Accompaniment on terrain-where-things-get- complicated

Accompaniment on terrain-where-things-get-complicated

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Joining hands

The midwife arrived just in time. The mother writhed in pain. Her husband grabbed her hand and the future grandmother massaged her forehead. “Is my baby alive?” asked the mother. The midwife kneaded her slowly and seemed to move her baby and…”there are two”- revealed the midwife. Corina and Manolo were astonished. “Breathe deeply, push,” repeated the midwife. Shortly after a girl and a boy were born. The moment was sublime. On leaving the midwife said to them, “A great day, life is born when several hands work together.”

Socrates, 2400 years ago, said that philosophers were like midwives. We say that people who accompany organizations are like midwives: we help life flourish. In the story we see that in the midst of the pain the mother loses consciousness and no one knows what to do; it is when the midwife arrives and connects with the grandmother, father, mother and the pair of babies still in the mother´s womb; makes them feel that connection and know what to do and recover the dream that something very important is about to begin to happen, and is going to make them rethink their relationship with this world. This life has surprises, one is expected, and “there are two.” Accompaniment is like this, it reconnects, moves in a team, leaves and sees the day; it helps babies be born who do not belong to the people doing the accompaniment, but to their Mother and Father and that in time that life will walk on its own where “several hands will come together.” It is the connection that generates life.  Nevertheless, there are also situations where the baby is stillborn, the mother loses her life, and the midwife washes her hands of it, the disconnection generates death. 

What makes an accompaniment help open a path to life instead of passing through death? In this article we reflect on that question, and to do so we get into those terrains-where-things-get-complicated. On getting involved in them, in different places in Central America, the first wall tends to be the accompanying organization itself, its members or more precisely its attitudes. From there, from these walls and crossing over these walls we argue that accompaniment generally is the first obstacle to processes of change, but they can become the midwife of those changes, so that these changes can become lasting.

1.    Introduction

There have been NGOS, churches, States and producer organizations who have taken on a role of consultants, technical assistance, pastoral support, training or tutoring. Women and men “change agents”, “technicians”, “trainers”, “project supervisors”, “delegates of ministers”, academics” or “facilitators” do it. What has this role consisted in? How can processes of real change be accompanied? In this article we deal with these questions. We argue that a consultancy or accompaniment can intensify the status quo, or it can promote changes, which is why it is essential to make the distinction in order to have an intentional accompaniment.

Figure 1 shows there are two ways of advising or accompanying which take two paths, one of formality embedded in authoritarian structures and one of cooperation embedded in collective actions. In the first modality, the “take, add and repeat” means that the policies or ideas of change come “from above” and do not improve the lives and paths of the people, rather intensifies them in their worst expressions. The advisers are absorbed by this path or adapt to it. It is a way of moving under an individual logic of “leave it to me” and “why should I care”, blaming people for the processes that fail and working for the formality of complying with predefined tasks. In the lingo of this modality one hears “organization”, “solidarity”, “change”, “democracy”, “participation”, “equity” and “inclusion,” but they are like “flashes in the pan”, changing in order to not change. 

In the second modality, the “take, process and connect talents wherever you go”, we talk properly about accompaniment. Here, those who accompany realize that they are muddied by path 1 (see purple arrows in figure 1) and that on their own they cannot generate change, because it is like a midwife giving birth when she is not pregnant. This starting point makes them un-learn (realize that as accompaniers we also carry a mentality of path1), a virtue that pushes them to the second modality and to contribute to the fact that that formality and hierarchical structures of path 1 are transformed, like water into wine – the social relations of people, their farms and their behavior in the cooperative and in their alliances. In the second modality, liturgy is ordering and analyzing deeds, their practice is innovating under a collective logic, the logic of the team, complementing one another in actions and in being disciplined to follow agreements, and being aware that path 1 will return again and again into our lives and our work modality.

In the second and third section we describe both paths. Then, in the fourth and fifth section we reconceive reflective accompaniment with a collective sense of contributing to the transformation of path 1. In the conclusion we summarize the principal findings. 

2.    The path of formality which conceals hierarchical structures

Through the centuries hierarchical structures which have imprisoned the majorities have intensified. They have done so backed by those who present themselves as their pastors, libertarian leaders, intellectuals or their advisers.

2.1  Structures which imprison the peasantry

Formality happens in any area. In the religious sphere it is the liturgy in church: songs, prayers, tithing, offerings, supplication, penitence, at times even self-flagellation; a formality that only requires believing and where prayer is reduced to a discursive appeal. In cooperatives, their liturgy is the routine of meetings, official minutes, doing financial reports, in some cases inspection of organic products and praying to the holy buyer of their products. In NGOs their liturgy is managing projects, channeling donations, technical assistance, trainings and praying to the donor. In the State it is training, certifying organizations, providing titles, channeling donations, telling people how to vote and wearing the bandanna of the official party. In these spheres it is common to find that the advisors or technicians reach an agreement with the managers or presidents of rural organizations to coordinate their actions in harmony with those rituals or liturgies. Of all of them, the fact that they prioritize trainings is highlighted – training assumes that the other person is not capable- overlooking the liturgy the peasants themselves have. 

This described formality seems to be legalistic, harmonious or operational, but conceals authoritarian and hierarchical structures, legitimizes them, moves along those rails and is derived from those structures. They are seen as the only path to “progress” or “heaven.” In the church the pastor or the priest are the highest authority to whom the faithful or believers owe devotion, because they are presented as if they were “the anointed one” of a supernatural being, and of being the intermediary capable of sending people to heaven or hell. In the community the politician and the merchant are seen as powerful wizards without whose favor one cannot survive. In organizations the people who are the beneficiaries of projects (donations) look on the technicians as the “Virgin Mary”, whose intercession they seek so that they might receive more aid, donations through which the elites coopt the producer organizations to induce them to subject themselves to the market. In families women are subjected to their husbands, who are considered the heads of their household and “with rights” (to violence and to having lovers). They are structures that sow and sustain “save yourselves those who have” and “get ahead by stealing from the poor”, rules that at the same time are defended by impoverished people as if they were from their ancestors – peasant and indigenous values and mentality. It is this hierarchical and authoritarian structure which makes one read the Bible as if Jesus and Yahweh were universal chiefs and miracle workers drunken by the liturgy of each structure, and legitimizing not just the elites, but these unfair structures as something natural and the fruit of divine will, and from that structure read the context as a predetermined destiny where individualism and subordination are combined. It is that structure that leaves “hobbled” the very relatives of the woman whose husband mistreats her, relatives who allege -following these structures – that “they cannot get involved” because that woman is “a different kettle of fish.” 

