Cooperatives rooted in their communities committed to coffee quality

Cooperatives rooted in their communities committed to coffee quality[1]

Life

A couple of coop members were travelling in a bus. After getting settled, Juana said to Pedrón “Life is something, right?” Pedrón reacted recalling that song; “and what is life?” “Our lives are like coffee” said Juana seriously. “What? How is that?”, Pedrón continued asking. “In the patio of the Mill, the more the coffee dries the more you see its defects.” Hahaha, Pedrón laughed and a moment later said, “Even if you only look for the defects, there are more good beans, like you my dear.” “Hahaha, such is life.” The couple of coop members are laughing and ruminating in the bus on their way back home: their coffee is similar to people´s lives.

1.    Introduction

On January 5, 2021 we 6 cooperatives met at the Dry Mill of Solidaridad. All the cooperatives take their coffee to this Mill, coffee from different ecologies, altitudes and varieties (see table 1). All are first tier cooperatives whose members come from the same community. Women make up 22.5%. of the members. These cooperatives receive credit from the Winds of Peace Foundation (WPF). Some have organic coffee, others conventional, and all are committed to improving the quality of their coffee. It is a cluster of peasant coffee.

 

Table 1. Cooperatives that are selling 2020/21 coffee
Cooperatives Year Founded Male members Female members Total number of members Coffee varieties Altitude
Artesanos del Café (COARCA) 2016 11 2 13 Catimor, caturra 850-1200
13 Octubre 2019 32 21 53 Catimor, parai-nema, caturra, lempira, bourbon 800-1250
Guardianes del Bosque (GARBO) 2004 53 23 76 Catimor, catuaí, pacamara and marsellesa 900-1300
Solidaridad 1999 46 10 56 Catimor, mara-caturra, catuai, caturra and java 1100-1460
COASSAN 2006 45 11 56 Catimor, caturra, catuai, parainema and marsellesa 900-1350
Coosempoda 2005 77 10 87 Catimor, Caturra, parainema and Marsellesa 900-1350
Total 264 77 341 Catimor, catuai, Caturra, parai-nema,  Marse-llesa, lempira, java and bourbon 800-1460
Source: Based on the 6 cooperatives

Among those participating there were members and board members. Everyone arrived with the desire to see their coffee. They also brought concerns about the street prices for coffee, about the fact that in some places the coffee harvest is now ending, in others it is not. GARBO: “In Peñas Blancas the end of January will be the height of the harvest, in previous years the height of the harvest was the end of December. Is it climate change?”

2.    Reception and classification of the coffee

We classify as A coffee, coffee that has from 0 to 5 defects. B is from 6 to 10. C is from 11-14.

On receiving the coffee, after weighing it, it is classified to define its imperfection rate. The bag is stuck with a sampling probe to get a sample of 100 grams. The beans which are hulled, broken, black, not ripe, affected by coffee bore…are identified. If there are 5 that are broken, that is 1%. The same with black ones…In the end these percentages are added up, and that is what is written in the receipt. They also note there if there are beans with pulp and if the coffee has light or severe mold.

In general, the coffee coming in is better than last cycle. Even though there are a lot of unripe (green) beans. The broken and hulled beans are more because of the calibration of the pulper.

Coassan is expressing a concern about the weighing: “With small volumes, less than 10 sacks of coffee, the scales here match the scales that we have, but when we send more than 15 sacks we feel that the scales here show a difference”

3.    Patio-drying

In 4 days coffee drops from 30 degrees of humidity to 16 degrees. They leave it one day shaded (piled up and covered with plastic). Then they rake the coffee on the patio, because there is less volume; in mills with greater volume of coffee in each patio, it can even get moldy. By covering it and raking it the drying of the beans is more even. At 13 degrees the coffee is moved to the warehouse. Weeks later in the hulling the coffee loses humidity through the heat of the huller.

If a lot of coffee goes onto the patio, the coffee at 18 degrees of humidity is picked up in sacks and taken to the warehouse, there it will continue drying and its quality will not be affected, while the wet or humid coffee is put on the patio.

Light or heavy mold is not a problem, the sun will remove it. The problem is when the mold is in the groove of the bean.

In this mill coffee is managed according to the request of the cooperative that owns the coffee. COASSAN asked the coffee to be managed by producer, and the 13th of Oct asked that it be managed in 3 lots; so that is how it is managed. In this way, if one lot is damaged, COASSAN informs the producer members that their coffee was damaged; the same with the 13th of October as it is managed by harvest collection site by zone. In the warehouse it is also managed by lots, having their different qualities in small lots is an opportunity for buyers.

4.    Cupping

Last cycle the coffee from December cupped at scores of between 79-80. Now they are cupping at between 80-83. This is a good sign.

  • Coffee from Coassan scored 79-80, now 82-83. With rest it could reach 84.
  • Coffee from 13 de octubre scored 79, now it is 81-82. With rest it could reach 83.
  • Coffee from Garbo is 82-83, they have large beans. Very good!

There are no beans damaged by the coffee bore in this cycle.

Suggestions from the cupping:

  • Dry coffee with some honey on it [mucilage], then sun dry it. “Because coffee is like meat, if you wash it too much you dry out all the blood.”
  • Green [unripe] beans takes points away. If in the picking, they pick green, half ripe and ripe, the coffee quality is affected. Assign someone to pick out the green beans, this will improve the quality. Mature beans improve quality

5.    Administration and commercialization

Financing and commercialization go hand in hand, this is moving the coffee to the mill. WPF supports us and the cooperatives respond to that trust.

There is money circulating in the communities, from high prices for coffee above the NY price. This is affecting the loyalty of the members of their cooperatives, because on becoming aware of those prices, they want to sell their coffee to the buyers. If a cooperative provides credit and provides technical support to a member, and that member sells their coffee to a buyer, this is disloyalty to their cooperative, this means that the cooperative is supporting the buyer.

  • Harvest collectors are also appearing in the communities [not just the municipal capital, as previously], many times they are the former presidents of cooperatives themselves who are taking advantage of their contacts that the cooperative achieved during their period as presidents. These same people receive good prices from buyers through the cooperative itself, without the cooperative being able to apply its rules, because some buyers do not recognize what is happening in the cooperatives and condition even including so and so in order to buy coffee from the cooperative. Are we cooperatives sowing cooperativism properly? Are buyers helping the cooperatives?
  • “Loyalty falls apart more when we do not have markets”
  • “In bad times (low street prices) we unite and in good times (high street prices) we disperse”; “some change their buyers like changing their religion”.
  • “We are financing the competition”

There is loyalty between Solidaridad and the cooperatives

  • “We came from Bencafé [another mill], we compare yield and costs, and we are doing well here”
  • “Here we get receipt by lots, with that we can tell the producer, “Your lot is damaged” or “your lot is excellent”
  • “We are among small producers; if we get to be large one, let us not turn our backs on one another, the larger we are, the more humble we should be.”
  • “Sustaining the Solidaridad mill is also important to us”
  • “In my cooperative in assemblies we explain the treatment that they give us here, here it is producer to producer; we came from a Union, here we feel like we are at home.”

We also have triangulated loyalty with WPF

  • “We will have a bean selector with a loan, all the coffee will be processed here”
  • “there are buyers who already have a commitment with some cooperatives”
  • “There is a buyer called Juan de Dios Castillo, he is offering $150/qq export coffee with a cupping score of 81 and above, giving $20,000 in advance, 3% a month, for 3 containers”.

So far cooperatives like COASSAN and GARBO are turning in a lot of coffee, compared to their volumes from last year. Nevertheless, the Solidaridad Mill has only received 20% of the coffee that it had projected to receive this cycle.

Buyers within the FairTrade framework are not buying coffee in Nicaragua in the way that they did in the past. Having the FairTrade seal, but not able to sell at the FairTrade price. Some want a combination: 2 containers at fair trade price and 2 containers at the street price, it does not work.

In this cycle those of us who do not have buyers, at least we want to be left “even”, that we don´t lose money.

The marketing of the cooperatives is weak, we have a low budget for this important action. It is important to invest in a webpage, social networks, sending samples, telling the story of the cooperatives.

Table 2 shows the volume collected, the situation of the imperfection rate and the cupping results.

 

Table 2. Coffee quality collected up to Jan 4, 2021
Cooperatives Volume collected as quintals of parchment coffee up to Jan 4, 2021 Imperfection rate Cup score Markets
Solidaridad 890.09 4-12% SCAA 77-83-50 Cond sc, mamacoffee, thanksgiving coffee/etico, adix coffee, J % M family coffee
Garbo 301.33 5-13% SCAA 60-82.50  
Coarca 186.42 5-7% SCAA 81-82-50  
13 Octubre 591.06 4-12% SCAA 60-82.50  
Coassan 1 1163.06 4-14% SCAA 60-82.50 GEPA
Coassan 3 77.6 5-12% SCAA 81  
Coosempoda 483.38 4-13% SCAA 77-82.50  
Total 3692.94      
From a projection of 21,177 qq. to be processed in the mill, by Jan 4, 17.44% had been collected

Source: Cooperativa Solidaridad

6.    Outstanding elements of the meeting

The entire process was seen: reception, patio-drying, cupping and markets. The members were proud to see their coffee in the patio or the warehouse. Listening to each element, it was possible to connect the picking phase to the wet milling phase, for example, selecting the coffee beans so that it have higher quality.

