When, Suddenly, You Meet the Requirements
When being sent out as a volunteer via the “Weltwärts”-program, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) naturally also publishes a list of requirements, that they want the volunteers to meet. Among them is, for example, the requirement to personally raise parts of the program costs in order to partially self-finance your stay, but also the expectation to continue volunteering in different projects after the program and to keep educating yourself in the field of development economics and policies.
In the beginning, a new volunteer worries a lot about the funds to raise, which are not that easy to come by, but spends little time worrying about the second part of the requirements. Overwhelmed with your personal expectations you read through the contract without giving too much thought to the requirements. After all, who knows, if you will continue volunteering once you come back? So you sign the contract, unsure what will happen later.
I did not expect my personal interests and my mentality to change that drastically, especially in face of the fact, that I had to cancel my stay only 7 months in, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic!
But still: Having already moved to the place where I will go to university the next years, my desk is stuffed with books and documents about indigenous rights and theoretical treatises about the formation of sustainable communities.
I spent the 7 months of my volunteer service in Peru.
Working in the project “Atiycuy Perú” you don´t just work together with indigenous peoples, you also spend a lot of your free time with the Yanesha. Be it on weekend trips with Carlos and Cely, the young Yanesha couple in our team, on overnight stays in indigenous villages or on visits to Meda, who runs a small Yanesha-hand-crafted art workshop in our small town. Meda taught us to produce our own jewellery, using the seeds that the Yanesha-people collect in the mountain ranges of the region. Edlinda, an amazing old woman from one of the villages told me once, that her husband often spends about 3 to 4 days just to gather a single pack of these seeds (about 100g).
The Indigenous Community
The encounters with the Yanesha people inspired many, often opposing, experiences and feelings for me, which are, however, very real in the daily lives of the indigenous.
On the one side, there is the open, selfless and happy mentality with which the Yanesha face others and themselves. The villages, that bear the Spanish title of “Comunidad Nativa” literally mean native Community. And it is exactly this sense of community, that reflects upon the lives of the Yanesha people. Carlos told me, that if he were to build a home for himself and his family, all the other villagers would come and help him, so that the house would be finished in less than six weeks! This is the definition of a true sense of community!
However, the experiences the indigenous people have had in the encounter with non-indigenous Peruvians stand in a stark and frightening contrast to this. Starting from difficulties while flat-hunting, indigenous people face discrimination in almost all aspects of life, ranging from Verbal offense, land grab, burglary all the way to denial of treatment in hospitals and terrorism. In the 90s, 330,000 Peruvian indigenous people were forcibly sterilized, in order to slowly rot them out.
Listening to these stories, you often don´t know how to react. You feel disbelief, compassion, anger, grief and shame. Even though you know, you aren´t personally responsible for all this, you still feel shame.
And suddenly you realize: We are all responsible! Not just from a historical perspective. But I also realized something else: I don´t actually have a clue what is going on in this world. I used to think of myself as a political informed person, even wanting to study political science, but now I am confronted with the fact of not having any insight or whatsoever into the many realms of politics and the effects of global policies.
The shock of this realisation brought me to use the time during the pandemic lockdown to keep reading and researching about the forced sterilizations and the broad topic of colonialism. Currently, I am preparing a work shop about sustainable development aid for the next generation of volunteers. The seminar I took about indigenous rights last month also brought further disappointment: I learned that the voluminous documents treating indigenous rights are non-binding contracts. Non-binding, Of course.
Reading articles and experience reports about the enforcement of indigenous rights, I feel the more I learn, the more I realize how dire the situation is! In this case the saying might be true: Ignorance is bliss. But nevertheless, I feel obliged to keep informing myself, gathering all the available knowledge, learning what I can, maybe to be able to make a difference one day.
And eventually, without ever expecting this before, you start fulfilling the requirements of the Ministry.