communities around the world and has allowed us to be allies despite our position as ‘outsiders’ and with our less than complete understanding of their world-view. Furthermore, we recognize that leading up the end of the 20th century there emerged a growing crisis for the Western world-view. The crisis of scientific positivism brought about scholars such as Kuhn and Feyerabend, the delegitimazation of cultural imperialism, the rise of cultural relativism, and the acceptance of the environmental crisis caused by capitalist globalization created a paradigm shift for the totalizing meta-narratives of the Western worldview. According to the French Philosopher Jean François Lyotard, these meta-narratives were the basis of the social bond for western society, in their absence society is faced with a crisis of legitimacy especially in how it defines “development”. According to the Arturo Escobar:

“First, modernity’s ability to provide solutions to modern problems has been increasingly compromised. In fact, it can be argued that there are no modern solutions to many of today’s problems. This is clearly the case, for instance, with massive displacement and ecological destruction, but also with development’s inability to fulfill its promise of a minimum of well-being for the world’s people… Second, if we accept that what is at stake is the recognition that there are no modern solutions to many of today’s modern problems where are we to look for new insights?”

In the absence of the meta-narratives of the West (summarized by Escobar by the concept of modernity) we must create new narratives that become the raw material of a new society and a renewed social bond. But for this new society is to be based on equality, reciprocity, and compassion we must exchange the totalizing meta-narratives of the modern era, based on the on a notion of “Truth” and exchanged and monopolized for past several centuries by the Western States for a more relativistic notion of “truths” and the acceptance of differing world-views. Thus, this is a two part processes for individuals and communities. The first is rejecting the legitimacy of western knowledge as being implicit because of its reference to the Western meta-narrative of logical positivism. The second is creating new, more localized narratives where legitimacy comes from self-reflexive dialogue and community consensus.

According to Lyotard “A collectivity that takes narrative as its key form of competence has no need to remember its past. It finds the raw material for its social bond not only in the meaning of the narratives it recounts, but also in the act of reciting them.”

While this may be a paradigm shift in western world-view its the basis of the social bond for many indigenous communities who have been able to avoid, for whatever reason, the assimilation and acceptance of western meta-narratives.

Another principle that guides our work is the right that communities have to opacity. “For Glissant, “opacity boils down to the “irreducible density of the Other,” suggesting that it is not possible to ever fully know, understand, or be the Other. More importantly, Glissant recognizes the inherent violence in appropriations of the Other and warns against the types of appropriations that are evident in the social sciences and that tend to dominate the Western way of thinking. Western understanding, in this context, is based on transparency, measurement, and reduction. Glissant argues that in the West, “In order to understand you and thus accept you, I have to measure your solidity with the ideal scale of providing me with the grounds to make comparisons and, perhaps, judgments. I have to reduce” (Glissant 1997, 190). Moreover, the seemingly benign act of understanding, from an etymological perspective, constitutes an aggressive act.”(Stetson, 2007)

[A] “right to opacity,” which is a right not to appropriated, not to be objectified, not to be essentialized, and not to be understood (too deeply), arguing that is time to give up the “old obsession with discovering what lies at the bottom of natures”. [Glissant] develops a theory of difference that rejects pure… In this sense, opacity acts as an ethic that encourages a shifting of the gaze away from objectifying the other. However, while it leads us away from essentialization or objectification, (Stetson, 2007)

In 2006 Village Earth was invited to facilitate a community-strategic planning session with the Shipibo-Konibo of Peru’s Amazon Basin. After a discussion with community members it was agreed to structure the planning around the creation of a shared narrative of drawing from the past, present, and possible futures. The reasons for this decision were multiple: For one, it was thought that this approach would be more practical since at the end of the workshop they would not only have a plan but a compelling way to share that plan with other’s in the community who were not present at the workshop but also to outsiders and potential funding agencies. The other reason was that it was thought this would engage the participants more as they saw their story take shape. We also decided to venture further away from creating films of people to facilitating communities to create their own films and thus have greater control over the framing of the issues, the level of opacity, and the creation of their own narrative.

The central idea was to create a cohesive narrative of the community, what it was, what it is, and what it could be. By participating in the creation of the community’s story, workshop participants take an active role in framing and re-framing a shared narrative of the community and archetypal images. While also framing their own representation(s) for people outside of their community. Simultaneously creating a narrative that is empowering internally to your own community – addressing the role of individual/community agency but also analyzing the structural changes that has limited personal/community agency and self determination.

The process of the film workshop has four steps:

  1. Identify important defining images/stories from the past, answering the question “who were we and how did we live?” this is accomplished by writing or drawing pictures on pieces of paper.
    Aspects of their past they want to discuss and share with others.

    Aspects of their past they want to discuss and share with others.

  2. Identifying important defining images/stories form the present answering the question “who are we and how do we live today?,”

    Aspects of their current reality that they would like to discuss and share.


  3. Identifying important defining images/stories for the future “how would we like to live and who do we want to become?” The final stage of the workshop is tying together past, present, and future by identifying narrative “threads.” An example might look/sound like this: “In the past our rivers were clean and full of fish (past). Today, because of the oil companies drilling upstream, our rivers our contaminated and there are no more fish (present). However, we plan to organize with other communities along the river to make our voices be heard and let the world know about what these companies are doing (future).”
    Aspects of their future vision that they would like to share.

    Aspects of their future vision that they would like to share.


  4. Once the group has come to consensus on the most important threads, the next step is creating a storyboard. We accomplish this by having the workshop participants break into groups, one for each thread. We then give a brief explanation of “shots” and “scenes.” Scenes are collections of individual shots that tell a story. A particular thread might contain several scenes.
Narrative Threads that tie-together past, present and future.

“Narrative threads” that tie-together past, present and future.