Management by lot, if the cooperative requests it, gives it differential treatment, the Mill supports them in this.

Observation made about the weighing.

Recording the results of the cupping can be shared if the cooperative so requests.

The quality of the coffee of the 6 cooperatives in this cycle could be between 82-84. Good scores!

7.    Agreements

  1. Solidaridad is going to review the weighing and is going to test it with the coffee received. A lot of 20 sacks they are going to weigh together, and then they are going to weigh them by 10 sacks at a time, and thus test to see if there is a difference or not.
  2. It is important to increase the volume of coffee collected on the part of the 6 cooperatives. Listening to the members about why they are diverting their coffee, maybe conversing they can arrive at beneficial agreements; in these cases, let us show a certain amount of flexibility, at times “disloyalty” is due to mutual distrust. In the case of ex board members collecting coffee in the same communities, competing with their cooperatives, applying the rules of the cooperative is healthy. The month of January is key for buying coffee.
  3. Improving the quality, even though we are doing well. Select your coffee better
  4. Cupping is being done weekly; if the cooperative requests that the results of the cupping be sent to them, Solidaridad will send them to you.
  5. Each cooperative will think about how to work on the marketing, and in the month of February when we come back to meet again, we will discuss if there are ways of working on that in a coordinated way.
  6. Support one another as cooperatives. GARBO: “If someone needs coffee for their container, the coffee of GARBO is available.”
  7. Improve hygiene and prevention measures in the Solidaridad Mill: providing disinfectant for shoes and place for hand washing.
  8. Next meeting in February

 Acknowledgements

We want to thank the Cooperativa Solidaridad and WPF for this relationship of trust which is being built between the cooperatives and for holding this meeting.

Each person returns to their homes, ruminating and laughing, like the couple in the bus as the story at the beginning of this text tells us.

[1] This text is a record of a meeting written by René Mendoza, adviser-accompanier of cooperatives and collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation. E-mail: rmvidaurre@gmail.com On the part of the Solidaridad Cooperative, Jacqueline Sánchez explained the imperfection rate; Eloy, the drying patio; Jaime explained cupping;  and Aleyda Blandón and Ottoniel Arguello talked about selling the coffee.

Prospects for 2021: from “caterpillar” to “butterfly”

Prospects for 2021: from “caterpillar” to “butterfly”

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

The strength of dreams

-How are we doing? Asked the caterpillar of the spider

-Walking, and you?

-Walking. I want to tell you about a dream I had, from the mountaintop I saw the beauty of the valley. I am going up there, would you come with me?

-Hahaha., the spider laughed, for you a rock is a mountain and a pool of water the ocean! Hahaha…the same thing happened with every animal that she met on the path, all made fun of her.

The caterpillar continued. And continued in the midst of suffocating heat and ridicule. Within days the caterpillar died. The spider, grasshopper, beetle, and frog witnessed her body, it was a symbol of ambitious stubborn people and a warning for audacious beings. But then they saw that from the remains of the caterpillar emerged a beautiful butterfly that flew to the top of that mountain.

.

 

After an exceptional 2020 thinking optimistically about 2021 and beyond requires a lot of human energy – stubbornness and audacity. It is like filling ourselves with the determination of that “caterpillar” to see the “mountaintop”, even more than that, it is dreaming of “seeing the beauty of the valley from the mountaintop” – societies that organize and revive communities.

We the members of grassroots organizations and the people who accompany them at the start of the year review data and make plans. This start of 2021 is not like any other. It is really the year destined to make a difference. For everything that we have experienced in 2020: COVID 19. And because also in Central America Hurricanes ETA and IOTA blew away from us more than “leaves.”

I hope that we are like the “caterpillar”, that we have that fire inside so that, regardless of the “suffocating heat” or the ridicule of those who watch us, we pursue our dreams and are capable of making wings sprout on us through organizations for following those dreams. We have the biggest challenge of our lives: to dream (have vision) of seeing from “the mountaintop”, and then to have to transform ourselves from “caterpillars” (let “die” what has to die) to “butterflies” (give life to what should live), which in our case would be organizations reinvented for pursuing those visions.

That is why we write these pages. In what follows we start with what is global, showing what is predicted for Latin America in terms of the economy. Then we list the risks and prospects. Then we show some interesting things that have been done in 2020. And finally, we chart a path for grassroots organizations and their allies to use to dream about their “valleys” and reach “the mountaintop” to be able to see their “valleys”.

1.     Latin America and the Caribbean

 

There is a certain respite in the world after Trumpism lost the election in the United States. This respite is charged with hope with the vaccine against COVID 19 that, in spite of more than 1.5 million deaths, is now getting to some countries.

 

Table. Latin America and the Caribbean: 2020- 2021 Growth Projections
Latin America and the Caribbean GDP Growth
2020 2021
Latin America and the Caribbean -7.7 3.7
Argentina -10.5 4.9
Bolivia -8 5.1
Brazil -5.3 3.2
Chile -6 5
Colombia -7 5
Ecuador -9 1
Paraguay -1.6 3.5
Perú -12.9 9
Venezuela -30 -7
South America -7.3 3.7
Costa Rica -4.8 3
Cuba -8.5 3
El Salvador -8.6 3.5
Guatemala -2.5 3.5
Haiti -3 2
Honduras -8 4.5
México -9 3.8
Nicaragua -4 1.3
Panamá -4 5.5
Dominican Republic -5.5 5
Central America and Mexico -8.5 3.8
Central America -6.5 3.8
Latin America -7.7 3.7
The Caribbean -7.9 4.2
Source: ECLACL, Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2020. Note: Central America includes Cuba, Haití and the Dominican Republic

With this hope let us look at the Table for economic growth done by ECLAC. This table provides us with a first point. The entire region of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020 had a negative growth rate of -7.7, and in 2021 they estimate that they will grow by 3.7%, at least according to the assumptions of stability that they predict for 2021 – if the realities end up differently, these estimates could improve or worsen. Central America will grow 3.8% in 2021, if there are no big surprises. The data for Central America are in the darker colors[2].

Covid-19 revealed structural problems that our countries were already experiencing prior to this:

  • Inequality
  • Poverty
  • Low productivity, even worse under the system of monocropping and environmental degradation
  • High levels of labor informality or underemployment
  • Low social protections. Privatization of health care left the world on its knees in the face of the virus.

Let us also take note of what is good, the virus accelerated digital, robotic transformations and alternative energy. And gave free rein to thinking about the meaning of life implied by the uncertainty and “normality”.

2.     Risks and prospects for  2021

 

Risks:

  • Uncertainty in the evolution of the pandemic. The vaccine is a hope. Even though new outbreaks persist, and the virus can evolve and modify its strain.
  • What will happen if monetary and fiscal stimuli which have been applied in most countries are lifted too early.
  • Financing is important, but if the pandemic is not controlled, it can continued being held back.
  • It is estimated that the prices of basic products will increase. That could be, but we also know that it will be difficult for the mediation chain to allow more to trickle down to producer families, which will also impact consumers.
  • Possible increase in social and geopolitical tensions. The unemployment, poverty and inequality can make the “boiling pot blow its top”, the latent social tensions could intensify.
  • For Central America, an additional factor was the impact of Hurricanes ETA and IOTA – impact on production, nature and the impoverishment of people[3]. In countries like Nicaragua, an additional element is that 2021 is an electoral year.

The biggest risk is only focusing on the economics and the short term: 2021.

Prospects:

  • There will be economic growth, even with setbacks, economic improvement is at the gates, at least compared with 2020. But we already know that growing without equity is damaging for the world.
  • The international agenda for climate change will be reinforced, because we realize that greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 fell by 7%, which is a “beneficial effect” of COVID 19, while putting the brakes on the type of damaging economics that have prevailed in the planet; now we realize that there is a direct relationship between human actions and the climate.
  • We also have observed that government can spend a lot in the face of emergencies like COVID 19, which is why with friendly but real pressure, governments can invest in clean energy technologies, sustainable agriculture, preventive health…
  • World awareness about the fact that social investment in health should be free from the interests of markets (elites), and that the State can govern it as a public good.
  • The reference about what is a good government was shaken in 2020 with COVID 19. It was believed that effective governments for resolving adversities like pandemics were from countries with larger incomes and apparently more democratic, led by the United States and England[4], but it ends up that countries like Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, with much lower GHSI rankings, had better results. How? They prepared themselves well to face the virus as soon as the WHO put out the worldwide alert, they set forth a strategy uniting their citizenry, carried out a massive public communication campaign and worked with networks of community organizations (see Woods, 2021). Organization means a lot!
  • Human awareness on the fragility of humanity and the planet, particularly if we continue working under the idea of “only me” and “leave it to me”, coordinating collective actions can result in us leaving this world better than when we found it when we were born.
  • The agricultural sector in the region has cushioned the impact of the negative economic growth and will continue being an important element for any growth with equity.

Looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror, and recovering our gaze on 2021 and beyond, we recall the German poet and playwright, Bertolt Brecht, who said: “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay they way they are”. Under this hope, on a general level we should work to:

  • Reactivate strategic sectors in each country taking into account investment in entrepreneurial ventures, social equity and environmental sustainability.
  • Extend basic income to people in poverty but “teaching them to fish”, to be self-sustaining
  • Finance small enterprise and the agricultural sector – not monocropping; not purchasing liabilities; finance the means that generate financial returns
  • Universalize the social protection system, particularly health care with conventional medicine and natural medicine
  • Work on these and other points in a global alliance, along with governments, international aid agencies and businesses, and above all with community or grassroots organizations, like in those 3 countries that we just mentioned.

