Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: Firsthand Ripple Reporting

by Aly Lewis

I’d like to take this Oaxaca Wednesday to tell you about the time I became Buddy the Elf. It was mid-afternoon in the village of Monteflor in the Mixteca highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico. We were standing in a circle listening to the Plant With Purpose local staff introduce the town’s community leaders. I was in my own world, rapidly scribbling down every last quote and name and description of the place so that I would have an ample supply of writing material to use once I returned to my job of elaborating on Plant With Purpose’s programs from my pseudo-cubicle. I was just completing a page of Spanglish scrawl when a new community member was introduced: Senor Gumersindo.

My Buddy the Elf transformation was instantaneous as it took everything in my power to not jump up and down yelling heatedly, “I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!”

Now I know Senor Gumercindo is no present-delivering, elf-befriending Santa Claus, but I sure did feel like it was Christmas morning. You see, a couple months ago for one of my Ripple Reports I wrote about this mysterious man named Senor Gumersindo who had introduced his neighbor to Plant With Purpose and subsequently transformed his life. I had received a few line testimony from the field mentioning Senor Gumersindo’s pivotal role, but that was it. I wrote the blog post and hardly gave him another thought. I never imagined I would get to meet him.

So back to my Elfish excitement. I couldn’t believe this modest man with his smoothed slack, pressed white shirt and backpack was the Senor Gumersindo I had written about. His identity was confirmed as Raul, our Family Garden and Greenhouse director, described him as “la voz de Misión Integral”—the voice of Plant With Purpose. Not only was he the man I had written about, he was even more influential in the Plant With Purpose story than I had imagined.

After the introductions ended and we began touring the village, I pounced on the opportunity to learn more about my legendary Plant With Purpose promoter. At first Senor Gumersindo hung back shyly, but when I approached him and asked him about Plant With Purpose’s projects he wasn’t shy at all. It turns out Senor Gumersindo is from the village of La Muralla, a two hour walk from Monteflor. Plant With Purpose has been working in his community for a number of years and he told me about all the direct and indirect benefits of Plant With Purpose’s projects. He told me about his family garden that is producing amazing vegetables and how his cousin grew the biggest onion he had ever seen. He talked about the lack of economic opportunities in La Muralla and the ways community members are finding sustainable ways to conserve resources and make money. As he explained the details and benefits of an ecological latrine better than I ever could in a grant application I could see why Raul would coin him the voice of Plant With Purpose. He was genuinely beaming as he talked about Plant With Purpose’s expansion to the community of Monteflor (at his suggestion) and how the number of participating families has grown from six to 70 in the past year!

So thank you, Senor Gumersindo and all of the farmers I met who are spreading the word about Plant With Purpose’s transformational program and projects. It turns out the multiplier effect really is alive and well in our Mexico program (and I can rest assured that my whole career hasn’t been a lie). Farmers really are sharing the knowledge they learn with their friends and neighbors. They’re multiplying the scope and depth of our work and encouraging others to do so as well. This is just one of many examples of Plant With Purpose’s ripple effect that is fostering long-term transformation in communities around the globe.

I’ll eat some candy corn to that!