I did end up changing my clothes today... hooray, Attia. To be honest, it was a much tougher day to gear up for, both mentally and physically. We started out at 6am, with not enough sleep, and more importantly, not enough emotional recovery. What I didn't realize at the start of this journey was the huge emotional lift I would be undertaking with each association as I helped them manage serious internal conflict. While it is some of the most rewarding work I've had the honor of participating in, it is immensely draining. I try to mentally steel myself, but the weight of the issues is palpable in the air, and I can't help but absorb some of it. There are subconscious things that weigh on me too... when I see Venezuelan people walking down the highway with a suitcase because they have no other options other than to flee by foot in hopes of a better life. Or when I see these farmers working so hard, all day, every day, to make $10 per day (on the most successful days). Or when mothers are sitting in the sidewalk holding their sick kids, begging for money. Then it's the problems themselves with these associations, which blow my mind, and make me hope that I never whine severely about my own life.
The association I went to today has a horrific, violent past. It was even more remote than the location from our first day... it was a dirt road in the middle of two mountains that most people passed only by horse, which we were on for an hour (after two hours of driving on somewhat regular roads). During the peak of violence in Colombia, this community was one of the most affected, because the guerilla group (known as the FARC) took the stronghold of the community. They were extremely violent toward the farmers. One of the women who was working with us as a consultant told me she actually grew up in that community, and there were many times as a child that they would have to run under their beds and hide there for over 24 hours as they heard gunshots and screaming all around them. Apparently, that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was seeing what was left when they crept out from under the beds: blood, death and destruction.
This wasn't the most shocking part of the story. The most shocking part was that this association, which was intimately affected by the violence, accepted members of the FARC with open arms when they requested to participate a few years ago. What. The. Farc. These people, who had family members killed by the guerillas, agreed to let members of that same organization into their association? Of course, this is after they signed a peace treaty in 2016 to lay down their arms and participate in society... but still. My mind reeled at the ability to forgive such heinous crimes and actually LET THEM IN to their group. To share in their small profits and work side by side.
This was a very humbling moment for me. I don't know if I would have the grace or forgiveness to do anything near that. This association was also special, you could feel it in the air... they had a connection because of this violence. They cared about each other a lot, but over time, they had let that connection slip a little. Small, petty grievances were creating rifts in the group. So today's work was to start bridging those rifts.
I was warned that people likely wouldn't open up easily, but I barreled through and demanded participation. At one point, probably somewhat because of my exhaustion, I snapped at two women who continued whispering while people (myself included) were talking. It was impactful because it made everyone take the session seriously and remain respectful the rest of the time, but I probably could have been a bit more tactful.
We went through a similar exercise, and created an operating agreement for meetings... but I focused more on another agreement. A communication agreement. How were they going to communicate about and with each other. This is shockingly simple, yet so hard for most of us: be appreciate and grateful, be direct with someone if you have a problem, don't talk behind people's backs. It sounds like the fundamental aspects of being a good human, and yet, we all forget it from time to time. And it erodes trust, motivation and goodwill in any organization, as was apparent with this association.
Everyone loved this agreement, along with the other for the meetings. We elected people to take leadership roles, and the air cleared. People were lighter, laughing and smiling with each other. Later, I was told that they found my session to be incredibly valuable, and asked if I could come back next week to see them. While I am incredibly touched by that, I have trepidation about my ability to continue on without a break. I'm supposed to see three more organizations in the next two days, and the thought makes me want to curl up. I'm not sure how to take care of myself while also having this deep need to help as many people as I can.
One more touching moment for me was a couple of older men who embarrassingly told me that they couldn't write when I asked them to answer some questions for me. We had the consultants work with them to get their answers, but at the end of the session when I had everyone sign the agreements, I saw one of the men working so intently to sign his name. I watched him slowly sound out his own name as he painstakingly wrote the letters: Jose.