For example, to tell the story of river contamination you might want to have a scene explaining how children get sick from swimming in the river. This scene might have several shots – children swimming, a sick child, an interview with a doctor, or whatever the participants believe will tell the story best. Once they are satisfied with their scenes they create a “shot list,” basically a list of of their shots, where they will do them, and who will be responsible to get it done. Finally we give a brief explanation of how to use the cameras and then let them go out with their teams to start working on their lists. Each night we would collect the footage, digitize it and work with each team to edit together their scenes (below).

Editing footage captured by the community during the day.

Editing footage captured by the community during the day. (Photo: Ralf Kracke-Berndorff)

The final evening of the workshop was the film premiere of the community’s new, completely participatory, documentary which they decided to title Paromea Ronin Bakebo, which is Shipibo for The Children of the Anaconda. Many people from the community showed up and there was quite a buzz throughout the community about the film. This was very exciting for everybody involved. The film premiere was amazing. As one American observer remarked, “It was like the Shipibo Academy Awards.” After many long speeches, songs, and special recognitions, the film was projected onto a make-shift screen in the community hall for all the people to see. Everyone was very happy with the film and the children were so excited to see themselves on the big screen.

The impact of the film was readily apparent. According to one participant, “Working on our Cosmovision has brought us together and gave us an opportunity to keep the dreams of all the particpants’ families with us.”

Stetson writes, “in the video the Shipibo express themselves in terms of the possibility of re-living or re-making Shipibo culture (via language, traditional medicine, pottery, dress, reciprocity, sharing, and community integration). The film also reveals practical and material needs such that the interests in getting micro-projects funded reflects the reality of being indigenous in a modern world. As mentioned, the video deals with the real structural constraints that both individuals and communities face. However, to look at the Shipibo only in these terms would be a mistake. The workshop participants, in Children of the Anaconda, framed Shipibo culture in terms of the past, present, and future. The past is dignified, beautiful, and even romantic; the present is a crisis, economically, environmentally, and culturally; but the future is potentially bright, given the potential to re-live and re-new Shipibo culture, of course, with the help from, and relation, to the world.”

The community film we developed with Communities along the Rio Tigre in Ecuador in partnership with the Zapara Nation followed a similar process and highlights similar concerns about loss of habitat and contamination by nearby oil and gas.

Click here to learn about Village Earth’s support for Narrative Evaluations.

Ideas and concepts discussed in this post are also discussed in the following courses: Community MobilizationParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation & Development and the Politics of Empowerment

The Role of Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation in Community-Based Development

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Village Earth Participatory Strategic Planning Workshop – Armenia

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is an important part of building both accountability and a learning process into the development program from the beginning, both within and between communities and organizations. M&E should be incorporated into each phase of the community development process and included into implementation planning as a concrete plan for M&E drawn up by the community itself. M&E planning from the beginning can allow the funding strategy and ensuing M&E approach to spring from this relationship. Here we advocate for a Community Praxis Approach to lay the fundamentals of an M&E process.

A Theoretical Introduction to Village Earth’s Community Praxis Approach

The Community Praxis Approach stems from Paulo Freire’s ideas on education and poverty, which have their roots in Marxist concepts of an “ideological superstructure” shaped by the mode of production (e.g. capitalism, colonialism) and which forms the fabric of the “social consciousness.” According to Marx, this is a “false consciousness,” preventing people from recognizing the true nature of their reality, and most importantly, the reality of their exploitation.

Freire was also influenced by the concept of praxis in Marxist theory –namely, the idea that theory should be grounded in action and the everyday practice of human beings. Freire explains,

“It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for their liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection; only then will it be a praxis.”

In practical terms, the oppressed must shape their understanding of reality by critically analyzing the world in which they live and then using that analysis to change it. This would be in contrast to the traditional “banking” approach to teaching where someone else tells you about the world and then you memorize it, like someone making a deposit into a bank. Freire was also influenced by the anti-colonial writings of Frantz Fanon especially his ideas on the role of language in the psychology of the colonized. Fanon writes:

“Every colonized people–in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality–finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation; that is, with the culture of the mother country.”

With this in mind, Freire developed a new form of literacy education where people don’t just memorize a language embedded with the conceptual categories of the oppressor but rather do so critically, creating their own conceptual categories (of course based on a critical analysis of the world around them). Both Fanon and Freire believed that true liberation must start with education calling this process “conscientization.” According to Freire, “literacy should be viewed as ‘one of the major vehicles by which ‘oppressed’ people are able to participate in the sociohistorical transformation of their society.”

Freire’s ideas have had a powerful influence around the globe, but especially in Latin America, influencing liberation theology and becoming the basis for many social movements. Freire has also influenced contemporary thinking and practice of action research, participatory research, community-based research, participatory rural appraisal, participatory learning and action, and now as we present here, participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E).

The Role of PM&E in Community Development

Monitoring and evaluation are not activities outside of the community-praxis approach—they are inherently built into the action-reflection cycle. PM&E can be viewed as the reflection half of the cycle which evaluates and informs action. Monitoring and evaluation are not events that take place after the fact, but instead an on-going processes that help to improve the alliance between program partners (internal activators, communities etc.) and NGO staff (external activators, etc.) and inform involved stakeholders (funders, partner organizations, etc.) about the impact of project activities. PM&E can be used as a process to learn as an institution and improve practice in the field. For communities, this is not only a learning activity but part of the process of conscientisization for all stakeholders. Through the community-praxis approach, individuals and communities critically analyze the world around them and identify practical actions to create the world they wish to see. Critical to this approach is regular open dialog and honest reflection at each stage to determine if the underlying assumptions, strategies and actions are moving the community towards their vision.

