Over the past few months I have become particularly fond of the community group in Pablo L Sidar (or PLS for short), a community of about 7,000 people on the leeward side of the Sierra Madre mountains in southern Chiapas. The group consists of 20 families, 5 of which come from another small village about an hour`s walk from PLS. Several characteristics (or norms) of the group impress me…one is definitely thier committment to monthly meetings – our time together has that flavour of “quality time” that is evident when people have been intentional in planning both agenda and logistics. The group is also a wonderful example of progressive social development; with Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians all coming together, under the banner of Christ and his call to love our neighbour, to strive for healtheir families and community relationships, and a life in closer communion with the gifts of creation. Personally I can say I feel well “adopted” here, and can easily wander about getting to know others in the community (I have begun playing basketball there in the evenings when I am around).
A few months ago, my colleague and I did a short presentation on the various facets of “reforestation” (many campesinos think it means that government agencies simply want to plant-over your cornfields with trees). The follwing month when we visited PLS the group had decided its community had some issues/opportunities for a reforestation project – in particular to reforest the area around a local primary well to give more shade and improve water quality. After presenting their ideas to the local comisario (town council), an agreement was established that the comisario would put funds and labour in to erect a fence around the water source, while the community group would be in charge of the design and labour in planting the trees. The trees were donated through a state government program, along with other trees donated by one of the community group members who propagates all kinds of seedlings. In all there were about 230 trees to plant throughout an area approximately 1 hectare. Once all the trees arrived the group notified me and we made plans for a date at the end of July. It was a wonderful experience joining the group in their furtherance of community leadership and vision. My mostly-office-hands enjoyed the pain of blisters through that day….and I never downed my pozol (a refreshing corn drink) so fast.
As we were resting in the shade after completing the work, I asked the group if they could respond to a couple of questions I had been thinking about, which were…1) what did folks in PLS say 3 years ago about your group, and what do they say now?, and 2) how do YOU feel about the work of your group? I listened and tried to absorb and understand all I could for the next 45 minutes…I was disappointed I had not brought a recorder in order to better capture their thoughts and emotions. In a nutshell here, while their still are naysayers in the community, many including the comisario have taken notice of what this group is doing. Another common response was that the new generation of landowners and farmers are very complicit to apply a heavy agro-industrial approach in their method of production. My comment on this……while yields can be very good (meaning cash), planting corn year after year with high chemical inputs takes its toll on land quality.
It was very clear to me through this group conversation that their development and capacity to create change is an important process that MCC strives to support. They have become advocates in their community, even in their region (they are also helping to replicate a similar community group in a town nearby)…..advocates for a cleaner, healthier, more peaceful and less-divided community. My hope and prayer is that in 20 years many in this town will speak of the impact that this group made over the years, in terms of how land is managed, and how a deeper level of understanding and peace was reached amongst the various Christian confessions in Pablo L Sidar.