3.     Coordinations that generate hope

COVID-19 was produced by human action, its effects are regrettable because of the lives lost, but it also helps us realize that human actions can overcome COVID-19 (see: Mendoza, 2020b[5]). Human actions had to do with Hurricanes ETA and IOTA, like the fact that their impacts either mitigate or intensify it. (see: Mendoza, 2020a).

The experience of Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam show us the good that we people have, regardless of our financial resources. They show us what we are capable of through organizing and connecting with several actors to deal with serious adversities.

There were also coordinated actions among international and local organizations that have mitigated the effects of COVID-19. We mention three:

  • Fair trade organizations from Germany (WeltPartner and El Puente), supervised by the German Aid Agency (GIZ), and partner cooperatives and associations of the south with whom they sell products like coffee, worked on joint initiatives to counteract COVID-19 in the short and medium term[6].
  • Aid agencies linked to European Churches, like Cafod, Broederlijk Delen, Trocaire and Misereor, as well as agencies from the United States like EcoViva, along with their partners in countries in the south, reacted quickly to help the families with whom they tend to work
  • In the case of Nicaragua, aid agencies (Common Fund) from European countries and civil society organizations (NGOs, associations and cooperatives) joined forces so that populations could deal with COVID-19.

Likewise, there are community organizations that have responded to their communities.

  • Community stores in the region held health campaigns to prevent COVID-19, in some cases they promoted gardens with plants for family consumption and medicinal plants to strengthen their “defenses” (immunological system).
  • Cooperatives and their networks helped families affected by COVID-19 and the people affected by the hurricanes to receive proper attention in hospitals and to recover their crops. “42 of us planted 3 mzs of beans for our brother who is in the hospital,” said a leader of a community in Waslala (Nicaragua).
  • Cooperatives and community stores that respond to their communities collected beans to help their communities and are coordinating to grow beans free from glyphosate. Associations that respond to the communities where their grassroots members are from in order to improve their forms of organization and their information systems.

These experiences illustrate different degrees of coordination, above all they show us that we can resist large adversities and coordinate collective actions within a global and local framework. They provide testimony about what is possible to do within a framework of global and local coalitions. Unfortunately, they are not well known nor studied, but they exist and are praiseworthy.

4.    What are we cooperatives, associations, stores and associative enterprises doing?

Our societies harbor the hope for good changes. That begins with grassroots organizations – cooperatives, associations, consumer stores, associative enterprises and community organizations, along with them are global organizations like fair trade organizations, cooperatives from other countries, businesses, B-corporations, Universities… How can we start off on a new path?

A good number of rural organizations and international organizations have experiences for analyzing when collective actions function and when they do not, when coordination among different organizations work and when it does not, when rules and value work and when they do not. Reassessing this diversity of knowledge is a key point for rethinking our actions in light of 2021 and beyond. This rethinking should include:

  • Having a good strategy with a good vision around which all the associated people can unite, to do so it is important to shake off the poverty mentality that “we can´t because we don´tt have any money”, and it is important to analyze the risks.
  • Having mental openness to what is different in order to build and deepen good alliances with communities
  • Designing social investment with a multiplier effect and which is sustainable, something which neither private enterprise nor the state invest in nor will invest, something innovative.
  • Being coherent with the mitigation of climate change, let us not leave the planet off worse than when we found it on our birth; each action of organizations should take into account the environmental component, which will help prevent viruses and hurricanes.
  • Being coherent with social equity: if our children and neighbors are going to other countries to harvest coffee, when there is coffee on our farms and the need for pickers, it is clear that we are not paying coffee pickers well, and we have low productivity; if our organizations have on average 20% female membership, it is clear that our organizations are not responding to the diversity of economic areas and that they are committed only to the trap of “raw materials” (without processing what we produce). Monocropping excludes women or, they wisely resist submitting themselves to monocropping.
  • We should look to different markets: not just the international market, not just to cities, but also to the municipal market and to our own communities. We should consume the best of what we produce, let us increase the variety of foods on our plates. We should look for ways to produce without glyphosate, store products, process them, cultivate medicinal plants. We should realize that having children “all over the place” dehumanizes us…
  • Being democratic – democratizing information, positions of responsibility and relationships. The most unhappy communities and organizations are the ones that need eternal managers and presidents. Rural organizations and their allies should be lights of democracy.

Having these elements, or precisely to spell out these elements, organizations should:

  • Talk with member families under the idea that each person has multiple histories–it is not just ONE crop, it is not just THE farm, it is not just BUYING one product or providing JUST credit. It is so many things, many things…
  • Reflecting in open assemblies to listen to one another about our first story, the second, the third…
  • Analyzing what we hear and what we see, a lot of what we hear are ideas from elites which they have us reproduce (“we always need a patron”, “God made me poor”, “the cooperative is to give myself a loan”, “nothing can be done without money”), which is why we need to listen to the “current under the waves” (“help yourself and I will help you”, venture initiatives, innovations).
  • Weaving a new path.

2021 is a year of opportunities to do something different. We can, like the caterpillar, transform ourselves and see from the mountaintop. What are we going to see? Societies with social and environmental equity, communities lighting up the world.

 

[1] This is an open text. You can correct it, expand on it, and use it in accordance with your realities and needs. If you need the author to help you to “put words to your dreams (visions) and to accompany you in your transformation from “caterpillar” to “butterfly”, we will be ready to support you. rmvidaurre@gmail.com cell: +505-85100007

[2] If you want to read a little more about each country, ECLAC does summaries based on the official data of each country in Spanish.

On Nicaragua: https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/46501/77/BP2020_Nicaragua_es.pdf On Honduras: https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/46501/79/BP2020_Honduras_es.pdf  On Guatemala: https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/46501/81/BP2020_Guatemala_es.pdf  On El Salvador: https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/46501/82/BP2020_ElSalvador_es.pdf  and on  Costa Rica: https://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/46501/85/BP2020_CostaRica_es.pdf

[3] We wrote a brief article on the impact of Hurricane IOTA, see: Mendoza (2020a) “IOTA: a Cry of Pain and Hope” in: https://peacewinds.org/iota-a-cry-of-pain-and-hope

[4] Wood (2021, “The brutal lessons of governance of 2020”) tells us that just before COVID-19 a coalition of foundations published the Global Health Security Index (GHSI); there they rated the capacity of countries to prevent, detect and report an infection, and quickly respond to disease outbreaks”. And obviously the countries with higher incomes appeared as the most capable, the United States and England were first. One year after that ranking, Haider et al (September 2020, “The Global Health Security Index and Joint External Evaluation score for health preparedness are not correlated with countries’ COVID-19 detection response time and mortality outcome”, following the hypothesis of the GHSI (and the Joint External Evaluation JEE), that higher income countries would more quickly detect the virus and would experience less mortality, the study found that there is no correlation between them: “the 10 countries most affected by COVID-19 in terms of deaths per million inhabitants were among the first 20 countries in terms of their general results in the GHSI”.

[5] R. Mendoza, 2020b, “A Coronavirus Firewall”, in Revista Envio, No 466. In: https://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/5776

[6] This shows us that in the global context, almost irrespective of states, there are commercial transactions around products like coffee and cacao which include international buyers, certifiers, roasters, distributors, cooperatives and associations, that extend from Europe and the United States to communities in the countries of the south. Many of these networks are stable coalitions with a long history.

IOTA: A cry of pain and hope

IOTA: A cry of pain and hope

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Hurricane Iota

The nails creaked and the rooves of the homes thundered

The wind howled like lightening trapped among the trees

Rivers overflowed and washed away even the gasps of the most incredulous

A cry emerged from the mouth of the soil and the impoverished people

It is a prolonged cry of pain and hope.

 

Hurricanes ETA and IOTA arrived in Central America just a few days apart, one behind the other. 2020 set a record of 30 tropical storms, 12 of them hurricanes. In this article we sketch the effects of the hurricanes, their causes, we argue in favor of aid that helps and we look for opportunity in the midst of adversity.

1.     Impact of hurricanes

They have two sides. In their passing they destroy homes and causes landslides, while at the same time they revive dozens of water sources. They pulverize the work of an entire life of many families, while at the same time they are a window for designing another path. They topple bridges clogged with garbage and at the same time clean rivers and creeks. They impose desolate areas for some days, areas that in a few days revive like never before. They fell trees and plantains in farms and forests, while new plants and young trees break through. They beat the foundations of families and religious fanaticism that hope that some supernatural being might protect them, while at the same time awaken interest in collective actions – people cleaning bridges in the midst of the rainfall to keep the river from destroying them, people helping their neighbor so their roof does not sprout wings, institutions supporting the citizenry to get to safety, peasants with picks in hand going to the cry of the Peñas Blancas Cliffs, El Puyú mountain, and people smothered by the landslide in the community of San Martin and Mulukukú (Nicaragua).

