Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 02/09/2011

Big changes to contemplate….Municipal Development…RIP

8 febrero 2011- martes

My mind is struggling with some significant changes and losses…I’ll eventually get back to Part II for my workday in the field.

A sobering message today from a friend volunteer in our training group…she is heading back to the U.S., and leaving

Educating citizen groups on their functions

Peace Corps service. ..I don’t know what became the tipping point.  Wow!…it came as rather abrupt  and sad news especially on the eve of “Reconnect”, our 2-day training back together at the Peace Corps office, a welcome reunion after living apart in our various locations around the country for 3 ½ months. Another from our group decided within the last few weeks to return to his sweetheart in the U.S….relationships are a big reason for loss of Peace Corps volunteers. So we were a training group of 32, and are now down to 30… there is a certain pride in trying to retain as many of our training group as possible.…we all hold onto that dream of walking hand-in-hand to the finish line in 2 years… Alas, we can only walk our own path and support each other as needed….still it is very hard to say goodbye to these  friends and  fellow volunteers. ..it reminds me to set realistic goals for myself and keep an active support system so that I will indeed complete my service.

Losing friends is one thing, losing our program of Municipal Development is quite another. About 4wks ago we were invited to a meeting at the Peace Corps office, all travel expenses paid…usually that is our responsibility, so that set off alarm bells for some, but I stayed blissfully ignorant.  It was during that meeting that we learned that 2 programs of our training group: Agriculture Marketing  and Municipal Development are being cancelled…so we are the last of our kind for Guatemala. The fate of these programs in other countries is in question, too. Apparently a worldwide assessment process by Peace Corps concluded that it should  focus on health, youth development, and teaching English.

Encouraging community mapping to identify needs

There is considerable conversation amongst us muni volunteers about the wisdom of this decision by the national Peace Corps office…it seems very short-sighted. Guatemala has a horrific past of war, which began with U.S . meddling….so there is much we should atone for. Since the 1996 Peace Accords,  this country has been on the road towards peace. Better yet, the new laws in 2002  promote decentralization of government & planning and  increasing citizen participation, especially by women and the  indigenous population (50%+  of this country is Mayan). As muni volunteers we work directly with women’s groups and indigenous populations….so despite what D.C. thinks, we are making a contribution to the progress of this country. Some successes of the municipal development program include: creating libraries; supporting women’s groups to begin cooperatives and businesses;  more openness in government regarding budgets and projects- thus, greater accountability and transparency (there is still considerable corruption here);  using plastic bottles filled with trash as low-cost but useful construction materials for building schools, and more.

Muni volunteers from our year and the previous year are considering a coordinated response to headquarters regarding our thoughts about this change….to  put teaching English ahead of encouraging citizen participation just seems very wrong, often the  former just leads to more out-migration by the more educated and capable people that a country needs to retain!

So there is much to ponder…my individual role in Guatemala which is also shaped by the mandates  from the national

Mayan women explain their community needs

Peace Corps office. Many of us were looking forward to helping train the new group of volunteers next year…sadly, that will not be the case.  As muni volunteers, we now resolve to be the very best we can and to go out with a successful bang! I have not yet informed my Guatemalan counterparts that I will be their one and only muni volunteer, typically a town receives a series of 3 volunteers. But soon I will let them know and advise them to take full advantage of what I can offer regarding ideas, support, and experience!

Thanks for listening….I welcome your comments on this theme…

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Responses

  1. wow, what changes…. And how do these changes effect you? It sounds like you will continue as you were contracted to do, but you’ll not be replaced, or have the support that you anticipated. I hope that I am right, and that you’ll be expected to take on a new and different role as a Peace Corp volunteer.

    I do very much like your sentiments. Teaching people how to function better in their society doesn’t require English, but the kind of stuff that you are doing. It sounds like the PC is taking on the role of an arm of our government and system, which is to promote the USA, rather then have a simple goal of helping local people have a better life, regardless of what you think of the USA. Sounds like politics to me. Politics, like ego, can so mess up a good thing. And at that point I will bite my tongue.

    Janet, I am proud of you and the person that I am meeting via your postings. You are far more then just a dancer, you are a well balanced, loving, and compassionate person. These are things to be proud of (and not egotistical). I trust this experience is helping you grow inside. I can’t see how you’ll not grow. You lucky lady you.

    keep looking to the positive, and twirling through life, Michael

  2. I agree that the work the Peace Corp has been doing to empower and create community watchdogs that can strive to maintain openess and accountability in government is so much more important to a successful local economy then having every school child know English. Sad to hear that’s going away. If they were going to have 3 more volunteers sounds like you are pretty much on your own without any support yourself now eh?