Figure 2 draws the existing structures. Horizontally, you see the levels of elites, foremen and people, passing through families which are mediation institutions of each structure. Vertically, each structure appears to be sections unconnected to one another, characterized by zealously protecting certain information that they consider “sacred.” The head of State, officials and party activists, each protects their information, except for slogans or orders for actions; the large estate owner protects information about his earnings and contacts, without sharing them with his administrators, they protect the information about the land without sharing it with the workers nor their bosses, the workers protect information about the work or the inputs to be applied to the plantation; the religious protects information, in fact confession is sacred. An informal rule here is: protecting information confers power and not revealing it to the “enemy” is honoring the family.[2]

When certain information is revealed, let us say by some state official to opposition parties, the government accuses that functionary of being a snitch. If a worker goes to tell the business owner what his administrator is doing on the estate, the administrator accuses the worker of being a “snitch.”  In a couple, the person who lets the wife know that her husband is with another woman is accused of being a “snitch.” In an organic coffee cooperative that certifies conventional coffee as if it were organic, the person who denounces this fact will be considered a “snitch”. Being a “snitch” is synonymous with traitor and is punished by jail time (Government-State), unemployment, expulsion from the church, exclusion for the list of project beneficiaries. An informal rule here is: whoever reveals information to the adversary is a traitor and should be punished.

The above shows us that each structure is separated vertically and horizontally – a community in a certain human geography is crisscrossed by these structures and at the same time moves under local despotism. At the same time, all these structures, in addition to being hierarchical and authoritarian and that reward local despotism, breathe the culture of secrecy which keeps peasant people isolated and disconnected from one another.

2.2  Consultancy which intensifies that unjust social order

Consultancy, tutoring, technical assistance, pastoral work or those who coordinate projects, restrict themselves to this sphere of formality of path 1. Each structure has its own consultancy in light of its interests and goals, from there they are located along the row of elites: “The State knows more about the needs of the people”,” “the market knows what people need”, “God knows the needs of man” and “we donors come from the future, we know what you need.” Consultancy along the row of people comes generally from the structures of international aid: see the green circle. That consultancy, nevertheless, “is muddied” with each religious, business or State structure to provide its technical recommendations. On passing through a structure and moving along its rails, the content of the consultancy is molded by that structure, which is why it is a form and content that responds to that structure and is disconnected from the aspirations of the people and their communities or specific territories. It is a content that could “come down” from heaven, from the heights, “from above”, is derived from hierarchical structures. 

Consequently, people who advise and are advised, follow the liturgies to the letter, listen to and give sermons, trainings or technical assistance. The content of that preaching or training is not based on studies of the people who are the object of that preaching, because each structure believes it knows what their subordinates need, for example, the church believes that their faithful or believers need to follow the liturgy in church to go to heaven, the business person believes that the market knows better, that the workers understand that if they work the day as indicated to them they will earn their day´s pay. The content of the trainings comes from standard material for any place and audience – like the religious whose preaching is standard, decontextualized – and generally squash the processes that people who are organizing follow.[3] It is a consultancy that is measured by the number of training sessions (or sermons) or by physical investments (harvest collection centers, roasters, classrooms, reservoirs, bio-digestors) carried out, and not by the degree of coordination among people around specific collective actions. The same happens with consultancy or technical assistance for a crop; they recommend what to do and that is the end. Most representative are the people who exercise the role of management, supervision or accounting tasks, they stick to the administrative sphere, ignore their environment and the mission of the people who are organizing; consequently, they supplant the organs of the organization with their own decisions and submit the organization to their administrative approach, it is the bureaucratic expression of capitalism where they argue that “informing people who are organizing is to confuse them and even make them fight among themselves.”

In fact, consultants submit themselves to the previously mentioned code of silence and avoid being accused of being “snitches”. They do not study the people and their realities; they do not access information that can help them understand those worlds. Not getting that information to analyze, they do not produce ideas that they might be able to reflect on in the organization´s collective spaces. The projects of aid organizations, in general, contribute to this code of silence and the accusations of “”snitch” derived from the hierarchical structures: in that sense the voices that are heard are: “they reported to their donors that the project was done well and had a great impact, when we families remained the same”, “we malnourished a child so that they would give us aid”, “we wrote projects so that they would give us roasters, harvesters, selectors, tractors…and all are in the barn, when the project ended we all lied saying that we were using all that machinery”, and obviously, if anyone tried to say that it had not been implemented well, he was accosted as a “snitch.” 

This consultancy or technical assistance can be interpreted in two ways. First, a consultancy like buying a suit without measuring the body of the person who is going to use it; there it is assumed that there is no need to “measure” (study) people at all; within this framework it is believed that people do not have agency (make decisions) and that they do what they are told to do. The second, in each structure they believe that they already have the measure of the people – beneficiaries, workers, clients, party activists-; that training is provided so that they might produce the products that the market demands; or that “you don´t look a gift horse in the mouth.” People who organize tend to correspond to that perception of the elites, repeating that they are waiting for “directions from above” and seeing technicians as part of those structures.

Conversation with the coordinator of an NGO –

Technical coordinator: “We have advised cooperatives for three years, before that we worked in those communities as advisors”-Author: How did your work change now that you are advising cooperatives?-Technical coordinator: “It has not changed at all; the technician continues doing the same as before, collects loans, harvests and gives them technical recommendations for their crops; there is the State for training on cooperatives”

There are two indicators of this type of consultancy: when that consultancy does not cause changes in the habitual work of people and organizations doing the consultancy, nor causes changes in the people being advised. For the first indicator see the conversation in the adjoining box. The responses there from the coordinator of an NGO may be similar to those of a religious or state official.  This lack of change happens because it is assumed that the market is the great organizer, that it is a matter of lowering costs to increase income; consequently, they do not study the realities where they are working, except superficially, the so-called “viability or feasibility studies of x entrepreneurial crop or activity[4],” they do not understand that the cooperative space implies cooperating on collective actions and that implies the active involvement of the people and that this process makes any way of working change.