2.     Causes

The impact of hurricanes leaves us stunned, moments in which we reflect and understand that hurricanes have natural and human causes. Hurricanes are formed in hot seasons between June and November in template ocean waters like the Atlantic Ocean; when the temperature reaches 270 Centigrade the warm waters evaporate, that heat gets transferred to the air, with that tons of water rise to the atmosphere each hour and generate an immense amount of energy; in the altitude that vapor is condensed into clouds and releases its heat, raising the temperature of the air around it several degrees; as that air is heated more vapor is condensed producing winds that raise the clouds up to 15 kilometers high where, due to the rotation of the earth, they form circles, giving birth to a hurricane. Note the increase in the temperature is the basis for hurricanes, that warming is produced by human actions, “by the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, a product of human activities such as the use of carbon, oil and gas, and the felling and burning of forests.”

Let us give some examples from Central America. Monocropping and extensive ranching deforest, contribute to global warming and reinforce the effects of hurricanes, the soil hardens because of the lack of trees, they keep water from entering the soil, make the water run above ground and add to the creeks and rivers; this monocropping system is promoted by commercial enterprises of agrochemicals, financial institutions, international buyers and certifiers, and by a growing number of peasant families who were expelled by the capital of the valleys to the mountains in the last 150 years. Religious beliefs turn impoverished people into beings dependent on a God who writes their destiny, make them pray or worship without actions, deeds that paralyze people who could organize themselves better and be preventive if they depended on themselves and their collective capacities. There are cooperatives and churches that in the face of hurricanes do not even call on their members to mobilize to benefit their communities. The intellectual class, people with university studies, coopted from the 1990s by the soft side and harsh side of capitalism, work for donors and capital, and not for the communities, with which hurricanes are not explained but seen as something natural and external, like a “punishment” and that some “god will stop.” It is not a matter of hiding “this country of my soul so that no one else might beat it”, it is that we are part of the destruction and the construction of that “my soul.”

3.     The aid that does not help

This inaction and this hijacked thinking reinforces the negative effects of hurricanes and even makes the aid that arrives not be beneficial. If they bring in imported products to a community, let´s say rice or powdered milk, the small producers will not be able to sell their beans nor the milk from their cows, the small stores already affected by the hurricanes will lose their customers, which could make the community lose their storefront. If they bring in potato seed so that they leave behind their native seed and become dependent on imported seed, is that also aid? We say potato seed, but the same is true for the marsellesa variety of coffee, vegetables or other products.

It is known that aid is channeled under the logic of “trickle down”, most is left in the higher parts and less gets down to the lower parts, while hierarchical structures and social asymmetries intensify. Those who donate and those who mediate donations, are they aware of the consequences of their actions, eroding community efforts?

4.     The aid that does help

One of the aids that would make a difference in favor of rural populations is quit hurting them and undertaking more humanizing policies and actions. Financial and commercial institutions should change their policies: providing loans with interest rates under 10%, no longer for monocropping systems nor for extensive ranching, but for diversified systems. Not importing more agrochemicals like glyphosate, a carcinogen prohibited in countries in Europe and some states in the United States, but instead promoting sustainable agriculture. International enterprises that buy peasant products should buy from grassroots organizations that are democratic, transparent and that distribute their surplus, because buying from them without ensuring that they comply with these principles is to reinforce hurricanes. Intellectuals should recover their autonomy and turn their focus on peasant families, producing ideas and innovations along with them. Universities should quit only teaching the monocropping system and the neoliberal logic that is ruining our planet, and allow peasant and indigenous rationalities, like sustainable agriculture and small enterprises, to enter the classroom, and that fields become “open classrooms”. Grassroots organizations can organize the sale of beans to prevent scarcity in these crucial months, they can promote high quality varieties to replace the coffee and cacao plants damaged by the hurricane, and they can study the “new” soil and reorganize their farms; in this the global chain of actors allied with the cooperatives can support them with innovative financial modalities that strengthen community efforts. This aid can help the communities that are organized to have economic autonomy and self-determination.

5.     Moment for rethinking our ideas and actions

There will continue to be hurricanes. They serve to revitalize nature, cool the planet and clean contaminated air. They can also be an opportunity for us to rethink our actions.

Their effects can be more benevolent under the following conditions. If in agrarian landscapes diversified and ecological systems prevail. If the logic of life prevails over the logic of money. If grassroots organizations energize communities with more gardens, more diversified systems, with their social fund invested in actions that no one else invests in, with community stores that not just bring in products from outside but also channel products from within and between communities… If schools and churches, far from indoctrinating, teach their members to think. If enterprises and international organizations look not just at products but also the people who produce them and the social networks that make it possible for them to emerge…

If we people understand that hurricanes are caused by natural and social causes, and that their effects can be more or less tragic depending on our actions, maybe we could make, through better thought-out actions and through grassroots organizations (cooperatives, community stores, associations) there be less hurricanes, and when they do exist their effects be more benevolent. If this happens, we could make their cry be more of “hope” than of “pain.” Before then, are we listening to that cry?

[1] Rene has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator with the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/), an associate researcher with the IOB- University of Antwerp (Belgium) and a member of the Coserpross cooperative (http://coserpross.org/es/home/). rmvidaurre@gmail.com

2ND UPDATE – Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

                                                                                                Article dedicated to Fr. Jack Moynihan and Sr. Maria Alicia McCabe[2]

Visit

-Why are you coming to visit us? María Jesús asked, the grandmother of the community. Not even the priests visit us now–she took charge of the conversation.

-The world is getting more difficult. Without us, it will be difficult for you to improve; and without you, we don´t even know where we are going- I responded.

-Is that right? Whispered the grandmother, inviting me to coffee.

Thirty years ago in most of Central America corn and beans were planted without using glyphosate nor gramoxone; now gramoxone is used even for harvesting beans, in part to keep the rain from making the beans “sprout”. Not to mention vegetables, coffee and cacao. Much less sugar cane, peanuts or sesame. Probably beef and pork meat is more organic than carrots or beans. Where did this come from? The costs of production of a peasant family have increased drastically, but not the prices they are paid for their products; this makes desperation spread, tension and violence intensify, biodiversity erode, and climate variability proliferate.

There are many explanations for these realities. In this article I focus on intellectuals, who dedicate themselves to meditating and studying the realities, preparing projects and/or policies, teaching or preaching; they are writers, scientists, artists, scholars; they are “people of culture” who move in different circles from most people on our planet, a separation which at times is concealed by words, an abysmal separation. We use the word “apartheid” to denote this invidious separation. By way of hypothesis we say that the separation between intellectuals and the communities where most people live has impaired humanity for at least five centuries, when friars (intellectuals), soldiers, tax collectors and traders burst upon these lands. How can they work together and write a new history? I reflect on this question from the heterogeneity of the rural world.

That wall of intellectual apartheid

We read articles in newspapers and magazines about political issues where generally the rural reality or life in neighborhoods do not appear, and if they do, they are reduced to topics of violence where their structural causes are ignored. There are NGOs with rural agendas whose intellectuals respond to the market expressed in donors or business associations, who sporadically show up in rural communities to do surveys or interviews, they show up once and never return. These people are governed by the market mentality which deforms intellectuals themselves into field technicians, who go out with donations and prescriptions in hand, enlarge their wall to not listen to the people, and allow arrogance and discrimination guide them along their path. In fact, in the last 20-30 years, there are practically no intellectuals who write about the rural realities of Central America in a systematic way.

At the same time there are young rural women and men who have studied different majors. Finishing their studies, their dream does not tend to be to work with rural populations. They work for companies, the government, donors, or they migrate to other countries to work in what they can. If they stay, they go back to agriculture or to being housewives, leaving aside their intellectual role that could give them the possibility of writing peasant and indigenous histories in plural, from their perspectives, and tracing out new futures.

What happened to us? The Fordist and Taylorist colonial mentality that separates experts from workers has nested in our minds, regardless of the political ideology that we might exude. This mental model makes one believe that there is nothing to be learned from rural communities, like some two thousand years ago: “Nazareth! –exclaimed Nathanael. Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). This mental model makes intellectuals believe that they are superior: “I am an accountant”, “I am an engineer”, “I am a professor”, “I am a pastor, anointed by God”, “I am a doctor” or “I am an economist”. This intellectual arrogance means that we do not mingle with peasant or indigenous people, that that hidden or submerged population lives in the “middle ages” – a Eurocentric reading, as if Latin America had an “ancient age”, “middle age” and “modern age” like Europe.

This mentality adds cement to the millennial wall of intellectual apartheid of a “Latin America” where indigenous and peasant people are absent. Peasant and indigenous people are moving on one rail, and intellectuals on another, going in different directions.

I have learned a lesson working for decades with rural populations. Alone, it will be difficult for peasant and indigenous peoples to innovate with their economies and societies; alone, intellectuals will continue exuding Eurocentrism and allowing the spirit of Nathanael to control them.

Experiences that seem to knock this wall down

Fortunately, there are experiences in which that wall is knocked down, even though just a part of it, and even though just for a time. The most well-known came in the 1960s and 1970s when several lines of thinking coincided. The opening of the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979), a church open to the poor; the momentum of the Cuban revolution (1959); popular education under the influence of Pablo Freire; and the dependency theory of Singer and Prebisch. It was a period in which public universities were spaces of debate, where majors in sociology, philosophy and political science prevailed.