The community-praxis approach is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each layer you peel off is like the process of conscientization discarding another layer of false consciousness. Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) is a part of this process that helps people to analyze and reflect on their actions to determine what is working and what is not. PM&E requires open dialogue between all stakeholders. If M&E reports are tied to job security and future funding—honest and genuine learning are lost as reports are fabricated to meet expectations and not based on genuine reflection and learning. PM&E has to be a two-way exchange relationship based on mutual trust which, in turn, allows for flexibility. It also requires an analysis of whether the actions are moving the community toward their vision. Each peeled of a layer is like a step in the empowerment process toward self-determination and liberation, or total empowerment. Therefore, PM&E is a tool in that process of empowerment. Because empowerment is not a tangible outcome and the process of conscientization is difficult to see – many traditional PM&E tools are not usable to measure the results of this process.

Some of our key indicators in our approach to PM&E are levels of participation, empowerment, and social capital. However, because these indicators are so intangible they are very difficult to measure using quantitative methods. Instead we advocate for qualitative participatory methods both formal and informal. There are a multitude of participatory methods that communities, outside evaluators, and NGOs can use to measure people’s perceptions of levels of social capital, etc. including mapping networks, timelines, focus groups, etc.

This, however, is a process that is to be constantly revisited as new layers of the onion come off. By using participatory M&E tools, communities may realize they have reached a new level of conscientization and that it is time to reanalyze their new reality and decide new visions to work towards. This process is cyclical.

Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation

A cyclical process of action/ reflection as opposed to a linear sense of progress in M&E activities

After a series of trust building activities in a community, PM&E tools can be used to gather baseline data with which communities can better analyze their reality and with which communities can address local needs, concerns, and their hope for the future. In PM&E, local perception is more important than precision and scientific objectivity. After communities have come together to analyze that reality, create their shared vision for the future, identified obstacles, and come up with strategic directions to move them toward their vision, monitoring and evaluation activities are then built into the action planning phase. Communities and individuals themselves must determine for each specific action plan how they will determine success, who is responsible to whom, dates to hold those responsible to their timelines (although with a certain flexibility), and guidelines to determine at which level they are willing to participate in a possible outside evaluation by an NGO partner or funder. This decision can then guide the decision on where to find and apply for project funding. For example, if a community is not amenable to evaluation by an outside organization then they can proactively decide not to seek funding from that organization. Communities and organizations themselves must decide what type of funding matches their capacity and development philosophy. M&E should be done with the same level of participation as the rest of the project unless agreed upon ahead of time.

Information gathering activities are used for the purpose of helping local people to analyze their own situation and then decide how they would like to act on it. As an ally in this process external activators can act as neutral facilitators, provide expertise in certain methodologies upon the request of the community, provide access to particular resources, and be advocates for the communities. Communities do not have to reduce themselves down to transparency for funders nor for the NGO staff in this particular approach. They maintain a sense of power in their opacity. Local people can determine their own methods for data gathering whether it be participatory interview, PRA/ PLA activities, or an indigenous method of data gathering, as well as reporting formats understood by them for their use. Outside activators can use this as an opportunity to share with local people different research methods and theories so that they can use this knowledge to demystify monitoring and evaluation activities with the aim of local people ‘decolonizing’ these methods. These activities are not about extracting data, but rather about stimulating learning and conscientization.

Many funders and other outside evaluators like objective data to view that the predetermined outcomes have been achieved and the efficient use of resources. But many times this need to please funders or higher ups in an organization actually undermines community development processes based on relationships of trust. We recommend the adoption of a few non-negotiables in our fundraising strategy. Namely, to not fund the community development process by one large grant. Instead, we build alliances with a number of dedicated, individual, private donors and small granting organizations that trust our approach. We refuse to accept funding with time-bound targets or massive reporting requirements that hinder truly empowering and participatory processes. Many aid agencies and large NGOs require massive transparency in their project management approaches. Bureaucracy and top down approaches make them not open to dialogue with stakeholders and unable to undertake a participatory process. However if local people are genuinely empowered in this PM&E process, they can then use these tools to evaluate the performance of donor agencies and governmental institutions that impose top-down solutions on them.

At each step of the process the continuous cycle of reflection and action is repeated in order for the community, alliance of NGO partners, project team, etc to revisit their actions and determine if they are moving in the right direction or if a new action plan, visioning session, etc is needed. These reflection sessions are best facilitated using the ICA’s ORID discussion method so as to not impose the facilitator’s reality on the reflection of the group. The ORID methodology takes participants and facilitators through a process of questioning what reality is according to those participating. How does that reality make them feel? And how can they take that feeling and interpret why they reacted in that way and what they can do to take that and turn it into constructive further actions. This is the process of conscientization.

To learn more about this topic we highly suggest Village Earth’s online trainings: Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation & Community Mobilization

The Case for Capacity Development in Community-Based Conservation Efforts

Capacity Building for Community-Based Conservation

Village Earth community mapping workshop. Ucayali Region – Peru

In the protection and management of natural resources, it is widely agreed that human social, political, cultural and economic systems must be part of the equation (Berkes 2004; Kates et al. 2001; Gunderson & Holling 2002). In recent years, community-based and collaborative conservation have been increasingly recognized as alternatives to the dominant paradigm of top-down, expert-driven management (Berkes 2002). However, the literature suggests that collaborative and community-based conservation efforts should be cautious about moving forward too quickly since low levels of organizational capacity at the community-level may pose a challenge to rapidly developing institutions capable of managing complex natural system (Barrett 2001). This is especially true in collaborative efforts that involve multiple stakeholders (Berkes 2004). In such efforts, taking into account historical and contemporary relationships of power among stakeholders will help ensure greater equity as well as the promotion of local livelihoods and sustainability (Gruber 2006: Berkes 2004; Brosius and Russell 2003). The literature also suggest that special emphasis should be placed on empowerment at the community-level and especially with traditionally marginalized groups. According to Agrawal (1999):

“local groups are usually the least powerful among the different parties interested in conservation. Community-based conservation requires, therefore, that its advocates make more strenuous efforts to channel greater authority and power toward local groups. Only then can such groups form €effective checks against arbitrary actions by governments and other actors.”

