Friday, August 31, 2012

Sustainability in Development Work

Chicken/ Gallina/ Ryguasu
I am nearing the end of my service.  After 20 months in site, I am trying to look back on what exactly I accomplished here.   I worked hard to make most of the activities I did sustainable.  After all, what use is development work unless it is sustainable?  Unsustainable development work can even be harmful to the very communities its supposed to help.  The thing is, frequently unsustainable development work has immediate tangible results that make the do-gooders feel… well, good.  You can literally see what you have done (it just might not be there 2 years- or 2 months- after you leave).

Personally, I feel like my work falls into three categories: Unsustainable, Maybe Sustainable, Sustainable. 

English class.

Unsustainable: My most unsustainable work was probably the English classes.   Clearly those classes cannot continue with out my presence.  I was hesitant to teach English for this very reason, but it was one of the few requests I heard again and again from my community; Its important to listen to what the community wants.

In the foreground, the floor cooking fire that campo families use when they don't have a fogone. In the background, a newly build fogone (it's still missing the chimney).  The benefit of a fogon is two fold: It is much more fule efficient than a fire on the ground, and it funnels the smoke out of the kitchen greatly reducing heath problems for women and children (who generally spend large chunks of their day in the kitchen).

Maybe Sustainable: The fogones (fuel-efficient cook-stoves).  Some were built with two stellar Amigos de las Americas volunteers, some were built using EPCA (it stands for Environmental... something, something, something) grants.  Most involved some family participation.  I put this in the Maybe Sustainable category, because some of the families only participated in periphery ways.  They provided the red dirt, mixed the mescala, sought out glass bottles to help fill in the base.  But in other families, members were more involved in the actual construction; laying the bricks along side the volunteers, participating in every stage of the construction.  In these families, if the stove breaks down, they will likely be able to fix it.  I won't go so far as to say that they could build one on their own from memory.  But with a good clear diagram they might.  Another maybe sustainable activity is the worm bins I have with a family.  Its too early to tell if this will last for any time at all.

Me and a community member working together.
Community members finishing up their fogone.

Sustainable: With my encouragement and guidance, 5 or 6 families planted abonos verdes last year (nitrogen fixing green manures).  This year most of the families appear to be saving the seeds and planting again without any comments or reminders on my part.  This makes me happier than I can express.  Maybe I did accomplish something here after all.  Also I worked in both school gardens last year, talking about the importance of compost and companion planting.  This year, I have done no work in the school gardens, but I can see the compost piles from the road and the plant beds look to have two or three types of vegetables in them instead of massive, unbroken beds of lettuce.
School garden, last year.

I’m not sure what my last 3 ½ months in site will bring (or if I’ll be in Paraguay for an extra year or not).  But as of now, I’m feeling pretty good about my service.


  1. Yay! This post made me very happy. I'm sure you and your accomplishments will be remembered for many years to come.

  2. I would place the fogones in a little more than "maybe" sustainable. You focus on the building, but the long-term benefits they'll get by reduced wood consumption and diversified cooking options with reduced smoke

  3. But is it really sustainable if the community dosen't know how to repare the fogones once they break down?