The second indicator is when advisers ignore the agreements and decisions of cooperatives and their boards, believe that they do not analyze and do not know how to make decisions, and that they are poor because of their ignorance. This practice and belief induce people who organize and their leaders to feel discriminated against, and  feel they are inferior to their technical advisers. Consequently, people who organize have low self-esteem, feel guilty for not improving their lives and see nothing good in their lives and communities.

3.    The path of cooperation in democratic spaces

The second path is cooperation around collective actions, be they economic, social or cultural, actions where consultancy turns into accompaniment. 

3.1.        An alternative path emerges from the old path

We realize that the adversities generated by those power structures live in our minds, put us to sleep and make us legitimize violence, inequality, environmental degradation and discrimination, and make us believe that we have nothing good in our lives. On bringing these adversities to light, we awaken and create an environment which encourages us to innovate collective actions, which include using our own resources, reaching agreements, following them and later deepening them.

In other words, path 2 begins on path 1, enters through the formality of path 1 and muddied by the hierarchical structures of this path emerges as path 2. From there eventually this path 2 produces its own formality. How does it emerge from the very bowels of what is harmful? People detect these asymmetric power structures dressed in formality and harmonious liturgy and move beyond them to the extent that they produce their own rules and formality in the process of the alternative path. Let us give some examples. In a country with a military dictatorship the people recover their democracy, in which context the citizens discover that the rules of the dictatorship live in their own minds and rule in their own family, church or sports club, this awakening makes them reject those rules and pushes them to look to the rule of law (just laws) to guide them. In a family, husband and wife discover that they are the prisoners of authoritarian despotism, this awakening unites them and they work as a team of oxen, supporting one another and creating different rules. In a community people discover that they can improve their lives if they free themselves from commercial mediation and usury which is why they diversify their production. This leads them to exchange products in their own community, this effort makes them discover new actions along a different path. In practice, it is not that path 1 disappears, no, it persists, but a new path appears; the principle of “live within your possibilities” cedes, because those possibilities expand with path 2.

On becoming aware of this alternative path, adversities grow and those “demons” (beliefs) expelled from the minds of people, return again and attack even harder. Some friends and relatives add to the adversities: “Your husband has the right to hit you, why are you going out to meetings?” Religion lashes out, “only faith will save you”, they understand faith to be reduced to liturgy without actions for justice. Elites through their hierarchical structures smother us: “Peasants are ingrates and are not going to change” (“the people are not grateful, what is important is living well, “ Moncada said to Sandino in 1927). The answer to detecting this counterattack is to deepen the alternative path, uniting ourselves even more on the basis of revising our vision and rules. The rules of redistribution, transparency and democracy, for example, are not enduring under an authoritarian system, they need the new path to expand with its institutional structure on the family, cooperative and community levels, it is essential that it expand its democratic spaces and deepen its logic of growth with equity.

Let us illustrate this process from the context of the bible. In the alternative path we read the Bible from its context, which shows us that people build the reign of God following its rule of loving (serving) others (Mt 22:39), without being reduced to just one liturgy (path 1) embedded in authoritarianism. Let us recall that the Hebrew people left slavery in Egypt with a vision of a promised land; in other words, they are on path 2. Being on that path those people are counterattacked, adversities revive in their minds and hit them hard; the danger of division appears and they prefer to return to slavery and even to follow other gods. “There we sat by pots of food and ate all the food that we wanted, but you have brought us into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex 16:3). To overcome this counterattack and not step backwards, the people unite refining their vision and producing their 10 commandments. Those who accompanied the Hebrew people, Moises, Aaron and later Isaiah and other prophets, help to detect these adversities, even when the people fall down before other gods and are dragged by the monster of slavery which was burrowed into their minds, their accompaniers do not blame them, do not give up, rather they reinforce and facilitate the deepening of the alternative path. They do it from the logic of groups, networks and specific territories – not following an individualistic logic. Within this context, prayer is discerning, making an effort and serving, it is liturgy which expresses joy as a reward for just collective actions – it is not singing or praying while they go back into slavery.

3.2  From consultancy to accompaniment

Consultancy begins to emerge as accompaniment in this process. Figure 3 shows the same structures as Figure 2, but with an intense role of accompaniment and mutual influence between the people accompanied and those doing the accompaniment (see green arrows in the figure) within the context of the adversities of each structure (see orange arrows). Within this framework accompaniment responds more and more to the communities, listens to their voice buried under dozens of layers of beliefs imposed by the elites of each structure, taking ever more into account the decisions of the boards of directors, particularly if they are made within the framework of the organs of those organizations (board of directors, oversight board, assembly), does not judge them as being correct or incorrect, and analyzes them based on their circumstances.

The first voices of the people with titles in cooperatives and community leadership tend not to be their own voices, generally they are the voices of elites expressed through these structures which have burrowed into their minds. For example, accompaniers, while moving about without a technological recipe, and being guided by their strategic conversations, are challenged to face old demons: “If you do not bring answers you are not a technician;” “Did you study in the university  in order to come and learn from illiterate people?” “The people who did not study earn more”… The mutual interaction and reflection between those accompanying and those being accompanied leads them to unravel those ideas and uncover the voices of their ancestors. 

Correspondingly, to the extent that those actors awaken and organize in their communities, they also begin to have an impact on the faithful and believing people, on workers and producers, on the activists of political parties (see purple arrows in the Figure). When this happens, the borders of those structures tend to cede to the pressure of the communities, those barriers (blue arrows) persist, but are thinner. This is when the force of the communities makes itself felt, their voice is heard and it is when the accompaniers understand that the reference point for their work comes from the communities and not from hierarchical and authoritarian structures. 

In the long term this accompaniment will no longer come from the sphere of international aid, but from rural organizations themselves controlled by the communities.

4.   Reflective accompaniment

Having looked at the two paths, let us conceptualize section 1 with the notion of reflective accompaniment which daily intensifies the alternative path. To do so we are going to make problematic what it means to accompany, and distinguish it, in addition from the typical type of accompaniment of path 1, from the type of accompaniment  capable of combining collective and individual elements: see Figure 4.