If, as Agrawal suggests, empowerment at the local-level should be our priority, where do we start? Brown (2002) has identified a set of internal and external challenges that community-based organizations face. Externally, community-based organizations are challenged by a lack of legitimacy and accountability with the general public; relating with institutions of the state, such as government agencies; relating with institutions of the market, such as businesses; and relating with international actors, such as development agencies that provide funding support. Internally, they face challenges of amateurism, restricted focus, material scarcity, fragmentation, and paternalism. However, efforts by governments and NGO’s to build the capacity of community-based organizations without destroying what makes them so unique in the first place (e.g. local focus, their spirit of volunteerism and solidarity) is not easy (Powers, 2002; Brown, 1989). Powers et al (2002) offers the following advice:

“We believe it may be most effective if INGOs go beyond decentralising their operations and cease being operational in the field. This can be done by forging ties with autonomous local NGO’s which have a proven commitment and track record in handing over controls in the development process to the communities where they are working. To the degree that terms for partnership can be negotiated equitably, the imperative for standardised and impersonal mass reproduction of one strategy, which ironically is often only magnified (rather than adapted) in the process of decentralization, can be significantly curtailed.”

According to Berkes (2004) the specific approaches to building capacity of community-based conservation organizations is a current area of interest for the conservation community. Furthermore, the success of community-based natural resource management has lead to an explosion in support from international agencies and subsequently, the number of new local natural resource management organizations (Gruber, 2010; Armitage 2005). According to Gruber (2010):

“[w]hile CBNRM has proven to be a successful model in numerous cases, this approach may be outpacing a critical analysis of the key characteristics of effective community based environmental initiatives which can ensure long-term successful and sustainable programs in a variety of settings.”

Village Earth offers several courses focused on supporting community-based conservation efforts, this includes: Participatory Water Resource ManagementBuilding Climate Change Resilient CommunitiesCommunity Participation and Dispute Resolution, & Agroecology for Sustainable Communities.

References Cited

Agrawal A, Gibson CC (1999) Enchantment and disenchantment: the role of the community in natural resource conservation. World Development 27:629–649

Armitage, D. 2005. Adaptive Capacity and Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Environmental Management 35:703-715

Barrett, C.B.,K. Brandon, C. Gibson, and H. Gjertsen. 2001. Conserving tropical biodiversity amid weak institutions. BioScience 51:497-502

Berkes, 2004 Rethinking Community-based Conservation, Conservation Biology, Volume 18, No. 3 July 2004: 621-630

Berkes, F. 2002. Cross-scale institutional linkages: perspectives from the bottom up. Pages 293-321 in E. Ostrom, T. Dietz, N. Dolsak, P.C. Stern, S. Stonich, and E.U. Weber, editors. The drama of the commons. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.

Brosius, J.P. and D. Russell. 2003 Conservation from above: an anthropological perspective on transboundary protected areas and ecoregional planning. Journal of Sustainable Forestry 17 (1/2):39-65

Gruber, 2010 Key Principles of Community-Based Natural Resource Management: A Synthesis and Interpretation of Identified Effective Approaches for Managing the Commons. Environmental Management 45:52–66
Kates, R. W., et al. 2001. Sustainability science. Science 292: 641-642

5 Principles for Maintaining Downward Accountability When Supporting Community-Based Development

Maintaining accountability to the grassroots in community development projects

Community dialogue session facilitated by Village Earth with communities along the Amazon River, Peru

The success and ongoing relevancy of community-based development initiatives is largely dependent on the ability of community workers and NGO’s to maintain their accountability to stakeholders at the grassroots. However, downward accountability can become compromised by various top-down pressures from donors (the so-called alien hand syndrome) but other structural issues faced by NGOs can also compromise accountability including professionalization and turn-over of staff, trends in development assistance, defined project timelines, etc. Below are 5 ways to help ensure you remain accountable to the grassroots.

  1. Make a long-term personal commitment to communities.
    We believe the only way to build sufficient trust and a genuine sense of solidarity and mutual accountability with communities is when they can count you being there for the long-term. Genuine empowerment requires diligence in several areas in order to be successful. It demands a commitment to creating an enabling environment where the tools for self reliance are fostered (Korten 1984; Mansuri and Rao 2003). A people based development agency must be prepared for longer time commitments on projects in order to facilitate the bottom up, organic growth of community driven projects (Mansuri and Rao 2003). The importance of commitment to the project outside of timelines is echoed by Korten (1991) due to the need for place and context specific responses to individual communities. Furthermore, transforming deeply entrenched structures of power is a slow and gradual process (Trawick 2001). According to Mosse (1997b), “[i]f external agencies try to change the political and social dynamic without fully understanding it, the social equilibrium can be severely disrupted, with nothing to take its place.”
  2. Be an ally not a project manager
    This starts with a genuine willingness to listen and learn from the people within the communities they are allied with. Take the time necessary to develop relationships based on trust, solidarity and mutual accountability and try to suspend any preconceived notions you may have about what is needed. Instead create a space for the community to develop and/or share their vision for the future and the strategies that might move them towards it. In the spirit of  Paulo Freire, we believe that by working together as allies in praxis (an intentional cycle of planning, action, and reflection) communities can identify and eliminate the objective sources of their oppression. But also, as outsiders can learn how our own relative privilege is intertwined in that oppression. In this way, empowerment is a mutual process. The genuineness and reciprocal nature of this relationship is the basis for developing genuine trust and solidarity at the grassroots.

