“El Profe”, the exuberant school director recounted the history of the modest but handsome school building we stood outside of, explaining how its construction was made possible by funds from the U.S. and how grateful he was, as a way of introducing the awkward new Americano in town. Trying to initiate a discussion in front of the eager crowd seated in miniature school chairs about how with a history of exploitation from colonialism to neo-colonialism IMF and FTA style, the pittance given out in aid might not exactly be gracious, would have been difficult. “El Profe” continued, saying that the Americano was there to build to build an aqueduct. Whoa, whoa, whoa… suave. Here I had to interject. We’re here to build an aqueduct… together.
Really, we´re here together to build solidarity.
One of my assignments during my initial site visitation week was to “observe” the local school. Well, as with any other observation, any distinction between observer and observed is blurred, and what you really end up observing is yourself. My entrance into the classroom had to be a big spectacle, with the school director giving a long-winded address and then having each student stand up to introduce him or herself. And they insisted that I have a box of milk from the school milk program. And they’d already decided to end the already too-short school day an hour early for the water meeting.
Not the initial impact I wanted to have.
I’ll end with a quote from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
“This person (the radical) does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
How can the construction of a community aqueduct, with the hands of the persons in the community, be a process of liberation? How can I shape my role to allow this process to evolve, rather than perpetuating the traditional paternalism?