We started our trip out to the Rio Hondo community in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, the tide was so low at this point, that we weren’t even able to make it to the half-way landing point and had to turn back. This reinforced our earlier concern that the remoteness of the village would be a challenge to overcome if it were to be a tourist destination. We made our second attempt a few hours later, after the tide had risen.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to contact the community to let them know of our delayed arrival, so when we did make it, a few of the folks who had shown up had already left, including the community president. While we were disappointed she wasn’t present, we found it to be a blessing in disguise. In our previous meeting she acted as a primary point of contact and, in her absence, we found others more willing to speak up and offer their opinions.
In our previous meeting, the community president thanked God for our presence as a sign of hope, so we chose to open the meeting with a short spiritual opening. Following, Dana introduced BGI as an instituto de negocios ambiente y social, as well as an introduction of each of our team members with their profession in Spanish. Knowing that many of the community members wouldn’t be able to read what we had written, we also included a caricature of each of us, so they could have a reference for our names.
Following the introduction, Jason lead the group through an overview of the project timeline, being careful to set expectations around both time and scale of the project. We wanted to ensure that we didn’t build up too much hope too soon, so as to avoid the disappointment if the project wasn’t funded. However, we needed to get as much information as possible and needed to explore a variety of options if we were to make recommendations for a project that would benefit the community long term and would fit their needs and culture.
We also brought a system drawing of what a potential eco-tourism lodge could bring to the community, which we walked through step-by-step. We illustrated the idea that this facility could attract tourists and foreign money, which would then be transferred to the community members through jobs, as well as tourist activities that could generate additional revenue. In exchange for the monetary benefits, they in turn provide tranquility, experience and culture to their potential customers. Because the facility would be owned and operated by the local community, they’d be responsible for working to help ensure it’s success. If it was successful, they could slowly grow the operation over time which could bring capacity building, security and opportunity back to the community.
As we walked through this diagram, there were a number of questions and comments that gave us the impression that they understood the overall concept, thought it was a good idea, and would be interested in taking part in something like this.
As we moved into our information gathering section, we uncovered much more than we could have hoped for! Our goal for this session was to find out as much about their lives as we possibly could, so we could see how/if a project of this nature could fit into their lives without causing too much harm or change. We decided that the best way we could do this would be to put up a calendar and ask for when different activities take place throughout the year. This definitely raised the energy level in the room!
A lively dialogue ensued between the community members as they discussed different types of crops, and disagreed about when growth and harvest times were ideal, depending on when the rain would come. As we dove further into the agricultural calendar, we surfaced an excitement that wasn’t present before. The community was passionate about growing things, and they wanted to grow more. Unfortunately, they were only able to grow crops during the three-month rainy season, from January through March. Without enough fresh water the rest of the year, they were unable to turn their passion into a scalable, sustainable livelihood.
Tamara led us through a pleasant and thankful closing in which we asked them what other ideas they had. After the previous experience, they were excited to engage us with their own suggestions. A number of opportunities were surfaced. The first was that they grow cucumbers, but only for one month of the rainy season. They could replant and grow a second or third harvest, but choose not to because they don’t have a secure market to sell them. Another option is chickens; they now raise about 100 chickens a year, but given a secure market could increase production, especially if they found a way to increase feed-stock production. A few times they mentioned that the land they live on is very fertile, but without enough rain throughout the year, they don’t have the water to support scaled agriculture.
We left this meeting feeling like our hearts and our minds were starting to split. On one hand, we had the request of our client to build an eco-tourism lodge/facility and, on the other hand, a growing realization that the community’s needs and passions were elsewhere.