Seeing goodness in the complexity

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After two years living in a place, you experience a lot, you learn much, and you begin to observe things from a different perspective. Some things you see right away, others are more subtly integrated into a place and can only be viewed after developing lenses in which to see them. As Seeders, we are privileged to be able to live in a place for two years and over time slowly develop these lenses.

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View of the San Juan River running through Istmina, the town where we lived for two years.

A concept that we have engaged over the course of the last two years in Seed while living in Chocó, is accompaniment – which is characterized by being present in, and living alongside a community. This is a foundation and starting point for being a Seeder. Building relationships and friendships, asking questions, and critical observation are tools to actively becoming part of community processes. While two years is not nearly long enough to put down deep enough roots to truly understand the complexities facing a community, it’s long enough to have your eyes opened and to see things in different ways.

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Ramón and Jabes practice grafting cacao trees.

During these last two years, I have slowly come to understand some of the complexity and challenges that face the Medio San Juan region. Mining for the dwindling reserves of gold still drives the local economy of cities and small towns alike. Armed actors fight over land and coerce campesinos to grow coca – lands that are then indiscriminately fumigated by the state. These same armed-groups extort miners, businesses, and local governments alike. Local candidates buy their way into government seats and then pocket what little money comes in from the state in order to recuperate election costs. Having become aware of such negative dynamics – these structures and cycles of corruption, oppression, destruction, and extraction – it is easy to become lost, and to lose hope.

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Dredging the shore of the San Juan River.

However, during these two years of living in Chocó, of at times feeling hopeless, aimless and helpless, I have also learned to see other positive dynamics as well. There are many people who are working to change this structure, to transform their own communities for the better. Some of them are working to help individuals through  smaller projects, while others are working for larger change they may never see. There are community leaders and cacao farmers like Genaro, Ramón, Juana, and Norberto that are planting alternatives to violence in their communities through the Weaving Hope foundation. There are people like Jabes and Anibal who tirelessly accompany these farmers and communities in their transformation. There are women like Ernecina and Yineth, leaders of the MB women’s ministry, who unselfishly give of their time in their work with kids, women, and youth. There are individuals like Pompeyo, who is working to make the church more culturally Chocoano. Eduar, whose hope for a better Istmina has prompted him to run for a city council seat, and Doña Lila, who satisfies many with her stories, sassiness and delicious food. These are just a few. Truth is, Chocó is full of people who are actively working to change this cycle of corruption and oppression.

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Doña Lila, who make the tastiest food in Istmina.

After two years living in Chocó I feel truly privileged to have been able to develop relationships with so many people. I feel blessed to have been given space and time in my work on different community processes to ask questions and to develop new lenses with which to see so much goodness alongside the challenges. I am grateful for so many who have allowed me to walk with them.

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