  3. Focus on the community’s long-term vision not band-aid approaches that just address symptoms.
    Instead of focusing on “problems”, try to facilitate communities in developing a long-term holistic vision for their region. Unlike focusing on problems, a holistic vision allows communities to imagine the world they would like to live in. You can deal with problems forever, yet never deal with the underlying contradictions behind poverty and powerlessness. Identifying a vision first makes it possible to identify and prioritize exactly what it is that is preventing you and your community from creating a better situation. The visioning process becomes the starting point for the ongoing praxis process described in the previous point and also forms the baseline for future assessment, monitoring and evaluation where individuals and communities come together to reflect on the progress of their various strategies and whether they are moving them towards their vision. But we have also found that through praxis, the vision becomes clearer and more broadly shared. Starting with a community’s vision also empowers communities to define progress on their own terms rather than having to adopt Western models and practices.

  4. Work with community towards the mobilization and empowerment of entire regions or social groups.
    In the spirit of Ghandi’s concept of Swaraj, the recognition that true power comes from self-reliance and self-governance. And this being possible only with the mobilization of sufficient human and natural resources. In other words it takes more than just one or two communities to mobilize the critical mass and resources necessary to break the cycle of dependence behind much of the world’s poverty. We do not argue that all communities and regions should become self-sufficient, but rather self-reliant in that they have the ability and freedom to choose their own strategies. By gradually linking communities, community leaders, grassroots organizations, foundations, government agencies, and businesses together you can break the cycle of dependence that compromises their self-determination.

  5. Create organizational structures built on trust, solidarity, & mutual accountability.
    We believe the only way to ensure genuine accountability to the communities we are working with is by creating and maintaining organizational structures built around trust, solidarity and mutual accountability. Within this framework the concern is not just with the final outcome, but with how the outcome is reached, and how the people within the framework contribute meaningfully to the organization (Davies 2000). The people become actors working to build the system, instead of being subjected to it. Key features of people based organizations are empowerment of members of the community (Davies 2000), decentralized decision making (Rothschild- Whitt 1979), context specific practices and policies, and an emphasis on the importance of trust between the employees of the development agency and the people with whom they are partnering (Korten 1984). While people based organizations are certainly still concerned about desired outcomes, the process by which the outcome is reached is organic and can be changed as needed. Such organizations are more responsive to the places in which they work and location specific needs, as opposed to being bound by the ways in which they work and trying to replicate generic processes. A central feature of such organizations is a bottom-up flow of decision making (Mansuri and Rao 2003) which enables the organizations to foster participatory development within communities (Chambers 1983). Projects and needs are met on an individual basis, evaluated with the input of the community, and a unique process grows out of that input (Korten 1991).

This article discusses topics that are also discussed in the following Village Earth online courses: Approaches to Community DevelopmentCommunity-Based OrganizingCommunity MobilizationCommunity Participation and Dispute ResolutionDevelopment and the Politics of EmpowermentParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation

Building Trust in “Root-bound” Communities

Trust Building Community Development

Whether it’s your first time in a new community or a community you’ve lived in your entire life, working as a community organizer (animator, researcher, aid/relief worker, developer, facilitator- whatever the case may be) requires a unique set of skills and attitudes that differ from the skills we are taught in the course of our normal daily and professional lives. One of the central skills needed to be a successful community worker is the ability to build and maintain trust.

While trust is a critical factor for success in virtually all aspects of life, I would argue, the type trust one seeks to gain in the course of our everyday personal and professional lives is different from the type of trust one seeks to gain as a community worker. To help in this discussion, I would like to distinguish between two types of trust; embedded vs. generalized. Embedded trust is developed organically throughout the course of our lives with people with whom share a common identity (e.g. family members, schoolmates, neighborhood friends, religious affiliation, sports team members, colleagues, etc). Embedded trust is one of the strongest forms of trust. The other form of trust is “generalized trust” which has less to do with specific relationships than it does with the general willingness of people in a community to trust one another.

Generalized trust, to a large extent, is developed or eroded by the macro-social and political structures affecting a particular community. For example, without a functioning system of justice and due process (western or traditional) the risk of everyday social and economic interactions is increased. In such an environment, people avoid social and economic transactions with people they don’t know well because when something does go wrong people there aren’t institutions to deal with the conflict and so people are forced to seek their own justice – which can and often does tear families and communities apart, sometimes for generations. To the contrary, when there is a functioning system of justice and due-process the risk of a bad transaction is much lower and so people are more willing to engage with people they don’t already know.

How does generalized trust and embedded trust interact? The two types of trust are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would argue that a healthy community has a balance of the two. Too much embedded trust and not enough generalized trust creates a situation where you have cliques that don’t interact with one another – I often refer to the problem as being a community being “root-bound.”  The term “root-bound” is a term used to describe what happens when the a plant outgrows its container which forced the roots to get tangled among themselves where they aren’t able to get sufficient nutrients and water. The solution is to break-up the roots before replanting it in the ground or a bigger container. For a community, an over-reliance on embedded trust also limits the resources and opportunities available to that community and/or the various cliques within it. It can also be seriously limiting for minorities who aren’t able to access the resources and information available to members of the dominant groups.

Too much generalized trust (and not enough embedded trust) is also not healthy. This is a scenario often described for many Western communities where over time, people have become disconnected from family, religion and civic institutions. This can be problematic in times when collective action may be required such as during times of crisis, in the course of healthy democratic functioning but also, family/religious/civic participation has been positively correlated with psychological well-being.

Now that we have a better idea of the concepts of embedded and generalized trust, what does this tell us about our role as community workers? It should be relatively clear at this point that as community workers, one of our principal roles should be to foster a healthy balance between generalized and embedded trust. Below are some specific points for building both types of trust within communities.

