The Kalu Yala Blog

Organically Growing Relationships in San Miguel

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February 5, 2012

by Lillian Sonnenberg
Posted In: Farm to Table Living, The Creation of a Culture

As Americans, we live in a society of instant gratification.  When we want something, we expect to get it at 4G speed, and it boggles our minds when that doesn’t happen. As a member of the Community Outreach team I envisioned instantly being able to have a life changing impact on the people of San Miguel, yet relationships do not form overnight.  Obviously this was a silly assumption that deep down I knew was not practical, but my American ways took over my logical side.

As an anthropologist I have studied numerous instances of distant peoples imposing their cultural values onto a group they feel needs their help.  We have all seen this, over and over again, never learning from history that this is not effective.  The people of San Miguel don’t need someone to save them, if anything, I can learn from them.  So then how do we create a successful Community Outreach semester? I have been doing a lot of thinking about community outreach vs. imposition.  I cannot impose my ideals onto their lives.  I must foster respect while tenderly opening their eyes to new and different things that exist outside of their bubble.  I have to let relationships form organically, then they will openly and honestly communicate with us.

With a shift in mentality, this week was amazing.  We were out in the community, showing face and fostering relationships.  I was able to work with a few women from the community on the school garden and although the language barrier was at times frustrating, it was a great experience and laid a foundation for future collaboration.  Hand gestures and laughing at failed communication attempts dominated our communication, but nevertheless it was a mutually rewarding experience.

This week we were able to connect with Aminta, a women in the community who makes queso fresco daily to sell to the people of San Miguel.  She invited us into her home to learn her trade.  Her simple open-air kitchen was picturesque with bright oilcloth table coverings and simple rustic amenities.  No silly frivolous material things to distract from the beautiful landscape of San Miguel. Simply perfect.  She was excited to teach us, encouraging us to continue the tradition and pass on the knowledge to anyone willing to learn.


Anne Walker, Andrea Davis and I making chees with Aminta

One afternoon while walking home from the school I met Javier, a community director from the neighboring community of La Mesa.  They were installing metal signs around all of San Martin to encourage people to help keep the Rio and community clean.  He invited me to a meeting where representatives would be gathering.


Javier and Oscar installing signs

Thursday morning after stumbling upon the best empanada of my life, Erin and I made our way to La Mesa for the meeting. They understand that tourism is inevitable, and are working on plans to help foster responsible growth that will benefit the local community.  It was awesome to be a part of seeing small steps towards positive change.  We made great connections including a women who works for the private sector in D.C. as well as in Panama, and Ricardo who speaks impeccable English and invited us to visit his farm anytime.  While in La Mesa we were also able to establish a relationship with the ASEO trash director for San Miguel, Jose Rios, and discuss setting up a recycling pick up system for the community.


Zac and I building nesting boxes for the chickens

There was great progress at Casa Llena too.  With the help of Joe and Zac  we were able to build nesting boxes for our hens and painted the Roost, giving our chickens the sweetest pad in San Miguel.


Our rooster Alejandro is pleased with the fresh paint and nesting boxes

Overall a great week, excited to continue laying the groundwork for friendships and connections with the people of San Miguel.

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