In activism it is customary to also denominate a facilitator. Nevertheless, that word “facilitator” tends to refer more to “facilitating workshops” or sometimes “facilitating processes.” In contrast, the word accompanier seems to be broader: the person accompanies in good and bad times, is involved in the procsses, exercises the role of facilitation be that in workshops or processes, and also is accompanied by the people who organize as they achieve their sustainability. 

4.1  Problematizing in order to awaken and change

“I do not find meaning in the work that I am doing,” said an adviser of rural organizations, as if she wanted to quit. This act of feeling oneself “lost” and even a “failure” can be a sign that one is realizing that they are on path 1.

We need to question ourselves when “we are good”, when we believe that “others are the problem” and when we persist in earning a windfall (the consultancy) in the short term. What is surprising is that these three elements we also find in the mentality of people who organize, they believe “they are good”, that “the problem is the technician” and that monocropping is “earning a windfall” in the short term without concern about its effects on water, soil and long- term income. Both mentalities fit together, they are made for one another and intensify the status quo of path 1.

This situation is made worse when as advisers we are – literally – possessed by 4 damaging beliefs. “Having a title” of adviser or technician swells our chests, makes us feel that we know some recipe or some secret that others do not, that we are experts, that therefore we are superior.[5] If in addition to being advisors or technicians we have the responsibility of “administering resources”, we begin to walk like peacocks, the temptation of acting outside the margins of the rules of the cooperative increases our power and from that height we look down on the backs of others as “chickens.” These two beliefs give birth to a third belief,  that those who are advisers “do not change”, this demon whispers to us that those who generate changes should not even be asked about experiencing changes in their attitudes, because if learning is changing our mentality, we refuse to study peasant realities, we prefer to import information and breathe the spirit of Nathanael, who said “nothing good can come” from rural communities like Nazareth. Finally, there is the belief that on forming a cooperative or any organizational expression the rest is a matter of administering services and that there is nothing more to innovate, which is why the leadership of the organization ends up being centralized by one or two people who tend to include their consultant[6]

These 4 beliefs strengthen us moving within imposed rules, but which we believe are our own, rules which are discriminatory and undermine the efforts of organizations taking collective actions, and conceal with more layers of soil the good ideas (“good soil”) that communities have. These harmful rules can be understood in the following phrases expressed by people doing accompaniment or advising : “I work in my own way”, “I am going to respond to this peasant  woman until she respects me”, “I have studied, they have not”, “they make decisions without analyzing”, “I am doing them a favor with my work”, “without me, nothing is going to happen,” “ we are equal and that is why they get upset with me and I also get upset with them.” Let us study this last phrase. A person who is advising or accompanying is right to say that they are equal to a producer, they are in terms of rights, but they have distinct attitudes produced in different contexts. In other words, a producer argues and verbally fights with their neighbor, but arguing and fighting with an adviser who has accompanied them for years hurts them more, and for longer than having argued with their neighbor: while for the adviser that argument and verbal fight is a mistake in their role of accompanier, because that role tells him/her that instead of falling into an aggressive back and forth exchange, the adviser should discern the causes and underlying elements to the anger of the producer, so that the organization might grow more.  In other words, the producer could be demanding their individual rights while the adviser should keep their attention on the importance of consolidating the organization, improving its rules, whose fragility maybe causing this type of complaint, which is why this complaint is rather an opportunity for deepening the organizational process. We people are equal but different.

In this context, the fact that a person feels “lost” can be a sign that they are awakening, that their way of seeing things is counterproductive to the objectives that they are seeking. This means that the person is questioning, in other words digging into their own mentality, and realizing that they are in “center stage” where the status quo is intensifying and functions to the benefit of authoritarian and hierarchical structures- we see ourselves as people “doing errands,” as “operators”. Nevertheless, the deeper the person digs, the more they find their own talents, as the saying goes “the harsher the crisis, the closer the solution”, so in this process the person realizes that they are on A path when they thought they were on the ONLY path. This leads them to discover that another path can be opened in the midst of the dense jungle, full of surprises and in darkness, even though this means placing oneself “on the edge of the stage” where there is the risk of falling. On seeing the beginnings of this other path, nothing will be the same again. The attached box shows the accompanying person as a “facilitator” who in their formative role questions, because the most difficult part in the new person to be contracted is not their technical ability but that they un-learn and detect for themselves that they are in a democratic organization and identify their role in it. Without this awakening they will end up reproducing the part of being a “foreman”, “auditor”, locating themselves in a professor-student relationship, acquiring an arrogant character discriminatory to the peasantry. 

Awakening –       Metanoia in Greek is learning and changing. It means mental change or shift. Meta = beyond. Noia = the mind.-       Learning is more than being informed. By learning we recreate ourselves and we do things that we have never done.-       An organization that learns is one that expands its capacities to create their future.

From here we realize that to problematize is something cognitive, a means to awaken again and again, to shift or change our own attitudes: see the attached box[7]. It is feeling that “something does not fit” in what we are seeing and doing, and it is seeing something greater than ourselves, scrutinizing and producing knowledge, which interests us more than static knowledge as identified in footnote number 4. It is to doubt and question (dig into) the things that seem to be natural in reality, or are presented as something given. It is discovering that the idea that we were following about not learning from peasant realities, that everything was already “canned” (processed and reprocessed) is not our idea, that it was imposed by the structures depicted in figure 2, to not see the reflection of our ancestors, and so experience that sensation of being lost or feeling ourselves “orphaned”. It is following this path of doubt and realizing that we are on the “edge of the stage” and that we could fall off. It is providing them instruments (taking notes and analyzing them, experimenting and analyzing it, creating rules, following them and analyzing them) which are used by them. It is accepting that the people who organize also accompany us. Bringing in the image of the midwife, accompanying is detecting the situation (“2 babies”), connecting, visioning and awakening to the fact that people who organize take their steps.

4.2  Digging into our attitudes in mutual accompaniment

If we problematize, we can awaken – turn around or change our mental frameworks. Nevertheless, even so we must locate ourselves in one type of accompaniment, to then move to another. Generally we start as traditional advisers, as people doing ”tasks”; later as traditional accompaniers, as activists moved by oral culture; there we develop ideas of change and we express empathy with people who organize. Over time we can overcome that traditional accompaniment and move into uncomfortable accompaniment, cultivating mental openness, having empathy with people who organize, delving into mutual attitudes, combining oral and written culture to systematically dig into and wrap ourselves in the processes, weaving a network of relationships where accompaniers and those accompanied mutually accompany one another and grow. 

