Peru is a magical place. Its majestic foggy peaks coupled with the vibrant colors worn by the Quechua people create an atmosphere rich in beauty and steeped in culture. In December, I had the good fortune to travel to Pisac, a small village in southern Peru’s Sacred Valley, where we held the second of four trainings with a cohort of 17 environmental organizations working throughout Peru – from the Amazon to the Andes - to advance bio-cultural diversity. As grantees of our longtime partner New England BioLabs Foundation, they elected to participate in our four-module Creative Leadership Certificate course.
Despite the long journeys many of our partners had traveling from their homes in the Amazon and despite the demands every organization faces when closing out the year, there they all were on the first day of training: on time, open-minded and full of enthusiasm! The course focused on Creative Facilitation, a core element of leadership development that equips participants to work with groups to support generative dialogue, critical reflection, and collaborative solution building. The participants receive hands-on experience facilitating the dynamic and creative processes we teach them, and receive real time feedback that strengthens their capacity to successfully apply these approaches back in their communities. Once again, this group of animated and thoughtful professionals unleashed their creative spirits, and critically analyzed the challenges their communities face and the opportunities for change.
They used the activities to generate strategies and build alliances across their organizations so they can better create alternative livelihoods, build the leadership of youth and women around climate change, and preserve and incorporate cultural knowledge and tradition into their classrooms, workshops and campaigns.
They became more confident in their ability to design workshop agendas and implement creative approaches into their community education workshops and projects. And they deepened in their commitment to use a popular education approach, create stronger and more inclusive teams and create learning cultures of feedback, appreciation and mutual support.
I left the workshop inspired by their energy, intellect, and commitment, and set out to learn more about the context and content of their work so that we as partners might find meaningful ways for deeper collaboration.
Three sites visits help to broaden my understanding of the work our partners are doing:
Traveling with the team from New England BioLabs Foundation, we climbed 14,000 feet into the mountains of the Sacred Valley where six Quechua communities have collectively preserved their practices of cultivating over 2300 species of potatoes – sustaining their biocultural diversity by implementing cultivation practices that integrate their spiritual and cultural values.
Our journey continued with partner ECOAN, who took us on a hike through the Polylepsis forest at over 14,000 feet to witness the important role these trees play in proliferating biodiversity while capturing carbon. Last year, during the planting season, the people inhabiting these communities coordinated to hike to the top of these peaks with the tree seedlings – painting the hillsides with lines of colorful garb – and collectively planted 5000 of these trees!
And our last visit was to another partner near Cusco who is working to train campesinos to advance sustainable agricultural practices and build awareness and understanding of the importance of diverse vegetables in creating nutritious healthy food for their families. Through their demonstration plots, they work with the campesinos to convey strategies for successful crop rotation and diversity, and provide starter seeds for some of the new varieties introduced.
In each visit, I was able to understand more significantly the challenges these organizations are working to overcome, and could better see how the tools for dialogue, and behavior change that we provide might benefit them.