Rebuilding Healthy Community Roots

  • First of all, it is important to remember that cliques in communities often form in response to unreliable or oppressive macro social and political structures and thus may have social, political or economic utility. And that truly healthy relationships aren’t likely to occur until the broader macro social and political context is transformed into something that fosters more generalized trust. The key is not to break-down or break-apart the trust within cliques but to create low-risk opportunities for cliques to interact with one another and with outside networks.
  • While many cliques may have their basis in cultural institutions. Most cultures also have institutions that function to build connections between groups (ceremonies, festivals, rites, kinship rules, etc.). It’s important to learn about these cultural mechanisms and build upon them.
  • As community workers, we can facilitate the development of trust between groups by serving as a bridge, developing trust with and between different social groups.
  • If you are working in your own community it’s important that you avoid or (more realistically) are transparent about your standpoint on particular issues, allegiances and obligations to any specific group or clique.
  • If you are from outside the community, you can leverage your lack of embeddedness to develop a reputation as a neutral “bridge” between relatively closed groups (it’s also advised to be transparent about your standpoint on particular issues, allegiances and obligations to any specific group or clique).
  • Whether you’re an outsider or from that community, you should seek to be a model of transparency, openness, and trustworthiness. A situation where you’re open and transparent about yourself but people don’t feel like you’re going to spread information they shared with you in confidence. Doing so will position you as a valuable intermediary that can help bridge groups and access information and resources from the outside.

Building Embedded Trust When it Lacks

For organizers working in more urbanized or westernized community settings where you have relatively high levels of generalized trust but low levels of embedded trust, building embedded trust among individuals (solidarity work) may be your biggest challenge. Below are a few recommendations for building it.

  • It’s important to recognize that in such contexts, because people are disconnected and have been for so long, they may not fully realize what can be gained through organizing. Just the same, they may not realize that anything can be gained. In Western (cash-based) society, the options available to us for improving our life have been limited to what’s available through the market and very limited democratic processes (e.g. that a better life can only be obtained by increasing my income). To overcome this tendency, it’s important to open up people’s thinking to the spectrum of ways things can be accomplished outside of traditional market forces and political processes.  
  • Solidarity is difficult to build when some people stand to gain more than others and when some people take-on a disproportionate amount of risk. Building relatively flat organizations that emphasize member’s roles and responsibility vs. top-down authority will create an environment where the risk and rewards and more equitably shared by all, thus increasing a sense that “we’re all in this together”.
  • Western culture places emphasis on the individual (white males to be specific) and so we’re often not taught the normative cultural understandings and behaviors that promote effective voluntary collective action and solidarity. Unpacking the taken-for-granted assumptions in Western culture (individualism, patriarchy, survival of the fittest) can go a long way towards building more effective organizations – this is often referred to as “anti-oppression” training.

This is just a short list of ideas for building trust in communities. Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments. Topics discussed in this post are also discussed in our online courses Community MobilizationDevelopment and the Politics of EmpowermentCommunity-Based OrganizingCommunity Participation and Dispute ResolutionParticipatory Monitoring and Evaluation.

Images from Village Earth Global Affiliate Amahoro’s Peacbuilding Project in Burundi.

Club members #3

The leaders of our new club which is dedicated to promoting sustainable peace and development strike a pose

While the international press continues to report high levels of violence in the capitol city of Bujumbura, those who are leading our project up north in Ngozi insist that everything is peaceful. Is this more of that journalistic mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads?”

Class on Conflict Resolution #4 with glasses #1

A group of students model the sunglasses they use to “see the world differently” as peacebuilders, to see former enemies as allies.

Women with load on head passes soccer game

A woman carries a load on her head as she passes a soccer field

Update on the Kamayura project in Brazil from Village Earth Global Affiliate “Maloca”

huka-huka fight closes the kuarup festivities

In 2014, at the request of the Kamayura chief, Maloca organized a successful fundraiser to buy a large fishing net. The fishing net arrived in the Kamayura village in late 2014. In the summer of 2015 I spent 2 weeks in the Kamayura village where I was able to see the fishing net being put to use.

The Kamayura were preparing for their most important ritual, kuarup, which honors the people who had passed away in the previous year. 2015 was special because the kuarup was honouring Takuman Kamayura, the chief’s father and former Kamayura chief, also the most powerful paje (healer) in Xingu. During the festivities which lasted 3 days, people from 7 neighboring villages arrived in the Kamayura village. Hundreds of guests had to be fed. For this, the Kamayura had gone fishing for one week on a lake far away in the forest. This is where they used the fishing net for the first time. This was not just any kind of fishing, but a ritual fishing, for which many preparations were made. Before setting the net into the lake, the net was blessed by the pajes. The men then fed it with manioc paste to ensure the net would catch many fish and that it would not get damaged. Everybody pushing the net was also blessed and prayed upon by the pajes; this gives them protection from injuries (by stingrays, piranha, crocodiles). The spirits of the water were appeased, the stingrays were symbolically buried (a stingray poke inflicts days of horrendous pain, fever and suffering).

Until I arrived in Xingu this small project was an administrative and awareness raising effort conducted in New York City. Only when I saw the fishing net stretched on the grass and blessed by the pajes, then stretched in the waters of  the beautiful lake with the village men lined up behind it ready to push, only then I fully felt that all the efforts of Maloca’s friends and supporters were paid off. It was an exquisite feeling of fulfilment and content of a job well done and I wished all the people who donated for this project could be there. I asked permission to take pictures so I can share that moment with all the generous supporters. And here it is – the fishing net being used in the middle of Xingu.

The Kamayura were very happy with their new net. It was not only pretty, but it had the right twine. At the end of the day, the fishermen were even happier: the net proved perfect to catch the favorite fish for the festa, the piau.

Fun fact: a couple of weeks after the Kamayura festivities, another neighbouring tribe, the Kuikuro, had their kuarup ritual. They did not have a fishing net. When they participated in the Kamayura festivities they saw the new Kamayura fishing net and borrowed it for their ritual fishing. They liked it so much they almost did not want to return it!

The net was quite successful. Now it is back into the Kamayura village, awaiting the next festival, after the rains will stop, probably late spring of this year.