Under this framework, university students and professors, priests, sisters and politicians, went into communities and neighborhoods accompanying indigenous, peasant and impoverished people from urban neighborhoods. Churches, classrooms, auditoriums and offices broke down their walls and let their intellectuals leave. In Central America the experience of the community of Solentiname (Nicaragua) stands out with Ernesto Cardenal, where they produced the Gospel of Solentiname; the experience of the community of Aguilares (El Salvador), the experience of hundreds of Base Christian Communities. One outstanding regional experience is that of the Radiophonic Schools, where intellectuals (religious and lay) promoted literacy, health care and agriculture, a framework in which many people organized into cooperatives and peasant stores, which – though very much in a diminished form – still exist today. Those were good seeds!

It is a period in which part of that wall was knocked down. The mentality was that God and freedom were in the impoverished people who seek justice, that people can organize with their own resources, that honesty and solidarity are values that are also found in humble people. To a large extent, with this process all the military dictatorships were brought down, and democracy was installed throughout Latin America.

But this harmful wall was repaired and enlarged after the years of the 1980s. The institutional church closed itself back up in church buildings and persecuted those religious who refused to leave the communities that were building the Reign of God on earth. Banking style education returned to the classrooms. Political revolutions and democracies took over the military bases and offices, feeling at home under hierarchical and authoritarian structures. Studies in business administration, accounting and law led public and private universities with the dream of making money. Teachings and training put learning to one side. The spirit of Nathanael returned to the minds of intellectuals, separating them from people with calloused hands who paid for the studies of a good part of those intellectuals. This is the reality that made María ask Jesús, “Why are you coming to visit us?”

 Breaking the wall and combining ideas and efforts

 Visiting people like María Jesús, we jump over that wall of apartheid – we just “jump”- and only “for a time.” Here we list four ways of knocking the wall down, which, like a constellation of stars could show us one of the paths: getting involved in the real lives of the majorities, experiencing changes, co-investing in initiatives and recognizing several languages.

Intellectuals need to get involved in the real lives of the majorities, combine being in churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices and conference rooms, with living in rural communities, organizing however they may be, experiencing what it means to generate collective actions beyond one´s own family, and outside of their own “synagogue” (church, office…. ). If it is a matter of improving agriculture and the lives of human and natural communities, food not being poisoned, it is unacceptable that the rural population walk along the rail that the market pulls them on, and that intellectuals walk along another rail, also pulled by the market. Separated but kneeling before the market!

The topic of beans involves technology, soils, climate, property, institutions like sharecropping, sharing labor, and land rental, it is intermediation and crop lien lending, it is weighing and quality, it is official data and real data, it is new bean soup and refried beans; all of this varies from year to year. The same with coffee, cacao, corn, squash or lemongrass, gardens, cornfields and farms. It is ethically and scientifically questionable to make proposals without being involved in that world, without studying them and studying ourselves to free us from the control of the market over our minds. We need to re-understand commercial relationships, not as commodities subjected to the totalitarianism of the market, but as the means for “good living”, as they say in the Andean countries, or the “I am because you are”, as one of the inspiring perspectives from Africa expresses it.

The topic of violence, specifically violence against women, is an issue of millennial social and religious rules, laws, power relationships, production systems that expelled women from agriculture and its processing, it is family and structures embedded in religious, political and economic institutions, it is the law of the jungle and human dispositions. It is not possible to reduce and terminate that violence if we do not identify its causes and do not accompany women in their non-violent paths in their own communities.

On the topic of rural organizations, it is cooperation in the midst of conflict, democracy in authoritarian societies, distribution of profits within a context of “trickle-down economics”, it is transparency in the midst of secretive mafias, it is accounting for peasant stores and cooperatives when universities are teaching accounting for companies and corporations…One can advise organizations only if they teach us how to advise them. What is learned in universities is how to subject rural organizations to the market, not how people can cooperate and overcome problems that individually they cannot resolve.

All this shows us that intellectuals should visit the most marginalized and “discarded” people to understand their virtues, capacities and human spirit, help to build favorable conditions (collective actions, networks) so that people connect to one another and others. All this requires time and dedication, like all good things, and requires that peasants and intellectuals conceptualize their processes in order to take new steps.

Intellectuals need to experience the changes along with rural people. An idea that is tested, adapted, adjusted, redone, finds legitimacy, motivates, is corrected and polished, is an idea that takes on life, that changes even the details or precisely because of the details. Experimenting in the organization of cooperatives, associations, associative enterprises, community stores or rural banks, helps to establish different processes. Experimenting is digging into decolonializing ourselves, and getting ourselves out of the orbit of Eurocentrism, which is presented as the measure of all things. The same thing happens on the side of rural populations, there are peasant and indigenous people who become pastors, delegates of the word, healers and agricultural and community advisors, many of them also dig into and realize that what is happening and what has happened to them is not natural nor determined by some supernatural being, in this way putting a crack in the wall of apartheid.

As we dig further, we run into powerful beliefs that support the wall, but we also find people who find their source of motivation in those depths in unimaginable ways. After administering a community store for one year, Yesenia Hernández expressed in an assembly: “I used to sell and I did not understand the numbers, because they say “women are for the kitchen and men for documents”; I set myself to understand the numbers, now they don´t make my head hurt, I am also a “woman of documents”. It is not just accounting, it is an issue of beliefs and ways of getting into the numbers, it is working together to adjust those audits of cash and inventory each month. When these improvements happen, other colonial “demons” emerge from political, economic and religious intermediation, and from within ourselves, intellectuals and peasant and indigenous people. It is not just focusing on the community store, it is also studying those surroundings and adjusting and polishing the changes.

In many cases it is co-investing in initiatives like community stores. If intellectuals and people from the communities invest in these initiatives, they will be concerned about their resources and will study them, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” In addition to the financial element, co-investing is training in generating initiatives, capacities for empathy and a sense of mission in peasant people intellectualizing, and in intellectuals “peasantizing.” It is combining oral and written traditions that reveal the paths to follow or showing the pedagogy of associativism where three or more people cooperate. In this way, in the midst of tensions and disagreements that collective actions imply, they will produce new ideas, far from just kneeling down before the market of products and knowledge. This interaction or alliance are part of the basic conditions for freedom of thought, in order to decolonialize ourselves.

Finally, breaking down the wall is recognizing several “languages”. The language of accounting talks about “liabilities”, “assets”, “equity”, “expenses”, “cash out” and “inventory”; likewise economics or law have their own language…Peasant language talks about “payment adjustment”, “piglet” (savings), “scraping by” (look for earnings and savings, like a chicken that scrapes the ground looking for food), “snug” (balance without debt), “cornsilk” (small earnings)…These words underly different rationalities, they are communication vehicles for walking together over long distances and times, be it co-investing, experiencing changes or getting ourselves involved in the real lives of peasant and indigenous people.

Concluding

We began the article alluding to the fact that in Central America there are practically no beans without the application of agrochemicals prohibited in Europe like glyphosate. Out of several responses that there might be, we have focused on the separation between intellectuals and peasant and indigenous people, as an explanation that has led to the imposition of capitalism expressed in monocropping, dependency on agrochemicals, environmental degradation, violence and authoritarianism. From the beginning of the article we asked ourselves, how can these two groups work together and write a new history. What follows are the answers encountered.

Good changes walk on two feet, intellectuals and peasants/indigenous who organize. With two feet one can re-perceive commercial relationships governed by societies, and rethink ideas from a perspective of decolonialization from the south. No foot can believe itself to be superior and take leaps without the other foot. As the Italian writer, Luciano de Crescenzo says, “we are all angels with only one wing, and we can only fly if we embrace someone else”; in our case, peasant individuals can fly through associative organizations, but only in an embrace with intellectuals, and intellectuals can only fly in an embrace with peasants who organize.

In this we need to have a long-term perspective of histories, changes that last and deepen over centuries; it is like planting and not restricting ourselves to just one crop. Seen in this way, the innovative experience of the 1960s and 1970s that I mentioned just lasted 20-30 years, after which neoliberalism and religious and political conservatism absorbed them, or as Franz Hinkelammert would say, the totalitarianism of the market controlled the state and societies; even though some flashes of that brief period of knocking down walls persist. In contrast, European enlightenment broke down that wall and lasted 74 years (1715-1789), and its impact lasted for centuries in Europe. The same with the Protestant Reformation that smashed into pieces the Catholic wall that had abducted the Bible, it lasted 144 years (1454-1598) and its effect continues today. But the wall of the apartheid of “culture” and “ignorance” is a long wall that is rebuilt and has lasted for thousands of years.

Having these two feet and this long-term perspective, we want intellectuals to “peasantize” themselves and indigenous and peasant people to intellectualize themselves. How? Let both organize and rewrite the histories of our peoples, on paper, in our minds and in our futures. In this way they would conceptualize, synthesize ongoing processes, study themselves, analyze in the light of different approaches, create parables like Jesus to communicate and provoke reflection, and do it in an ongoing way. These different futures can be written or designed to the extent that “the other” is rescued; indigenous and peasant people who emerge from way down below where they were condemned for centuries, fighting with so many imposed demons (beliefs and rules of elites); intellectuals who also fight against so many other demons (beliefs and rules of elites) which have led them to stay on the opposite side of the street. It is a matter of mutually rescuing one another, keeping their organizations from falling into neoliberalism reduced to maximizing their earnings, or the colonialism of “we always need a patron”. It is a matter of decolonializing rural organizations, churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices, conferences and farms. Doing it day after day, year after year.