  3. Thanks for your comments…I will still have the support of my Peace Corps program coordinators who are both Guatemalans while I am here. However, the two of them do not yet know their fate with the cancellation of our program. My sadness is not just that my town of San Bartolo will not have the benefit of 2 more muni volunteers to continue on with my work, but also that the country as a whole will lose out on the ideas and energy that we volunteers bring to the task.

  4. Gracias for your comments…for me personally, I will carry on with my work and tasks as planned, but now there is no incentive to develop materials and ideas for future muni volunteers since there will be none. I can still develop tools for my town and pass those ideas to my fellow volunteers for our work during these 2 years. I was looking forward to mentoring the next generation of volunteers as I became more familiar with the governmental system and programs here and had experience to share.

    As I mentioned, we muni volunteers in Guatemala…about 30 of us are thinking that we will not just go gently into the night, but have a personal and professional obligation to speak up to Peace Corps national office.

    I am fortunate to be placed in a town with a mayor who is well-regarded with little evidence of corruption…that is not the case in most of the country. This is an election year and violence is anticipated as a way to destabilize the current government to try to win votes for the new candidates. We already have volunteers evacuated from a northern area of the country due to a state of emergency there while the goernment cracks down on organized crime and narco trafficking….so although the country is relatively peaceful, it is a bit of a fragile peace. As volunteers within local governments, we can both monitor and definitely encourage citizen oversight and participation…what better way to ensure some peace?

  5. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for sharing the challenges you are facing. Please never doubt that we’re up here sending you our best energy and hopes.

    Every saga has drama, and yours shall be no exception.

    I love your willingness to pursue a better Guatemala. Even with some things degrading, I’m sure you’ll find ways to make an impact. As Michael said so eloquently, your experiences will grow you in ways unanticipated.

    Keep us up on how this process plays out. Stay safe please. Smile often. That may be your greatest gift…… I’ll dance a dance in your honor, full of hope and spirit. Hang in there friend. Keep your eyes open.

    Hugs,

    Michael W.

  6. Gracias for your support…it is indeed sustaining to know that I have dear friends back home who remember and support me! Although I do not agree with this decision by Peace Corps D.C. to cancel the Municipal Development program, it does not limit what I can do during my time here…in fact, it probably lights a greater fire in me to make a difference….

    Just recently I learned of an NGO called Soluciones Comunitarias founded by 2 Peace Corps volunteers in Guatemala. Very impressive and inspiring! I will be talking with them next Wed. in their Antigua office…check out this article about them.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/when-microcredit-wont-do/

  7. Unfortunate to hear the news. So if I understand it correctly, there will be no more volunteers placed under Municipal Development in Guatemala? Would you happen to know the status of the other muni development Peace Corps programs in other countries? I ask because I have been nominated to do urban/regional planning in South/Central America for August 2011 – I’m hoping the program will still be around…

    Also, if you wouldn’t mind me asking, what was your background like relating to urban/regional planning before joining the Peace Corps and your Spanish level?
    Thanks so much! :)

  8. Hi Shaun,
    Congratulations for being nominated! As I well know, the application process is a major hurdle to conquer!

    I don’t want to give the definitive word, but the inside news is that the municipal devcelopment program is being phased out worldwide (the concluding results from a worldwide assessment). What we did hear was that those already in the process of being nominated might still serve in this program. There will definitely be no further municipal development volunteers in Guatemala, and Honduras is the only other Central American country with munis…not so likely they will get any more either, although it’s possible. So I don’t want to worry you prematurely, but you might want to ask some very specific questions of PC headquarters about your placement and program.

    That said, there are other PC programs which also incorporate citizen involvement and planning…and an interest in incorporating elements of the muni program into the training for volunteers in other programs.

    As for my planning experience, I received a masters in regional and urban planning in May 2005. I have studied Spanish for quite awhile and although it was a little rusty, I tested in at the advanced level…but no worries. The goal is to achieve intermediate level by the end of your 2 1/2 month training…you’ll get there!

    So congratulations again, and I hope this information was helpful. Feel free to write again. My email is janet2B@gmail.com.


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