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A Brief History of Anti-Poverty Programs in the United States

poverty approaches to development

I’ve had a lot of students in our online courses ask me why they feel there is a distinction in the way we view and fight poverty in the United States vs. overseas. To understand this difference I find it helpful to look back at the history of anti-poverty poverty programs and the logic from which they were created. Below you’ll find a brief review of this history.

Prior to the Great Depression, poverty in the United States was not seen as responsibility of the government and was often left to religious and other charitable organizations. In the United States, poverty generally has been viewed as pathology of the individual rather than a consequence of macro-economic policies or discrimination. This is likely an outgrowth of dominant western worldviews concerning the role of the individual in economic life. “Reliance on private alms and limited community assistance was a natural outgrowth of Calvinist doctrine” (Levitan, 2003).

Reflective of this worldview anti-poverty policies and programs in the United States have focused primarily on the individual rather than on the state and societal political and economic structures – addressing the pathology of the individual by instilling a work ethic, education, and direct cash assistance. The first direct attempts by the federal government to address the burgeoning poverty problem in the United States during the great depression were the programs of the New Deal including the National Youth Administration, The Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Public Works Administration. These programs sought to create much needed employment and infrastructure for future economic growth until WWII when attention was diverted away from poverty (Levitan, Mangum, Mangum, and Sum 2003).

The issue of poverty reemerged in the 1960s as the postwar boom started to fade away and growing social and economic tensions aroused the attention of politicians. Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty” ushered in a new era of anti-poverty programs, the underlying assumption of which was still to address the pathology of individuals through education, skills training, and job creation (Levitan, Mangum, Mangum, and Sum 2003). Despite these efforts, poverty persisted.

The 1970s and 1980s many of the programs of War on Poverty were cut and consolidated into “Community Development Block Grants” and later into “Enterprise Zones.” Inspired by the British program, Enterprise Zones were based on the assumption that federal regulations inhibited market forces and if removed, would stimulate investment and job creation (Levitan, Mangum, Mangum, and Sum 2003; Lievschutz 1995). By the end of 1980 there were 2000 enterprise zones in thirty-seven states. However, despite the popularity of these programs, there has been a great deal of debate on their success in stimulating business development and creating employment for the poor.

Despite the fact that the most persistent and growing poverty is found in the rural areas, most anti-poverty is focused on the urbanized areas. “In 1996, the rural poverty rate was 15.9 percent, higher than the urban rate of 13.2 percent, a level that has been relatively stable for most of a decade” (Reid, 1996). Rural development policy was guided mostly by agriculture development, infrastructure development, and the utilization of natural resources.

According to Reid, all these programs have only addressed the basic needs and standard of living of the poor, missing the more important underlying causes of poverty “which are often an outgrowth of historic and contemporary social divisions that cut the poor out of opportunities to share power, equal opportunities and, in the end, hope” (Reid, 1996). To summarize, anti-poverty programs in the United States have been an outgrowth of the broader economic, political and cultural climate that has largely turned a blind-eye to persistent problems of structural racism and widening inequality. As for the distinction with the way we view poverty in the international arena, I think questioning corruption and inequality in other countries is simply an easier pill to swallow.

Ideas and concepts discussed in this post are also discussed in the following courses in our Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community DevelopmentApproaches to Community DevelopmentCommunity-Based Organizing, & Development and the Politics of Empowerment.

Summer 2015 Wrap-up Report from Village Earth Affiliate Knife Chief Buffalo Nation

Our relatives standing with a little one. 8/01/15

This report is for the period of July, August and September, 2015. Mila Yatan Pika Pte Oyate Okolakiciye (Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization) continues to provide a home/pasture for members of the Pte Oyate (buffalo nation) and the community continues to reap the benefits in ts of spiritual and physical nourishment from them.

July 2015

The Wakanyeja Woapiye Wicoti (Children’s Healing Camp) was held in Porcupine, SD on July 1 – 5. Enrollment was set for twenty-five (25) children between the ages of 0 – 11 years but this number was quickly surpassed after an overwhelming response by parents, grandparents and guardians. A total of fifty-one (51) children participated in the camp activities with thirty-eight (38) camping in the tipis during the camp period. Children received a Wopakinte (spiritual purification) with some receiving a Lakota spiritual name. Other activities included horseback riding, trips to Evans Plunge, a large, in-door swimming pool in Hot Springs, SD and to Mato Paha (Bear Butte), Sturgis, SD to walk to the top of the sacred butte to offer prayers.

We offer our deep appreciation and gratitude to all those who volunteered and offered their services, including the Students Shoulder to Shoulder participants whose organization is based in Denver, CO, and the Wisconsin based group Gunderson-Lutheran Medical Center. We also acknowledge the tunkasila (grandfather) and unci (grandmother) spirits and the two wakan iyeska (interpreters of the sacred) for their teachings and for the healings received by the participants and the volunteers.

August 2015

The Lakota Wikoskalaka Yuwitapi (Lakota Gathering of Young Women) was held in Porcupine, SD on August 10 – 15. The camp offered traditional teachings related to becoming a young woman. A number of them received their Lakota spiritual name and participated in the womanhood ceremony with the help of the Wakan Iyeska (Interpreter of the Sacred) Hmuya Mani and other women volunteers. Other activities included horseback riding, talking circles, setting up tipis, and a walk to the top of Mato Paha (Bear Butte), Sturgis, SD to take spiritual offerings.

Awards at National Indian Health Board Conference, September, 2015, Washington, DC in various categories for their work in making the Young Women’s Gathering a success.


Journey to Mato Paha (Bear Butte) Sturgis,


Young women  resting on way to top of Bear Butte

Young women resting on way to top of Bear Butte


Communicating with relative, the horse, and preparing to ride

Communicating with relative, the horse, and preparing to ride


Volunteers and some of young women

Volunteers and some of young women


Awards at National Indian Health Board Conference, September, 2015, Washington, DC in various categories for their work in making the Young Women’s Gathering a success.

