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.