Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Lessons Learned From My First Community Meeting

One month into site, I decided to hold a Community Meeting to do an evaluation of the needs of the community and to talk a little bit more about my job as a Peace Corps volunteer. Many people in my community believed I was getting credit from a university or because I got paid a lot by the US government to be here for two years. So, I thought it would be a good idea to explain to everyone just what I am doing here.

Community meeting

All I can say is that the whole experience was definitely very “Honduran”. I intended on having two meetings, one with just the women and one with just the men. However, I ended up having to cancel the meeting with the women because of a very unfortunate circumstance. . . it was wet and cold. The man who had the key to the school never showed up and very few women came because of the early hour and the weather. After canceling the meeting with the women, I immediately walked to the house of the man who had the key and when I asked him if he had gone to the school today and maybe I had missed him, he told me, “No, it is too cold to do anything today”. After lunch was the meeting with the men. But I ended up canceling that meeting too because only about nine men showed up. My host mom said, “Well, at least nine came” but I hadn’t the heart to tell her that 4 or 5 of the men that were there were the ones that have asked me various times if I have a boyfriend, plan on having a boyfriend, or plan on getting married while I’m here. So, I changed the meeting to the next Saturday and spent every day up to then walking around putting signs in the pulperias, sending notices home with the schoolkids, and having people make announcements in the churches.

I had learned my lesson from before and gotten the key the night before. However, when I went into the school on Saturday to prepare for the meeting, the lights wouldn’t turn on! I had my laptop and rented a projector to highlight my talk, but now it looked like I wouldn’t be able to use them. Don Virgilio, a good friend and respected community leader, arrived early and suggested that we move the meeting into the kindergarten (across the soccer field from the school). As we were collecting everything I had set out, my portfolio paper, my projector, my laptop, my markers, and other materials, a dog got into the bag that had cookies I brought for the meeting and ran off with a pack! Luckily, Don Virgilio and some other men chased the dog down, got the cookies back, brushed off the saliva and dirt on the pack, and put them back in the bag. . . welcome to Honduras!

The man who had given me the keys to the school the day before showed up and when I told him we’re moving because there was no light, he told me, “Yeah there is a problem with the electrical system. There hasn’t been light for a few days in the school.” I decided to ignore the fact that I had seen him YESTERDAY and that it would have been nice if YESTERDAY he had let me know that BEFORE giving me the keys to the school that had no light.

Outside the kindergarten, I asked if anyone had the key to the gate and Don Virgilio said, “Ah, we’re going to get it now.” (One of the things I first learned here is that when people say “now” as in “there is a meeting now”, they mean at some point that day, maybe even in the evening if it is the morning). So, we waited outside for about ten minutes for someone to get the key. Inside, I set up all my stuff again and was almost ready to begin when my counterpart arrived and told me “We should move the meeting into the other room because there are more chairs”. So, again, I collected up all my stuff. Outside the other door, I asked if anyone had a key and someone replied “We’re going to get it now”. So there we waited again and at this point, many more people had arrived. One woman even showed up selling pastelitos (fried rice-stuffed tortillas) which I took as a good sign that lots of people were going to come. Finally, we began the meeting only 50 minutes after when it was supposed to begin (not bad considering I figured we wouldn’t be starting until an hour after the designated time.) I imagined there would be about 60 people at the most, but there was definitely 80 or more! Needless to say, I was pretty nervous talking in front of everyone . . . especially in Spanish!

One of the best lessons I learned from this meeting was: NEVER bring chocolate to give out to a group of people. I had brought cookies and coke for the adults and chocolate for the kids for when we were done. I asked my counterpart to help me with distributing the snack at the end of the meeting and he kind of paused in disbelief that I had brought something for so many people and then immediately designated some people close by to “help maintain control of the people” as we poured the drinks. Well, to give you an idea of what that experience was like, think of the little carnivore beetles from the movie “The Mummy”. I had set everything out and ten seconds later after everyone had surrounded the table, everything was gone. I’m talking about everything, even the empty coke bottles, the bags in which I brought the stuff, and every single plastic cup was never seen again by me! I was planning on keeping the cups to use at other meetings and the large bottles to hold potable water, but I seriously have no idea where they went. And that was just the adults! My friend Herzan was helping pass out the chocolates and when I looked back to see how he was doing, he had given up handing them out one by one because the kids had shoved him up in a corner, surrounded him and were pushing him and each other to get their hand in the jar. I hope he didn’t feel too battered and bruised the next day.

One group of men making a calendar of all the activities that they dedicate themselves to every year

The women who attended the meeting

1 comment:

Shade said...

hehe, I totally understand about the bettles. At my community in Nicaragua, there was a pinata one day. One of the kids was blindfolded and swinging a bat wildly, at one point he actually hit the pinata, two peices of candy came out, and the rest of the kids (and there were kids form all the neighboring villages cause they had heard about the pinata) dived on the ground fighting to get a peice. The were seriously layers of kids on the floor trying to get to the bottom. The main problem was that the kid that was blindfolded kept singing the bat cause no one had told him to stop. It was pretty intense