If we take this step, it could make María de Jesús, the grandmother with the long view, whisper to us, “is that right?” And we will share coffee with rosquillas, even though at that time, like the stardust that we are, we will then be within the energies of the universe.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies and accompanies rural organizations in Central America. He is a member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org/es/home/), associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/).

[2] Jack learned how to accompany grassroots communities from an African American evangelical pastor in a neighborhood in New York– according to what our friend Mark Lester tells us. With this knowledge, Jack accompanied rural communities in Bolivia and Central America, and now accompanies marginalized people in the United States. Maria Alicia accompanied communities in Brazil and communities in Nicaragua, now accompanies migrants from Latin America who struggle to enter the United States. Both are living examples of how to break this wall of apartheid.

Updated — Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

 

                                                                                                Article dedicated to Fr. Jack Moynihan and Sr. Maria Alicia McCabe[2]

Visit

-Why are you coming to visit us? María Jesús asked, the grandmother of the community. Not even the priests visit us now–she took charge of the conversation.

-The world is getting more difficult. Without us, it will be difficult for you to improve; and without you, we don´t even know where we are going- I responded.

-Is that right? Whispered the grandmother, inviting me to coffee.

Thirty years ago in most of Central America corn and beans were planted without using glyphosate nor gramoxone; now gramoxone is used even for harvesting beans, in part to keep the rain from making the beans “sprout”. Not to mention vegetables, coffee and cacao. Much less sugar cane, peanuts or sesame. Probably beef and pork meat is more organic than carrots or beans. Where did this come from? The costs of production of a peasant family have increased drastically, but not the prices they are paid for their products; this makes desperation spread, tension and violence intensify, biodiversity erode, and climate variability proliferate.

There are many explanations for these realities. In this article I focus on intellectuals, who dedicate an important part of their time to studying the realities, preparing projects and/or policies, teaching or preaching; they are writers, scientists, artists, scholars; they are “people of culture” who move in different circles from most people, a separation which at times is concealed but abysmal. We use the word “apartheid” to denote this intolerable separation. By way of hypothesis we say that the separation between intellectuals and the communities where most of people live has impaired humanity for at least five centuries, when friars (intellectuals), soldiers, tax collectors and traders burst upon these lands. How can they work together and write a new history? I reflect on this question from the heterogeneity of the rural world.

That wall of intellectual apartheid

We read articles in newspapers and magazines about political issues where generally the rural reality does not appear, and if it does, it is reduced to topics of violence where its structural causes are ignored. There are NGOs with rural agendas whose intellectuals respond to donors, sporadically they show up in rural communities to do surveys or interviews, they show up once and never return. In fact, in the last 20-30 years, there are practically no intellectuals who write about the rural realities of Central America in a systematic way.

At the same time there are young rural women and men who have studied different majors. Finishing their studies, their dream is not to work with rural populations. They work for companies, the government, or they migrate to other countries to work in what they can. If they stay, they go back to agriculture or to be housewives, leaving aside their intellectual role that could give them the possibility of writing peasant and indigenous history from their perspectives, and writing about new futures.

What happened to us? The Fordist and Taylorist colonial mentality that separates experts from workers has nested in our minds, regardless of the political ideology that we might exude. This mental model makes one believe that there is nothing to be learned from rural communities, like some two thousand years ago: “Nazareth! –exclaimed Nathanael. Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). This mental model makes intellectuals believe that they are superior: “I am an accountant”, “I am an engineer”, “I am a professor”, “I am a pastor, anointed by God”, “I am a doctor” or “I am an economist”. This intellectual arrogance means that we do not mix with peasant or indigenous people, that that hidden or submerged population live in the “middle ages” – a Eurocentric reading, as if Latin America had an “ancient age”, “middle age” and “modern age”.

This mentality adds cement to the millennial wall of intellectual apartheid of a “Latin America” where indigenous and peasant people are absent. Peasant and indigenous people walk on their own and intellectuals do so as well, each one on different rails.

I have learned a lesson working for decades with rural populations. Alone, peasants and indigenous, it will be difficult for them to innovate with their economies and societies; alone, we intellectuals will continue exuding Eurocentrism and allowing the spirit of Nathanael to control us.

Experiences that seem to knock this wall down

Fortunately, there are experiences in which that wall is knocked down, even though just a part of it, and just for some period of time. The most well-known came in the 1960s and 1970s when several lines of thinking coincided. The opening of the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979), a church open to the poor; the momentum of the Cuban revolution (1959); popular education under the influence of Pablo Freire; and the dependency theory of Singer and Prebisch. It was a period in which public universities were spaces of debate, where majors in sociology, philosophy and political science prevailed.

Under this framework, university students and professors, priests, sisters and politicians, went into communities and neighborhoods accompanying indigenous, peasant and impoverished people from urban neighborhoods. Churches, classrooms, auditoriums and offices let their intellectuals leave. In Central America the experience of the community of Solentiname (Nicaragua) stands out with Ernesto Cardenal, where they produced the Gospel of Solentiname; the experience of the community of Aguilares (El Salvador), the experience of hundreds of Base Christian Communities. One outstanding regional experience is that of the Radiophonic Schools, where intellectuals (religious and lay) promoted literacy, health care and agriculture, a framework in which many people organized into cooperatives and peasant stores, which still exist today, though very much in a diminished way.

It is a period in which part of that wall was felled; the mentality was that God and freedom were in the impoverished people who seek justice, that people can organize with their own resources, that honesty and solidarity are values that are found in humble people. To a large extent, with this process all the military dictatorships were brought down and democracy was installed throughout Latin America.

But this harmful wall resurged after the years of the 1980s. The institutional church closed itself back up in church buildings and persecuted those religious who refused to leave the communities which were building the Reign of God on earth. Banking style education returned to the classrooms. Political revolutions and democracies took over the military bases and offices, feeling at home under hierarchical and authoritarian structures. Studies in business administration, accounting and law led public and private universities with the dream of making money. The teachings and trainings put learning aside. The spirit of Nathanael returned to the minds of intellectuals, separating them from people with calloused hands who paid for the studies of these intellectuals. This is the reality that made María Jesús ask, “Why are you coming to visit us?”

Breaking the wall and combining ideas and efforts

Visiting people like María Jesús, we jump over that wall of apartheid – we just “jump”. Here we list four ways of knocking the wall down, which, like a constellation of stars could show us one of the paths: get involved in the real lives of the majorities, experience the changes, co-invest in initiatives and recognize several languages.

Intellectuals need to get involved in the real lives of the majorities, combine being in our churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices and conference rooms, with living in rural communities, organized however they may be, experiencing what it means to generate collective actions beyond one´s own family, and outside of the “synagogue” itself (church, office…. ). If it is a matter of the fact that agriculture and the lives of human and natural communities might improve, food not be poisoned, it is unacceptable that the rural population walk along the rail that the market pulls them on, and that intellectuals walk along another rail, also pulled by the market.

The issue of beans is technology, soils, climate, property, institutions like sharecropping, sharing labor, and land rental, it is intermediation and crop lien lending, it is weighing and quality, it is official data and real data, it is new bean soup and refried beans; all of this varies from year to year. The same with coffee, cacao, corn, squash or lemongrass, gardens, cornfields and farms. It is ethically and scientifically questionable to make proposals without being involved in that world, without studying them and studying oneself. We need to re-understand commercial relationships, not as commodities subjected to the totalitarianism of the market, but as the means for “good living”, as they say in the Andean countries, or the “I am because you are”, as one of the profound perspectives from Africa expresses it.

The topic of violence, specifically violence against women, is an issue of millennial social and religious rules, laws, power relationships, family and structures embedded in religious, political and economic institutions, it is the law of the jungle and human dispositions. It is not possible to reduce and terminate that violence if we do not identify its causes and do not accompany women in their non-violent paths in their own communities.

On the topic of rural organizations, it is cooperation in the midst of conflict, democracy in authoritarian societies, distribution of profits within a context of “trickle-down economics”, it is transparency in the midst of secretive mafias, it is accounting for peasant stores and cooperatives when universities are teaching accounting for companies and corporations…One can advise organizations only if we learn from them how to advise them.

Intellectuals need to experience the changes along with rural people. An idea that is tested, adapted, adjusted, redone, finds legitimacy, motivates, is corrected and polished, is an idea that takes on life, that changes even the details or precisely because of the details. Experimenting in the organization of cooperatives, associations, associative enterprises, community stores or rural banks, helps to establish different processes. Experimenting is digging into decolonializing ourselves, and getting ourselves out of the orbit of Eurocentrism, which is presented as the measure of all things. The same thing happens on the side of rural populations, there are peasant and indigenous people who become pastors, delegates of the word, healers and agricultural and community advisors, many of them also dig into and realize that what is happening and what has happened to them is not natural nor determined by some supernatural being, in this way putting a crack in the wall of apartheid.

As we dig further, we run into more powerful beliefs that support e wall, but we also find people who find their source of motivation in those depths in unimaginable ways. After administering a community store for one year, Yesenia Hernández expressed in an assembly: “I used to sell and I did not understand the numbers, because they say “women are for the kitchen and men for documents”; I prepared myself to understand the numbers, now they don´t make my head hurt, I am also a “woman of documents”. It is not just accounting, it is beliefs and ways of getting into the numbers, it is working together to adjust those audits of cash and inventory each month. When these improvements happen, other colonial “demons” emerge from political, economic and religious intermediations, and from within ourselves, intellectuals and peasant and indigenous people. It is not just focusing on the community store, it is also studying those surroundings and adjusting and polishing the changes.

