Tak­ing a step back to the sec­ond-to-last day of Mid-Ser­vice Train­ing and away from my oh-so-self-impor­tant reflec­tions, I want to share some pic­tures from our group field trip to one of the com­mu­ni­ties in which we have been work­ing for the solar stove project. But, before I do that, I will explain how this out­ing came to be and what was, in my opin­ion, the best day of MST. So, get com­fort­able in your seat, because, appar­ent­ly, I have plen­ty more to say.

About a month before MST, my group received a sur­vey from the train­ing team ask­ing our opin­ions on a vari­ety of top­ics. Some of the con­tent for train­ing is Wash­ing­ton man­dat­ed, but that means that a large por­tion is at the dis­cre­tion of the in-coun­try staff. My group has a rep­u­ta­tion. There are a lot of adjec­tives that could be placed before the word “rep­u­ta­tion”, but best just to say that we can be dif­fi­cult to han­dle as a group.

The first day of MST, we were shown the dis­tri­b­u­tion of our respons­es to the ques­tions about tech­nol­o­gy trans­fer, and they were marked­ly skewed to the neg­a­tive. The most pos­i­tive response, I think ask­ing if we want­ed to hear about our col­leagues expe­ri­ence with tech­nol­o­gy trans­fer, had a resound­ing aver­age of +2 in the pos­si­ble range from ‑10 to +10 (or, I hate this top­ic with a burn­ing pas­sion to I just can’t live with­out learn­ing more). The most neg­a­tive answers (about patent law and sys­tems of qual­i­ty stan­dards, cough) were around ‑8’s. I can only imag­ine the wide range of answers and the long-form writ­ten respons­es to the oth­er top­ics. How­ev­er, I did hear that some peo­ple used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to unload a bit. Behind the scenes a few of us tried to coor­di­nate some of our respons­es to make it real­ly clear what con­tent we want­ed. I wrote my ideas into the sur­vey, but then I also went into the office to pitch my main idea direct­ly to staff. Before I go on, I do want to say that the staff real­ly did a great job with MST. They seemed to have real­ly heard us, and they did a won­der­ful job of putting togeth­er a week-long pro­gram that was real­ly focused, as much as pos­si­ble, on what we want­ed. Full marks.

My main inter­est was to hear some talks about com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment. Specif­i­cal­ly, I want­ed to hear a pre­sen­ta­tion from one of the coun­ter­parts from the solar stove project. The coun­ter­part I had in mind is a local agron­o­mist who has a wealth of knowl­edge about work­ing with com­mu­ni­ty groups. I want­ed to hear him talk about how he iden­ti­fies com­mu­ni­ties to work with, eval­u­ates their needs, works with them pro­duc­tive­ly, and how we can be effec­tive part­ners. So, Micha and I went into the office and pitched this idea to the PC train­ing staff. We coor­di­nat­ed the ini­tial email exchange, and then things just took off. With­out detail­ing the sausage-mak­ing, we end­ed up with a a half-day vis­it to a com­mu­ni­ty where the oth­er coun­ter­part, the women from the munic­i­pal social ser­vices offices spoke about her expe­ri­ences work­ing with the wom­en’s group and the women talked about their expe­ri­ences. And, they cooked for us in the solar stoves.

Of course, not all goes as planned. My shame, luck­i­ly shared with two oth­er peo­ple, was that we got a tiny bit lost on the way out there. The com­mu­ni­ty we were going to is the far­thest away, and I thought I knew how to get there. How­ev­er, nev­er being the dri­ver, I guess I am not pay­ing as much atten­tion each time we go out there as I think I am. So, one small back-track and one slow vehi­cle in the car­a­van made us about 45 min­utes late. Nor­mal­ly I would say not bad for Mex­i­co, but we had lim­it­ed time for the vis­it and a full agen­da for the after­noon. The awe­some women had got­ten start­ed with­out us so as not to waste time and wrote lists of their expe­ri­ences. They had divid­ed into 4 sub-groups to write these lists, and then had one women from each sub-groups talk to the group at large. They tend­ed to talk more about their expe­ri­ence with the solar stoves than work­ing as a group, but we got some ques­tions in and heard a bit about how to keep from stran­gling the oth­er mem­bers of your com­mu­ni­ty group.

Then, we had the group of Vol­un­teers do some of our work for us. We are doing fol­low-up sur­veys with the women to try to track their chang­ing gas and wood fuel usage. It has­n’t been very long yet with the solar ovens, but as we con­tin­ue to work with them over time, hope­ful­ly we will see declin­ing usage of gas and sol­id-fuel. So, we had the whole group doing the sur­vey inter­views for us. Nor­mal­ly, there are 3–4 of us to do the sur­veys when we vis­it a com­mu­ni­ty, but it was a great activ­i­ty for the group and an effi­cient way for us to get the nec­es­sary data. It seemed to be a good expe­ri­ence for every­one. Most of the anec­do­tal reports back were of hav­ing fun and how sweet the women were. I’m still crunch­ing the data, but more on that later.

Final­ly, we ate. The women had pre­pared an enor­mous spread of food, deli­cious as always. It was a tremen­dous amount of food, and what still makes me smile to think about is that no sty­ro­foam was used! Every­one had brought a few plates, uten­sils, and glass­es. I was real­ly blown away. The ram­pant usage of sty­ro­foam in Mex­i­co is one of the most dis­heart­en­ing things for me. We just men­tioned in the plan­ning vis­it how maybe each Vol­un­teer could try to bring a cup or bowl, but then they total­ly went and orga­nized it. Awe­some, just awesome.

I guess there isn’t too much that I left out, but I feel like I could go on and on. Then, I looked at the pre­view of the post and real­ized how long it already was. Enough of me — espe­cial­ly after the last 3 posts.