Sauce Mayo

We are sandwiched into the small school here. There is little room to move, or breath for that matter. It is getting dark but IPTK has managed to hook a generator up to provide some light. The session is very popular. A large group of people are hovering outside the open door and windows. Land-rights are such an incredibly important issue.

Two of IPTK’s lawyers explain the latest information on the Land Reform Act (INRA) and how it might affect them. They are doing their best to be dynamic and get their messages across. This audience, they know, needs to be able to pass on their learning to their neighbours. It is not going so well however. Participants are looking frustrated, in some cases completely lost.

While the animators generally communicate in Quechua, there is a lot of Spanish legalese in the mix. And posted on the room’s walls are sheet upon sheet of flip chart paper with Spanish explanations, accessible only to a tiny minority of literate Spanish-speaking participants in the room. “How can I possibly report this information to my family and neighbours?” they must be thinking. “Am I expected to memorize this complex stuff?” Maybe later they will send emissaries of sorts to copy the posted material.

That’s what happened in a farmers’ meeting I recently witnessed. At about 8 o’clock in the morning after the session, I found two teenage girls making detailed notes from the flip-chart papers still dangling on the walls. When I asked about their purpose, they explained that they had been sent by their community to transcribe the information from the night before. None of their community?s representatives could read or write script. This presentation on land rights is also painfully unidirectional.

Participants have been told to ask questions; but the animators seem so anxious to communicate all they know, that they are offering little opportunity for participants to speak up. The presentations are also detailed to a point of obscurity for the untrained observer. Nor do the presenters offer substantive suggestions regarding strategies that might make this inra legislation work in favour of Ravelo’s Indigenous campesinos. The messy politics related to territorial, ayllu-based claims and Indigenous governance options are not on the agenda.

Surely this could be done differently, I say to myself. I also can’t help thinking about how things might be different if the audience were literate. I debate the literacy issue back and forth in my head and, for a moment, I am drawn into the dominant thinking – the broader development context requires literacy to be at the top of the development priority list. Then I think about alternatives. There are creative, interactive ways to communicate such matters effectively without the use of reams of text. It is not the ngos fault, I argue back to myself. There are so few resources for this kind of work. Still, the approach I am witnessing just isn’t good enough.

My internal debate continues and my frustration grows. Cynicism tugs at my sleeve. I feel a mixture of anger with the injustice and greed that marginalizes people in the first place and a sense that it is just too big and too messy to do much about it. Somehow, had these trainers been government officials, I would roll my eyes and assume we ngos could do better. “We can, can’t we?” But it is so very hard to get these very complex matters right. About this conclusion, both the anthropologist and the development worker in me agree.

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