In many cases it is co-investing in initiatives like community stores. If intellectuals and people from the communities invest in these initiatives, they will be concerned about their resources and will study the stores, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” In this way, in the midst of tensions and disagreements that collective actions imply, they will produce new ideas, far from just kneeling down before the market of products and knowledge. This interaction or alliance are part of the basic conditions for freedom of thought, in order to be decolonialized.

Finally, breaking down the wall is recognizing several “languages”. The language of accounting talks about “liabilities”, “assets”, “equity”, “expenses”, “cash out” and “inventory”; likewise economics or law have their own language…Peasant language talks about “payment adjustment”, “piglet” (savings), “scraping by” (look for earnings and savings, like a chicken that scrapes the ground looking for food), “tight” (balance without debt), “cornsilk” (small earnings)…These words underly different rationalities, they are communication vehicles for walking together over long distances and times, be it co-investing, experiencing changes or getting ourselves involved in the real lives of peasant and indigenous people.

Concluding

Good changes walk with two feet, intellectuals and peasants/indigenous who organize. With two feet one can re-perceive commercial relationships governed by societies, and rethink ideas from a perspective of decolonialization from the south. No foot can believe itself to be superior and take leaps without the other foot. As the Italian writer, Luciano de Crescenzo says, “we are all angels with only one wing, and we can only fly if we embrace someone else”; in our case, peasant individuals can fly through associative organizations, but only in an embrace with intellectuals, and intellectuals can only fly in an embrace with peasants who organize.

In this we need to have a long-term perspective of the histories, the changes that might last and deepen over centuries. Seen in this way, the innovative experience of the 1960s and 1970s that I mentioned lasted barely 20-30 years, after which neoliberalism and religious and political conservatism absorbed them, or as Franz Hinkelammert would say, the totalitarianism of the market controlled the state and societies; even though some flashes of that time persist. In contrast, European enlightenment broke down that wall and lasted 74 years (1715-1789), and its impact lasted for centuries in Europe. The same with the Protestant Reformation that broke the Catholic wall into pieces, which had abducted the Bible, lasted 144 years (1454-1598) and its which is remade and has lasted for thousands of years.

How can this wall of intellectual colonialist apartheid, subjected to the totalitarianism of the market, be breached? Our response is that intellectuals and indigenous and peasant peoples organize, and together rewrite the histories of our peoples, on paper, in our minds and in our futures. Rewriting implies conceptualizing, synthesizing processes, self-studying, analyzing actions in the light of different approaches, creating parables like Jesus to communicate and provoke reflection; doing it in an ongoing way, together, not once a year or as project systematizations/intermediate evaluations. These different futures can be written or designed to the extent that “the other” is rescued; rescuing indigenous and peasant people who emerge from the way down below where they were condemned for centuries; they emerge fighting with so many demons (beliefs and rules of the elites) which have been imposed on them; that the peasantry also rescue intellectuals, who also fight against so many other demons (beliefs and rules of the elites) which have led them to walk only on their side of the street; mutually rescuing one another, reflecting with images and parables, synthesizing their paths for sharing and keeping their organizations from falling into neoliberalism, reduced to maximizing their earnings, or the colonialism of “we always need a patron”. Doing it year by year, decade by decade, and century after century, decolonializing rural organizations, churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices, conferences and farms.

Taking this step will make María de Jesús, the grandmother with the long view, whisper to us, “is that right?” And we will share coffee with rosquillas, even though at that time, like the stardust that we are, we will then be within the energies of the universe.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies and accompanies rural organizations in Central America. He is a member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org/es/home/), associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/).

[2] Jack learned how to accompany grassroots communities from an African American evangelical pastor in a neighborhood in New York– according to what our friend Mark Lester tells us. With this knowledge, Jack accompanied rural communities in Bolivia and Central America, and now accompanies marginalized people in the United States. Maria Alicia accompanied communities in Brazil and communities in Nicaragua, now accompanies migrants from Latin America who struggle to enter the United States. Both are living examples of how to break this wall of apartheid.

Strengthening our “defenses” with “my Mom´s Green thumb”

Strengthening our “defenses” with “my Mom´s Green thumb”

 René Mendoza Vidaurre, Fabiola Zeledón and Esmelda Suazo with Anabel Cardoza, Glensis Carrasco, Selenia Cornejo, Adalis Orozco, Milson Cantarero and Jarithmar Gonzalez

COVID-19 is a cowardly virus that attacks the most vulnerable people whose immunological system is weak. Strengthening those “defenses” of people is imperative. This would be possible if each family had their own garden.

It seems simple. But it is not. Many times, aid organizations and governments have promoted gardens and farm diversification wanting families to “nourish themselves.” These projects last as long as the donation does. Why? How can families take up gardening? We write this article from our experience of wrestling with these questions in the communities.

Why have rural families quit planting gardens?

As the colonial and patriarchal capitalist institution of mono-cropping was imposed, backed by universities, credit, technical assistance and organizations established by external initiatives, crop diversity and biodiversity ended up cornered, and on the road to disappearing. The garden was swept up in that dynamic as well.

What is important with mono-cropping is money, that comes once a year with the harvest of that crop, and it is the man (husband or father) who is responsible for that monocrop in terms of markets for capital, the product itself, its agrochemicals and knowledge. Nothing is comparable to the monocrop: “I am not going to neglect my coffee by monitoring a squash plant”. Their rule is: “everything is bought with the coffee”, “our food is bought with the sugar cane money”. The women who used to work on diversified farms and were responsible for gardens, lost that space and were confined to the kitchen, while their menu of food said goodbye to soups and stews. At the same time, people ended up reproducing the idea of the elites: “There is no room for a garden”.

Seen in this way, it is funny to see governments and aid agencies promoting gardens, when they have backed mono-cropping over the last 200 years, as if peasant families did not have a memory. More than funny, we recognize their anti-peasant intentionality in their formula: they give away seeds of crops demanded by the market (carrots, lettuce, cabbage or tomatoes, mini-vegetables) as opposed to “weeds” (mint, oregano, rue, native garlic, medicinal plants) that are more for family and community consumption; they promote gardens in spaces separated from the home; done collectively, connected to a leader. All these elements are contrary to the peasant practice of gardens, which is why they are silently resisted by the peasantry.

In addition to deconstructing mono-cropping which undermines gardens, and the fact that its modern promoters follow ahistorical rules, we also identify beliefs and rules that are counter to peasant viability, but are reproduced by peasant people themselves. “I do not have room”, as if the garden required “additional space” to what is available. “With coffee I buy everything else”, when people live in debt for depending on one crop, and time and time again end up dividing up their land. “I am not a cow to be eating grasses”, rejecting vegetable foods that could strengthen their “defenses.”

How can women and their families recover their gardens?

Parallel to deconstructing, we dig into peasant memory. Our grandmothers and grandfathers still remember the gardens of their Mothers. What do they remember? They talk about “My Mom´s green thumb”. That is the garden, indigenous “chacra” in the Andean countries. This small area that exists along with the chickens, turkeys and pigs. What is this garden for? “To give flavor to food, aroma to drink, and medicine to the sick.” They were products that today, coming from the cities, are called “wild”: mint, rue, oregano, native garlic, chayote, squash, passion fruit, lemongrass, smilax, onions, peppers, chicory, wormseed, camphorweed, guava; many of them are used as medicine for parasites, treating fevers and anemia and hemorrhaging.

The more we dig into the memories of our grandmothers and grandfathers, the more practices emerge full of life. It was the women who mobilized the family labor force to take care of the garden. Plants like mint were on any tree trunk. Gardens were close to the house to grow under the eye of the women who cared for them from the kitchen. They were the product of family effort and neighborly exchanges; it was farming that was done by hand and using a mini-hoe. Its production, consumption and social relations were linked; the more diverse the garden a family had, the less debts they had, and less domestic violence was suffered in the home. Decisions were decentralized, women led the garden in a family where seed and fertilizer was obtained in the house itself and the community.

When we establish gardens, women leave their homes, walk around the yard, touch the plants, daughters and sons join in …and the husband. This practice clashes with that rule of “man as provider”, reduces pressure on men, helps the family increase their income, and return soups and stews to the menu, adds tea to the table and medicine to communities. Neighbors visit one another more, the exchange of products increases, their “defenses” are strengthened…

If the advantages are obvious, how can we recover and expand them?

If we recover our memory of “my Mom´s green thumb” and we light our interior fire to do gardens, the steps to follow are: obtain seed and plants, which in part are found dispersed in the community itself; the plants can include ginger, garlic, onions, cilantro, chicory, oregano, lemongrass, mint, peppers, tomatoes, celery, beets, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, rue, basil, wormseed, camphorweed, guava, smilax…

On establishing the gardens, people see different uses for it: “Before we were disorderly, chicory growing in the pastures, now with the garden it is more orderly, they are all in one place; previously we cleaned mangos on our pants, now we wash them with water.” Hygiene and the garden go hand in hand.