Awards at National Indian Health Board Conference, September, 2015, Washington, DC in various categories for their work in making the Young Women’s Gathering a success.


September 2015

Future Events and Plans

Our relatives, the pte oyate (buffalo) were moved to another pasture in June. An agreement was made with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Parks & Recreation Authority to lease land until November 01, 2015. We continue our effort to find a more permanent home for our relatives.

Details on the fencing of the land will be finalized by November as this is dependent upon the land lease/pasture for this coming year.

We will again co-sponsor the Koskalaka Wica Yuwitapi (Gathering of Young Men) in Porcupine, SD on November 6 – 9. This healing and cultural camp will be the second camp to be held in 2015.



Buffalo caretaker Ed Iron Cloud III visiting downtown Boulder, CO

The suicides on the Pine Ridge Reservation have increased since January. We continue to make our spiritual offerings and will work to assist the young people and their families by continuing to offer the healing camps for the children, the young women and the young boys and young men.

Again, we extend a heartfelt appreciation to the people who support our efforts whether it be financially, physically or spiritually. Your support is truly appreciated and we especially appreciate the Tunkasila (spiritual entities) for their continued support and guidance. We also acknowledge the Pte Oyate (Buffalo Nation) for what they inspire in us and for their teachings, i.e., protection of the young, conservation of the land and the strength and fortitude to endure whatever is placed in our path. Lila wopila tanka! (We thank you all very much).


Email: [email protected]

Telephone: 605-441-2914, 605-407-0091


or look for Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization under Global Affiliate.

Village Earth Sponsors Partnership Between Ngozi University and Colorado State University.

Submitted by Dr. Apollinaire Bangayimbaga, Rector Ngozi Univeristy & William Timpson, Professor CSU.

“Amahoro” is the Kirundi word for peace. After forty years of genocide and civil war during which a large percentage of its educated citizens were targeted, exiled or killed, impoverished Burundi is now ripe to model a transformative development approach while nurturing a new generation of leaders. Founded in 1999 with a commitment to reconciliation, its University of Ngozi (UNG) is uniquely situated to be a laboratory for peace-building and sustainable development.

As a major research university, Colorado State University (CSU) has historical strengths in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM education), emerging depth in the social sciences and cross cultural communication, peace education and reconciliation studies. As a land grant university, CSU also has a successful track record in extending expertise to the field, through Extension, and overseas through a wide range of public/private/NGO partnerships. Colorado State University is well positioned to serve as a partner with the University of Ngozi to mobilize resources, trial new ideas, and disseminate success stories.

Those committed to the Amahoro Project believe that development must wed with educational innovation to ready new leaders and professionals to heal and foster civil society as basic infrastructure needs are addressed. In early 2012, UNG, a co-ed, multi-faith institution with Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa students, signed an International Memorandum of Understanding (IMOU) with CSU’s School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES) to pursue sustainable peace and development. CSU’s School of Education can draw on its doctoral specialization in Teaching and Learning to help build bridges between schools and universities in different regions of the world.

We need funding to support all this.

  • Build new curricula that emphasizes appropriate technology and participatory case- and project-based learning, which link communities with innovations that address basic needs of local communities.
  • Infuse UNG’s existing undergraduate disciplines—health, agriculture, communications, law, business, computer sciences—with new curricula that emphasizes content mastery and peace-building, i.e., the civic skills of effective intercultural and cross-cultural communication, consensus-building, negotiation, cooperation, conflict mitigation, critical and creative thinking.
  • With some sports equipment build on what we know about cooperative learning to create multi-tribal teams and showcase the benefits of friendly competition for unlearning hatred and prejudice.
  • With the involvement of the military in the U.S. and Burundi we could explore ways of utilizing security forces (active duty and demobilized personnel) to lead toward reconciliation.
  • With the involvement of Rotary International and their commitment to Peace and Conflict Resolution, the business community can be engaged as well.
  • Promoting community health through innovative education and social work.
  • When possible, utilize Fulbright Senior Specialist awards to support this project.

In all of these endeavors, we propose to use locally generated and regionally applicable case- and project-based learning to transform surface or memorized learning. Liberatory education is needed to aid the shift toward long-term stability and prosperity. What proves viable in Burundi, East Africa and the developing world could also have benefits for communities in the industrialized world that struggle with conflict, violence, polarization, and the costs of security. Over the course of this project, UNG will be established as a viable on-going site and dissemination center for research and development in sustainable peace and development. Leaders from around the world—in higher education, NGOs, government, business—with content expertise and peace and reconciliation experience would be invited to partner with UNG. (See Timpson, W., E. Ndura, and A. Bangayimbaga (2015) Conflict, reconciliation, and peace education: Moving Burundi toward a sustainable future. New York, NY: Routledge).

Through the fire of violence, Burundians are forging a

  • RECOVERY and REBIRTH of spirit;
  • RECONCILIATION of wounds, differences, rivalries, prejudices, and hatreds;
  • RESOLVE to understand the truth of the past, fix the present, and prepare for a better future; and
  • RESILIENCE to rebuild an impoverished, post-colonial nation and its diverse communities.

Please consider supporting the Amahoro Project. In Burundi, contact Dr. Apollinaire Bangayimbaga. In the U.S., contact Dr. William Timpson. Whatever the level of your support, together we can help build sustainable peace and development. Contributions for scholarships at the University of Ngozi should be made out to Amahoro: Village Earth. Other contributions should be made out to Amohoro: CSU Foundation.

30% Match on Donations to VE Affiliates in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Pine Ridge, Burundi, and The Gambia

On Wednesday September 16th, starting at 9am EDT (7:00am MST), will be matching online donations at 30% until the $70,000 in matching funds runs out. Don’t miss this opportunity to supersize your donations to eligible Village Earth Global Affiliates.

Eligible projects are listed below with links to their donation pages on


Registration Ends June 7th for CSU/VE Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community DevelopmentRegister Now!