An accompanier trapped in her family

Mariaa rural intellectual, is seen in her family as synonymous with money, because she has a better salary that than of her brothers who are teachers. If she does not provide them resources, they say she is bad, if she does give them resources, they want more and they rely on her. María is trapped in a circle she cannot get out of; the rules are “he who has, gives” and “he who does not have, has the right to receive.” In the end, the entire family is trapped.How can she get out of it? Recognizing their habits, hers and those of her family, as habits imposed by hierarchical structures; on recognizing this, the entire family can awaken to the fact that one day when she does not have resources everyone will be left in a worse situation. Then they can organize around collective actions: having a savings fund for the university studies of her nieces or nephews, the production of basic grains under strict rules of sharecropping, ect.What difference does a change in their habits make? An intellectual who contributes to change in her family will also generate changes in communities.


Apart from the traditional consultant, two types of accompaniment can be found on path 2. The first type connects to the actors, helps them in their activities, seeks to convince them (“create awareness”), “is a doer”, but is susceptible  – because of sticking to the oral tradition – of accommodating itself to processes that get bogged down and even adapt to processes that go backwards, dressing them up as “grassroots or change processes,” and in general this type of accompanier reproduces hierarchical structures in their own family, which they are fighting in the people who are organizing: see attached box. The accompanier changes and influences change within their family; without this change, their work as facilitator fails, because you cannot facilitate changes in communities if you do not experience systematically that change in your home. 

The risk is that this type of accompaniment forgets about preventing the counterattacks of the “demons” who are awaiting their opportunity, and that within the family as well as in the people who are organizing, latch on to those being accompanied, lowering their watchfulness and defenses. These “demons” once back, tend to be even more devastating, like in the case of the Hebrew people making them return to slavery, when they make us continue as a cooperative while the cooperative becomes functional for capitalism, reduced to just the financial aspect and monocropping agriculture; when people resign from cooperatives promising to not organize again into cooperatives; or when even these “demons” lead us to act under the law of an “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” [8], responding to violence with violence, as happened between the 1960s and 1980s when young people from the urban middle class and religious people who entered into rural communities and neighborhoods to accompany them ended up joining the guerrillas of the time.

The second type of accompaniment works in tandem with the actors, helps them to analyze events, pushes them to refine their vision and rules as the actors innovate, clarifying their path 2 even more. It is a person who accompanies the collective to follow their rules: if the administrative staff does not wait for the decisions of the board of an organization to make an investment, for example, the person doing the accompaniment sees this situation and tracks it, they do not join the request nor take the position of the board, but warns them and explains that both parties should follow organizational procedures – this is strategic formation. A threat to the sustainability of the organization is the accompanying person making decisions that violate the rules of the organization. In that sense, the role of the person doing the accompanying is rather to be a counterweight to the organization at the very moment when decisions are being made[9], they are a counterweight in so far as they connect the administrative staff and the board, and connect the decisions with the rules of the organization, like Moses connecting the Hebrew people to the 10 commandments, in as much as he is aware that if the rules are violated it divides the people: this is connecting and distinguishing themselves in their role in relation to the administrative staff and board members of an organization (see Figure 5).  This requires an ongoing strategic perspective on the part of the person accompanying, to understand that appropriate decisions in accordance with the rules of the collective are what make an organization sustainable and lasting, not the urgency of investments, no matter how profitable they may be, made at the cost of organizational processes; the investments of buying a refrigerator or constructing a building are passing, while decisions following the rules of a collective shed light on a path or a direction, and that light remains and tends to illuminate even more. It is the method or the how that matters more in the long term, not so much the short-term results.

This type of accompaniment includes written culture and is mentally open to question any new innovation, as it analyzes its own conversations and observations, makes a difference and makes it possible to not be happy with any situation no matter how good it might appear to be, and continually helping to innovate. The key for this is in conversation as the means for digging into our attitudes – that of the people doing the accompanying and that of peasants– to find “the good soil” in which the seed of a new life might germinate.

This strategic conversation of un-learning and seeing new paths (innovations, changes, improvements) leads us to differentiate the two types of accompaniment in Table 1. The traditional, static one, which hears but does not listen, declares itself to be in favor of change, but isolates itself and tends to do every activity which appears at the risk of falling into path 1 and behaving as the “new boss.” Organic accompaniment listens and helps to discern the path, sounds out how to deepen the changes in an ongoing way, while at the same time changing their own perspectives. 

With this distinction we start to experiment, and that leads us to the interaction between the collective and the individual under a logic of cooperation. Table 2 shows the two sides of that accompaniment. The column of “individual actions” and that of “collective actions” interact and are in harmony. In the end, the improvements that we achieve are expressed in the lives of people, their freedom, their autonomy and their life in community. It is the dimension of being a candle in the street and in the home. 

5.    Accompanying with a collective sense

This accompaniment makes a difference by connecting and responding to forms of organization with collective and communitarian meaning.

5.1  Accompanying within a circular synergy framework

When we now believe we are doing accompaniment well along path 2, the harsh realities of path 1 which we experience in our countries can absorb path 2. The more stones we pick up along our path, the more scorpions are uncovered along with fertile soil. Sometimes those scorpions bite us while good soil also gives life.

These realities make us argue that the biggest challenge is moving from pure activism to a reflective activism – the “uncomfortable” or “organic activism”. Pure activism can go back to path 1, even under protest and rejecting that path. It is a level in which the person doing the accompanying moves like on “the waves of the ocean”, moving in that framework of discourse one can experience loving harmony, and at times be confronted and get caught up in an aggressive back and forth discussion, even to the point of mutually offending one another. This shows that we have returned to path 1 where the discourse of love, the ritual of the liturgy and rules without spirit dominate, behind which there is subordination. Probably this activism is seen reflected more in religious people and university students, sons and daughters of the middle and upper classes, who in the 1960s and 1980s, under the impulse of liberation theology, Freire´s popular education, and the dependency theory, went into rural communities and urban neighborhoods moved by a social commitment to change the political and economic system. They did commendable work, discovered extreme poverty and solidarity, changed and generated changes, but over the years that process devolved, in many cases they even added to the violence against institutionalized violence. The church itself insisted on sticking to its old path 1, closed in on itself and guarding its orthodoxy incarcerated God behind the walls of the churches, which is why those offspring of the middle and upper classes who went into the communities began to express in the 1990s a “commitment to (economic) prosperity.” Political revolutions became entrenched in the hierarchical and authoritarian structures from which they emerged, and the base Christian communities themselves who discovered their capacities went back to incarnate that ghost of the old patron-client relationship. 

