An anthropologist student, an environmentalist and a communicator decided in early 2015 to create a NGO which aims to ameliorate the life of the vulnerable populations of Peru through Green technologies. Ficus was the name of this adventure and it took us to places and situations we never thought to deal with, situations as simple as finance, managing, getting the right lawyers, to internal conflicts between communities, and dealing with corruption. Our aim is simple as stated above, though Peru is not such a light country to live in. So, with not so much capital (just our salary in other jobs) and heaps of ideas revolving in our heads, we decided to start our first project in one of the slums located on the hills of Lima, Peru. The main idea consisted of creating green areas for where it was once informal landfills. After a year of creation and a sort of luck between being at the right place and time, we have won 4 awards of which three of them were a monetary consideration. Nonetheless, this is some of the sweet part of creating a NGO, the sour parts came from all fronts and even with the governmental agencies. Based on my experience as one of the co-founders of Ficus, I would like to share some of the thoughts I encountered in the making.
Putting way aside the individual effort and time someone has to put as an entrepreneur, it is a challenge to work with an empoverished community whose main priority is not environmental conservation. Like many communities in Peru, this area started as an invasion and the main reasons for this were two: An internal war in Peru in the 80s and 90s forced big migrations to the capital and that Peru is a centralized country, I mean most of the opportunities (superior education, quality health service, remunerating jobs) are found in Lima. I mentioned this because it is important to acknowledge the history of the community in order to work towards the future.
Most of the local people within the community regard Lima as a big polluted city. I had so many conversations with them in which they have pointed out how were their lives in their homelands. Some of them come from the Andes where the landscapes are absolutely beautiful with rivers, glaciers and trees; others from the coast or even from the Amazon where it was not necessary to have a job in order to get food on the table. But now, they are in Lima by a myriad of circumstances.
Lima is a city with less than 2 square meters of green area per capita, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) every city requires more than 9 square meters per person. The geography of Lima is a desert with little rainfall, and poor recently formed soils; hence arborisation of some areas can be very delicate. Therefore, it can be widely appreciated that the population does not feel part of this environment. The fact that people are living in an area, it does not mean that they call it home. And I found this truth when working with communities which are best explained by Yencken et al., (2000), ““Education for Sustainable Development has to acknowledge that awareness might lead to understanding, understanding might lead to concern, and concern doesn’t always lead to concern by action”. Walk the Talk. Action for a cause will only happen when an individual can establish a bond between the space and sense of the individual and its ecosystem. That was our goal by working with the community, to establish that connection. After a year working there, I wonder, if Ficus has accomplished that? Sadly we have not but I believe that we are planting the seeds of the future.
Moreover, there is one more truth I’ve seen in the jobs of NGOs in Peru. Leaving behind the spirit to undermine other organizations’ work, most of their projects are unsustainable. What I am referring to is simple, once the NGOs are gone, the project is abandoned with heaps of paperwork. But what for? If it is not sustainable in the long run, it can be in many cases merely an assistencialism for a finite period of time. And that is not the best approach, especially in a developing country according to intellectuals like Noam Chomsky (2010). The role of a NGO in a country like Peru should be to encourage public policies based on their current projects; to be back up with a commitment of the local council and when possible with other levels of the state. I am pretty sure that many NGO’s fancy folks can disagree with that statement. But at least in Ficus, we did not want to just create permanent jobs for us, but to earnest provide a solution to a problem that at least until now, local councils seem to do as little as they can do for it. Because truth is, Ficus in Germany at least, it could not exist. It is neglected governmental institutions that give birth to NGOs in a country like Peru.
That neglection does not always come unnoticed, because there is another big bump and it is called corruption. Shiv Khera (2004), Dostoyevsky (1872), and many others refer to it as the worst devil that can appear in a society. It is a cancer, a sign that something is far worse than rotten, and just read the news to observe how a wave of corruption is suffocating not only Peru but also South America. It is no longer a matter of money, it is the lack of morals and ethical values in a society. We are missing those values that shape people identities, otherwise what it is the point to have professionals without morality? Without soul? We reckon that in Peru, the fight is against those people that far from working towards the development of the country are the cornerstones pulling us back, making Peru a vicious cycle and a breeder of poverty and corruption.
In our experience as Ficus as a minor NGO (for now) in the public sphere, we have managed to stay open and to be always willing to dialogue with the local council and with the community, because as it may be hard to fulfil, we believe that is the key, though we need to work with the right people and they are hard to find sometimes. I tried to talk a bit of what I have seen in Peru, and as much as I love my country, my colleagues and me berate some practices that are jeopardizing the wellbeing of the nation. And we cannot stay indifferent to that. Thus, that is why Ficus exists.
By Diego Alonso P.
CHOMSKY, N. (2010). Hopes and Prospects. Haymarket Books, Chicago, Illinois
DOSTOYEVSKY, F. (1872). Demons. Vintages Books
YECNKEN, D., FIEN, J. & HYKES, S. (2000). Environment, Education and Society in the Asia-Pacific: Local traditions and global discourses. Routledges Advances in Asia-Pacific Studies, pp. 251-260.
KHERA, SHIV (2004). Freedom is not free. MacMillan India Ltd., India.