As we harvest, we can enjoy teas, soups, stews and salads, use them as medicine. This strengthens health, helps to appreciate what we have, and we are making ideas enter through the tongue. We recommend the book of Jaime Wheelock (1998, La comida Nicaraguense), it is a book that summarizes indigenous food, Spanish food, and the confluence of both.

Few rules are needed. Which ones? That women take on the leadership of the garden and that the entire family collaborate with the garden. That the cooperative, the community store, the school or the church offer seed or plants to be paid for by the harvest, following the principle of “help those who help themselves” (Law of talents, Matt 25). If a family prepares the soil, they are provided seed for 5 crops; if they plant those 5 crops, they are provided another 5. The evolution of each garden is observed by the family, and it is the leader, her daughter or son, who records the data on that evolution – by crop, behavior, health of the plant… The organization or institution that accompanies them, helps them to analyze that data and consequently to innovate in their gardens, diet and health.

To multiply gardens, organizations or institutions can create a prize for the best garden every 3 months. As the gardens become realities, they will catalyze new initiatives: people who want to set up nurseries, dry fruit and bananas, people who buy products to sell them in the neighboring communities, community stores that sell small amounts of seed (retail), community technical advisers; healers; community celebrations; product exchanges….

Are there risks that the gardens will not work?

Assuming that we overcome the anti-peasant practices that we identified in the projects, there are also risks in gardens worked by families. Chickens can dig up and eat the plants, pigs can have a party in the garden, some birds tend to call in their communities to wipe out gardens…In the face of this risk, each family takes measures: protecting the garden with barbed wire, using banana leaves to form a fence, placing a doll with a red rag to frighten off the birds, putting wire and cone on the pigs…The entire family observes each difficulty and achievement, innovates in intense discussions to overcome these difficulties, studying more and more their own data…

A second risk is that the men take control over the garden, the risk here is like with the projects that look for “the head of the family”, and where he is guided by custom that has become law: work with machete, some days of the month, imposition of “women in the kitchen and taking care of the children” and only work on crops to be sold. One measure that can be taken is to work every day in the garden, and over time attract the other members of the family, in this way the person who is in the house every day ends up assuming shared leadership. A second measure is that the youth discover how boring the mono-cropping system is, where you only have to weed, fertilize and harvest, while the garden is a space for intensive, fun group therapy, open to innovation based on recording and analyzing information, and it is very participatory. A third measure is being open to men also trying their hand at cooking;  it is not just the fact that men want to experiment, women also have to encourage them to do so; on this topic the article of Sergio Ramírez is enlightening  (“El diablo en la cocina”, in El Faro, https://elfaro.net/es/202002/columnas/24037/El-diablo-en-la-cocina.htm‘P) it captures the assumptions/beliefs that keep men from going into the kitchen.

Do the gardens have an impact on changes in rural organizations?

Organizations tend to dance to the music of mono-cropping. Their membership tends to be mostly male, their structure more hierarchical, dependent on the market as its patron. The peasant garden, not promoted by market forces, can help them to change, because of the diversity of the crops, the demand to innovate in small areas, and the fact that families do not go into debt. Organizations can reorganize themselves to process and sell surplus products from the garden, they can provide technical accompaniment services, they can decentralize their decisions, they can get closer to working by hand, hoe farming or garden farming.

Organizations, hand in hand with women, can change for the good of humanity. For example, a peasant community store should have “a peasant face”: selling products from outside and also peasant products, hanging a bunch of plantains and bananas in the window, selling cooked palm fruit, potted plants, cassava, bunches of peppermint, eggs, baked goods. More than just a business, vegetables, and a garden, behind those products is the recreation of indigenous and peasant culture.

Here is the beginning of one of the alternative paths to colonial and patriarchal capitalism. A peasant path, organized, de-centralized, and with organizations that respond to these realities, more democratic and closer to the people. “My Mom´s green thumb” is capable of mobilizing vivid determination.

 

 

The Virus and Mental Frameworks

Virus and Mental Frameworks

René Mendoza Vidaurre

The best ideas are not implemented due to the mental frameworks that we carry with us. Peter Senge (1990) in his book “The Fifth Discipline” points out: “we carry in our minds images, assumptions and stories” that block the application of proven experiments, big ideas and refined proposals.

Beliefs allied with the virus

In the face of COVID-19 there is scientific information disseminated by the World Health Organization (WHO), governments and social networks. But most people ignore it. Why? Our minds are full of beliefs that do not cede space to new information, like a bucket full of water, when we put more water in it, none of it goes in, it overflows. In the same way scientific recommendations do not get into our minds, they spill out.

What beliefs? A belief related to the destiny of individuals is probably the most damaging, which goes like this: “when it is your time, it is your time”, “everything has been written”. A drunk who drives a car, crashes and dies, then you hear people say, “it was his time”, and “God took him”; with this they justify his irresponsibility, along with his social background of getting drunk and having caused the accident. A second belief says ”there is no better doctor than God”, “chlorine bleach does not save, God does”. A third belief is “you go to the hospital to die”. These three beliefs fill human minds and control people; it is not God who controls them, and they are not the ones who are “sent.”

Consequently, people heard that one can be infected in crowds (meetings, demonstrations, religious celebrations, parties), but that information slips out of their minds. People get into crowds without protection, because their mind tells them, “when it is your time, it is your time”, “God protects me”. If someone tells them, “God protects you if you take care of yourself”, that person will say, “the devil is putting me to the test, for God nothing is impossible.” And if the person gets infected with COVID-19, they resist going to the health center because “you only leave there in a box”, the historic distrust in the State that has dispossessed them of their resources ends up condemning them.

The worst that these beliefs can do is that people get resigned and only watch the days and nights go by. If everything is already written, people are the puppets of some supernatural being, which is why there is no reason to improve or change, unless that change “is written from above.”

The first step to avoid the virus: free the mind from beliefs

We do not resign ourselves to the fact that these beliefs control us. How can we free ourselves from them? A first step is talking about them to understand them, and asking questions that allow us to reflect. The very act of reflecting is already a big contribution, because the biggest power of beliefs is preventing people from reflecting. “Believing is enough, thinking makes one sick”- beliefs whisper into the ears of people. How to reflect? Let us read this conversation:

-The best doctor is God – Juan tells us, while he cleans beans.

-If God protects those who believe in God, why are so many pastors, religious, and pious people dying of COVID-19? –we ask him

-Ahh, I am sure that they did not have faith in God, I do have faith–he responds, very sure of himself.

-I wonder. Is it not that God expects people to do their part, take care of themselves and save their loved one, improving their diet? –we insisted.

-Who knows… –he no longer seems so sure. He begins to question, reflect.

This step also requires people who work in the chain of aid organizations, or the chain of State institutions, to do self-study and discover their beliefs. One of their beliefs is “people are saved with donations and training.” Correspondingly, they want the “papers” (receipts, contracts) of those donations to be “supported”, that products like chlorine get to the leaders of an organization, or that there be a health center. It is a technocratic assumption, which assumes that THE leader is going to distribute the products, that families will pay attention to what they are told, and that whoever gets sick will go to the health center. Provoking reflection includes challenging our own beliefs.

The assumption in the first belief is that “The bibles says it.” The Bible does not say that. What it says is that people have “free will” (“everything that you can do, do it with all your strength”, Ecc 9:10) and that “he who sows inequity, will harvest inequity” (Prov 22:8). In other words, each person writes their own story according to the circumstances in which they find themselves, the group in which they move, and their values. The assumption in the beliefs of many organizations and institutions, including intellectuals, is that “they know” the problem and the solutions for people.

When beliefs get examined, they appear as the beliefs that they are, they lose their power and that aura of being “sacred truths”. Then they can be expelled, even though that be painful; that belief has nested itself in the mind of the individual, who on expelling it, will feel “orphaned” and “insecure.” Nevertheless, once we are able to challenge these and other beliefs, the mind will have space to process new information, ideas or proposals.

Second step: testing new ideas in horizontal spaces

Let us look at an example of how people, on freeing themselves from harmful beliefs, can apply new ideas with better results. Up until the end of the 1970s it was believed that “the more brutish the workers are, the better they perform”, so bosses and experts would direct the work from their offices, while a ton of workers implemented the ideas of the experts. This is how the Ford car industry worked in the United States. But the Japanese in the Toyota industry discovered that belief as the cause for making expensive and poor-quality vehicles, they expelled those beliefs and tested new ideas in a gradual way and produced better quality and cheaper vehicles. What ideas did they introduce? That the experts and the workers innovate together, as a team they were all experts; that the workers should propose how to improve each action that they carried out; decentralizing decisions.  It was a revolutionary change that later was extended to other industries in the world, which was possible when people realized that they write their own history.

How can communities protect themselves? Reflection, we said, is the first step. Toyota teaches us that the environment (team, understanding that each person is an expert in their area, decentralization of decisions) favors the generation of new ideas, tells us to test and adjust changes gradually. A cooperative, association or a community store should facilitate these reflections and create these favorable conditions for producing ideas and applying them. The president, manager, donor, government or intellectual, should not act as if they were “gods” dominated by the fordist belief, that they already know the problems and the solutions for people, they should go to the homes of people and talk with them. How can we protect ourselves from COVID-19 and other viruses? The lowliest person can have responses, but a favorable environment is needed in their own homes and communities in order to produce and express them.