Now most of the people doing the accompanying are sons and daughters of the peasantry themselves. To the naked eye this can seem that it would generate more collaboration and synergy for sharing a similar origin. Realities and its processes are more complicated. Peasant sons and daughters with university studies, mostly, tend to distance themselves from their origins for three reasons: because of the education that they received focused on monocropping agriculture, large enterprises and financial profitability, where the peasantry appears as a backward population, because between 1990 and 2010 projects proliferated where these daughters and sons of peasants returned  as international aid project technicians, reiterating that idea that “nothing good can come from Nazareth”, and because they were pushed to study by their Fathers and Mothers under the idea that “you study in order to not be peasants” (mix of self loathing of your own culture and avoiding the hard work of the countryside). At the same time, the peasantry thinks – armed with beliefs and their own experiences[10]– that they are experts in agriculture, an experience with which they show indifference to technical people of peasant origins; Jesus said that “no one is a prophet in their own town.”

Passing over into reflective activism is like moving about in the current of water under the waves of the ocean where the actions of solidarity and conflict are, and where rules prevail with their spirit. It is studying the adversities that mill about in the minds of people and in our minds, and do it along with leaders, board members, technicians, teachers and people who organize.[11] It is reading other studies about those adversities in other contexts. Following Figure 6, necessary accompaniment is being like the midwife, whose action is connecting in a circular effect, is not reduced only to the relationship between the midwife and the pregnant woman; in our case the person doing the accompanying is connected to the actors of the figure and beyond (including allied organizations, not just accompanier/president or accompanier/manager), and in addition connects humanity, nature and life between them, generating new perspectives.[12] In organizations it is typical to find a disconnection between board members, members, administrative staff, between the technicians themselves or between the board members themselves; in this, the person doing the accompanying looks for ways to connect them, be it through meetings or activating new collective actions mediated by reflection processes where the causes of the disconnection are made evident.

It is not a matter of convincing people but awakening with them within processes of collective actions; the people accompanied are also doing the accompanying, for example, women leaders accompanying their advisers in their contradictions and doubts. In this circular process, each action is like an orchestra where the people with different instruments connect with one another, have a common score, and with discipline do what they have collectively agreed upon. It is forming an interconnected network and team, with a shared vision, which produces social innovation in an ongoing way. 

It is a circular accompaniment, one of rotation among the different functions, there is no one static exclusive role of a technician or a board member. It is respecting one another as people, but challenging our ideas and questioning the rules in which we move. Respecting ourselves means that the people doing the accompanying should have more patience than the people who are organizing, because the people doing the accompanying have more comparative information, quantitative as well as qualitative, about organizations and their processes, and because it is with people from the communities where we can generate changes, which is why we seek to build a sense of human equality in recognition that “no one knows more” and that jointly we are taking on the challenge of producing new knowledge which reconnects us to one another. We say challenging ideas because generally the ideas of the people who organize and the ideas of the people doing the accompanying tend to be the ideas of elites, ideas imposed to dispossess us of all humanity; at the same time, in this process of discerning ideas, finding common causes that impoverish people and limit the people doing the accompanying to working with them with a sense of honesty and integrity: in this way, in the end we discover that their problem is also our problem, the causes of the problem are also the causes of our problems, from here a monumental reason why we need to connect with one another to work in a coordinated way of accompanying and being accompanied. The first mistake would be to respect ideas and rules believing that they are our own and not respecting one another, discriminating against people mutually. And the second mistake would be believing that accompanying is just a unilateral action, when precisely the fact that people who organize also accompany those who are accompanying them, which would show the soundness of that accompaniment and the organization which the members as well as their accompaniers seek to consolidate. 

5.2  Discovering organizational bases for facilitating collective actions

From this circular synergy we discern the path for making organizations of collective learning. Correspondingly, people who organize do so to the extent that they are following the 7 elements which we developed in another article (see: Mendoza, 2021[13]). These elements are: awaken in the face of specific realities that corner us, connect to one another and with actors around collective actions, discipline ourselves to follow the agreements of the group, cultivate a sense of service, reflect in collective spaces, make a distinction between our role as a person and our role as part of a social group, and be transparent with information in order to innovate.

Within this framework, accompaniment consists in emphasizing two forms of organizational work. The first is understanding that a person while belonging to an organization does not feel a difference in their lives, this happens when the existing rules and the organs of an organization are not followed by that person and its accompaniers. The people who organize follow those rules if they participate in their preparation and in their approval, understanding and recalling their significance (letter with spirit); they participate in this process if they awaken to collective actions and if, on the basis of analyzing their notes and data to create new ideas and test them out, they break that curse of secrecy. The people who accompany will contribute to that collective dimension and that transparency of breaking the secrecy that divides communities to the extent that they help people to analyze their experiences and observations, and to the extent that they help develop the rules and agreements that organizations are defining. People cooperate and build their path 2 if they jointly are formed in collective spaces. This is connecting with one another in the space of the organization. 

 The second is taking one other step. It is connecting a diversity of actors around specific actions and identifying their respective roles – or discerning talents which are deployed with their use. If in one community we are working on the product of slaughtering pigs, as accompanying facilitators we can help to prepare its costs and income, as well as its rules and how to do it operationally so that it might scale up in its actions – so far there is not much novelty there. The novelty begins when, using the image of the orchestra, we catalyze a connection capable of brightening the universe. In an orchestra there is a group of people with a diversity of instruments who by coordinating their notes offer a great musical orchestra. With this image, the pig slaughtering is like the “guitar player”, the owner of the pig is like the “saxophonist”, the sharecropper is like the “piano player”, the customers who are going to buy the meat are like the “violin players”, the person who is going to be responsible for the sale of the meat is like the person who plays the harp, the person who is going to supervise is like the flute player, the board members are like the director of the orchestra…Each one has different skills and interests, but when they play in harmony produce a “great orchestra” that alone, individually, they would never be able to achieve. 

