A New Classroom for the Escuelita

In December a member from Niagara College made a donation to fund a new classroom in the escuelita. The new computers take up a lot of space in the existing classroom and cause a lot of distraction as well so this was a great and very generous idea.

Niagara College brought the money to Claudio and he was to organize its construction. I was there the day the contractor came by to decide the measurements, the materials, and where windows and doors would go. Claudio, me, and the contractor. Three blancos and not one member of the community. I asked if we had spoken to the families nearby, not necessarily to ask permission, but at the least to let them know, as we were blocking their pathway to their homes. I never received an answer.

I understand that making consensual decisions are difficult. Claudio must have advised the main members of the community and they did not come – as often is the case. So what is MATE to do? Hold off on decisions and post pone construction until members of the community all attend a meeting and agree on decisions? If an organizations tries to involve the beneficiaries but they do not want to participate in decision making does that count as involving them? If in international development the beneficiaries are to be involved in the decision-making, do the decisions not get made if they’re not?

The decisions were made by us blancos and the contractor was hired. The next week construction started.

I only assumed that the contractor would hire young people in the community. They are able bodied men, many without jobs or are able to take some time away from making their handcrafts. That is not to say that I assumed men in the community are looking for jobs, or would want to work on a short contract in construction or are looking to fill their days. Many families comfortably live off their government funding and selling their handcraft goods. One needs to also remember that they do not have the mentality of always looking to increase their wages or for the opportunity to learn a new skill. As well, spending time with family is of high importance in the Guarani culture. Working in the fields to manage crops or take care of the maintenance of the paths also takes up much of their day. And then of course, they may not want to work under a contractor from outside of the community, or work to fulfill the decisions made by someone else.

But, they were not even asked. I inquired about this and the reason is because the contractors from outside of the community are highly skilled and are on tight timelines and therefore will maximize efficiency by completing the task in the least amount of hours, costing MATE the least amount of money. If those in the community were hired, they would have to be taught skills and their manner of working would delay completion, which when being paid an hourly wage, would go over budget.

But is sustainability not a key ingredient in international development? Is it not better for members of the community – only if they want to – learn construction skills so they can assist or even manage the next project? Perhaps it isn’t cost effective now, but isn’t it always better to invest in education?

It is always easier to discuss these issues than put them into practice. I also need to understand that I have only been in the community for several months, not ten years as has Claudio and so I do not yet fully understand the intricacies of working in Yryapu. And my idealist thinking probably is not realistic and there is much more I need to understand and experience. These are just my thoughts as I walk home from a confusing day at work.



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