It is not a matter of deepening just a relationship between the person doing the facilitating and the guitar player, or between the facilitator and the pianist. It is a question of the facilitator connecting the guitarist to the flutist, and these two people to the pianist, and those three people to the saxophone player…To do so it is important to visit them thinking about the “orchestra”, identifying their roles (preparing the “score”) and connecting them and synchronizing their actions, thinking about the “orchestra”. In each product there is an “orchestra”, likewise in a community or in an alliance with a chain of actors. In that sense, the relationship of the facilitator is with the group of the orchestra around a specific score, where each one looks around themselves in the orchestra, the members of the group no longer look at the person doing the facilitating, because the relationship facilitator-provider of products is no longer so important, what is more important is that the people are in harmony with one another, like in a musical orchestra. This connection is what is going to make the slaughtering of pigs, like any other product, a collective fruit, a musical orchestra where the facilitating person no longer appears – like the “midwife”.

This connecting or reconnecting generally implies working with a small group.

Figure 7 shows 2 rings with people to be connected: the first ring includes the last names of five people from a micro-territory (3-4 communities) with whom to push the process; the second ring includes other extra-community actors but who have something to do with the micro-territory in question: buyers, ranchers, pastors or priests, school teachers, healers. Using the language of boxing, establishing a group of the first ring is like like “landing a blow” on unjust mechanisms, while the second ring is like “a tie-up”, keeping the State or buyers from affecting organizational processes, but rather that they support the efforts with which the communities are organizing.

6.    Conclusions

We started this article comparing the person doing the accompanying with a midwife, We asked ourselves what it is that makes an accompaniment help life prevail instead of intersecting with death. In the article we determined that consultancy can conceal unjust mechanisms of hierarchical and authoritarian structures, and disclosed the paradox that the alternative path emerges from that very unjust reality – the new emerges from the entrails of the monster. In this process we have discovered three ways of working with rural organizations, the first is a consultancy that accommodates itself to the old path “of death”, it is the exercise of being “foremen” of vertical structures and that talk about “sharing knowledge”, assuming that they “have knowledge” or the prescriptions and that the peasantry “does not know”; the second is an activist accompaniment like in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s under the influence of liberation theology, dependency theory and liberating education of Freire, they seek to “convince” and get involved as one more member of the organizations; and the third is reflective accompaniment, mutual and ongoing accompaniment, digging into what is “ancestral” of both mentalities and helping life to emerge and pave the way as “several hands come together”. This third accompaniment responds to the question laid out. Those of us who work with peasant and indigenous people are awakening from the first way, to the second, to the third and we perceive that the three ways continue prevailing in an unending fight in our minds and our daily actions.

Consistent with this first question, we also ask ourselves what this role of reflective accompaniment consists in and how is it that processes of change are accompanied. We have four responses, as accompaniers we should 1) learn-change in an ongoing way; 2) converse and experiment with forms of accompaniment; 3) add ourselves to the circular synergy of connections; and 4) discover the organizational bases for innovating collective actions. 

Concerning the first, ongoing learning, we who work with rural organizations start as technicians or as advisers, as “foremen” of hierarchical structures, and even though we have progressive political, economic or religious ideas, the tacit idea that guides us, without our realizing it, is that “the market knows more” – be that the market which is expressed through religion, the State, institutions of formal education or through commercial and financial mediation. Added to that tacit belief that “the market knows more” is believing that “the advisers know more than the people who are organizing” and that therefore “they do not need to change”, this belief was injected over time by the educational system. When our love for seeing that people are improving warns us that people are not improving, and that their relationship of being imprisoned in hierarchical structures is intensifying, we begin to question ourselves whether we really know more, and question the source of that knowledge that we believe we have. In this way we discover that the first obstacle to awakening for peasant and indigenous peoples is the mentality of the people advising, facilitating or accompanying them. Correspondingly, what characterizes reflective accompaniment is that the person doing the accompanying seeks to change as peasant people discover and create new realities through their organizations.

Concerning the second, strategic conversation and experimentation are our method in this process. We cultivate this art of conversing in mutual accompaniment, examining ourselves, digging into our mentalities to find “good soil” and on that basis make life germinate. We realize that neither the people who organize nor we “know it all”, and that even what we know is an obstacle to knowing and innovating. Listening leads us to take the community into account, to follow it. It is when we begin to experiment (innovate), and like goats, we quit walking on the principal path, we barge in wherever it may be, and we end up contributing to making a new path. This experimentation of new ideas makes new “demons” emerge which is why we go back to digging into our attitudes, our practice is contextualizing the genesis of those “demons” and the “new soil” in us and in the people who organize, and in the light of that meaning contextualize the current experiment in which we are involved, and from there generating new ideas that can be experimented with again…[14] Without discerning the context again and again the risk is to end up obeying the hierarchical structures and then with those lenses, read our practices and consequently de-evolve to the type of adviser of path 1[15]. One criteria of good accompaniment is that the people doing the accompanying do not repeat the same thing every year, sounding like a broken record, but talk about their findings (learnings) year by year as if we were peeling an onion, layer by layer, because as the philosopher Heraclitus said (540 BC), nothing is permanent except for change, no one bathes twice in the same river, because it is no longer the same river, “its elements, riverbed, the water that runs through it, have changed.” Accompanying is a pedagogical action that does not try to fill the mind of the people but help them to free themselves from impediments for thinking and creating.

Concerning the third, joining and energizing the circular synergy of actors, actions and purposes. Accompaniment reconnects doing and feeling. As part of that reconnection, the people who organize see in the people accompanying them a mirror of their future, they are inspired by their way of acting, behaving and generating thinking, and even try to replicate it. In this circular framework, the image of the person doing the accompanying as a midwife returns to help us. Through her questions and strategic view of the organizations she makes new realities emerge, joyful as well as contradictory ones, which make them take steps and at the same time warns about backtracking that like “the pig that mourns its neck collar” people who organize experience. It is also a reconnection with nature and which leads us to re-encounter ourselves in our common home, the earth.

Concerning the fourth, this circular synergy makes us understand that accompaniment is part of the organizational network, its bases, part of the elements that give meaning to the fact that people discover that being connected with people gives them back their individual freedom, and that the more connections they have the more they generate autonomy and transparency. Organizing is finding new meaning to life and seeing a vision that makes us rewrite our purpose every day outside of hierarchical and authoritarian structures. And accompanying in this process of organization is helping people to study their own experiences and surroundings, take notes and analyze them, generate their knowledge, look around themselves to reconnect and be in sync as in a musical orchestra, recreating their ancestral institutions like sharecropping[16] and recreating new institutions of cooperation, and above all the fact that they follow rules, ensuring that the spirit of the rules prevails. This is cultivating awareness about forming organizations that lengthen human life for hundreds of years.

Finally, we are discovering that processes of collective action require reflective accompaniment. Every person has talents, but they have to rediscover them, learn to use them and expand them within a framework of circular synergy. A talent which is not used nor expanded is a lost talent. Rumi, the Persian poet 8 centuries ago said “those who do not want to change, allow them to continue asleep,” or Jesus, “let the dead bury their dead”. We say, those who do not want to change it is because they are trapped in even harsher structures, and because even though they are surrounded by people, they are alone; we have to dig with them and change together while connecting to one another, because if we leave them “sleeping” we also will “fall asleep” and we will be part of the “dead who bury their dead”. As accompaniers it is up to us to study the attitudes of the people along with them and at the same time study our own attitudes expressed in decisions, ideas, and actions, doing it through immersion and for long periods of time. These are the sources for change to the extent that we are learning.

[1] René has a PhD in Development Studies, an Associate Researcher of IOB-Antwerp University, member of COSERPROSS and collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation. This article is based on the accompaniment that we are doing with rural organizations in Central America.

[2] Remember the code of silence known as Omerta, used by the Sicilian mafia: The Cosa Nostra. A code which for centuries guided those societies in Italy.

[3] It is common to find new cooperatives where the State or donor organizations fill them with trainings and donations, cooperatives that when those projects end, they also cease to operate. It is like wanting a baby to run before learning how to crawl and walk, this damages their bones and affects their sense of balance and reflexes. Amartya Sen defined development as “the expansion of human capacities”; this implies; identifying what the capacities of the cooperatives or their members are, and then looking at how to expand those capacities. It seems simple. If it were, why is it not done in this way? Ask donors, governments, religious and business leaders.

[4] The culture of donor organizations and business culture think that they must do a technical and economic analysis of the viability of any initiative. Given that they have the resources, they are going to direct the organization of those initiatives under their predetermined rules, this type of study is what is useful to them. The mistake is in wanting to do the same for initiatives that are going to be managed by communities and their organizations, under imported rules and resources. 

[5] It is heard and written that “an educator is someone who shares knowledge”. This assumes that the educator or adviser has knowledge, this tends to refer to information about some experience or technical skill. From there it is believed that the adviser has “the stone” (knowledge, key information, or the key to success) which that person can “share.” Note that the tacit idea in this perspective is that knowledge is static, a recipe or a secret which someone has.

[6] When people from the communities as well as the advisers themselves coincide in the belief that advisers “were born changed and do not need to change”, they create conditions which erode the sustainability of the organization. 

[7] One important source for change in mentality, applied to people who work in companies and corporations, is Peter M. Senge, 1990, The Fifth Discipline, the art and practice of learning Organizations. New York: Doubleday

[8] This law has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (1760 BC); if a son hit his father, his hands would be cut off (Law 195) and if a man took out the eye of another person, his eye would be removed in return (Law 196). In Rome the Law of an Eye for an Eye was consecrated in the Table VIII of the Law of the XII Tables (year 450BC) but in Roman Law, whose origins had the principle of the re-establishment of justice, that law disappeared. In the Old Testament that Law of an eye for an eye appears in Ex 21:23-25 and in Lev 24:18-20; but Jesus in his sermon on the mount (Mt 5:38-39) left it obsolete. The paradox is that this Law of an Eye for an Eye continues to be relevant in our societies. 

[9] This role of being a counterweight is different from the role of the oversight board or the overseer of an organization. Those bodies are a-posteriori, ensure that actions and decisions are carried out in accordance with the rules. While the role of the accompanier is at the very moment of making decisions and taking actions, they warn both parties and challenge them.

[10] A good part of the peasantry have explanations about agriculture based on beliefs (raising chickens or planting depends on the hand or on the good luck of children – they refer to the temperature of the person or supernatural forces), but also they have knowledge because of their practices of testing seed before planting it, of rotating or associating crops, and of studying their concrete situations (see Rene Mendoza, 2017,”Can the youth fall in love with the countryside again?” at

[11] To some extent the work of reflective accompaniment has a certain similarity to intellectuals who committed in theory and practice to historical processes of change:  advocates of associations like Owen, promoters of cooperatives like Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, promoters of social and political changes like Rosa Luxemburg or Antonio Gramsci. 

[12] Connecting is relational. From the religious perspective, the theologian Leonardo Boff (2014, The Holy Spirit: interior fire, giver of life and father of the poor, Managua: Pavsa), argues that under a different paradigm of the Spirit “everything is dynamism, innovation…God is dynamism of three divine people in eternal communication with one another and with creation, involving everything, God, human beings, life, the universe.” See

[13] René Mendoza, 2021, “The meaning of organizing in areas of the agricultural frontier”. Soon to be published. 

[14] On reading the prophets of the Bible we picked up their method. God does not speak his message in their ears nor does he send them written papayrus. A prophet reads the letter in their historical context to understand its meaning for that time, with that sense he reads the laws of the moment in which the prophets is living and reads it in its proper context, thus understands a meaning. This is the interpretation that he is going to share with his people as if “God spoke to him”; it is that effort of analysis which is divine. When one reads without context, the hierarchical and authoritarian structure returns in the framework and imposes a message, generally puritan and with its back to justice, this is how many religious people intensify the inequality and injustice in our communities – and they do it “in the name of God”. In our case, the path is: listening, observing, analyzing, conceptualizing and consequently innovating collective actions. 

[15] In the academy reading the rules without their context is called functionalism. But if in addition to reading rules without their context, when we do not recognize that we are reading it from the approach of hierarchical and authoritarian structures, then our abilities to think are seriously distorted.

[16] In the chapter on sharecropping in the book “Frontiers of Hope” we study processes where sharecropping with pigs and basic grains can become a network of sharecropping, with which this old institution can be reconnected and create organizational synergies.

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