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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Portada Triangular Greenhouse


Portada Triangular is a small community nearby El Alto, one of the most impoverished districts of La Paz. About two hundred families live there in small houses clustered on the steep slope of the valley, in which the main part of the city is located. The first time you get there it is hard to take your eyes away from the breath-taking view the people who live there see every day. Getting off the bus on the Autopista, the motorway leading to El Alto, heavily breathing whilst climbing up the steep stairs towards Portada Triangular; you have behind you the snowy peaks of Illimani overlooking La Paz. It reminds you that you are in the middle of the Andes, almost 4000 metres above sea level.

We arrived at the centre for the first time on Friday, the 15th of February. We – the four volunteers from the UK working for Entrepreneurship – were given the task of building a greenhouse in the children’s centre run by Aldeas Infantiles SOS in Portada Triangular. The task, seemingly straightforward, is an initial part of the 3 year project Emprendimiento (which means ‘Entrepreneurship’) that aims at introducing greenhouses for the homes of the community in Portada Triangular. In a nutshell, the principal goal is to improve the nutrition of the people living in the community but also increasing women empowerment by incorporating central female involvement. Moreover, the target is to develop entrepreneurial skills with community members. Therefore, before our first visit to the community, we needed undertook weeks of brainstorming, researching, making contacts and getting approvals.

Tom [Project Coordinator for Entrepreneurship] whispering sweet nothings into Kapil's ear at the community meeting!
Tom [Project Coordinator for Entrepreneurship] whispering sweet nothings into Kapil’s ear at the community meeting!

As with any development project, the path towards our goal is long and consists of many tiny steps – smaller goals – that need to be achieved before we build the greenhouse. Our first task was learning about the people within the community – their lives, their incomes, their diets etc. In order to gain this information, we produced a questionnaire consisting of 20 questions on the areas of our interest. Having prepared the questionnaire, we could go to Portada Triangular to meet the very welcoming members of Junta Vecinal (local government) and gain their approval and commitment of support. That, in fact, proved to be crucial during the preceding week when we were implementing our questionnaires.
The questionnaire team with the Junta Vecinal. From left to right: James Wainman, Clara Chan, two members of Junta Vecinal, Alexandra Kirkham, Brysa Baker, Bartosz Pęziński, Adriana Vacaflores Villazón
The questionnaire team with the Junta Vecinal. From left to right: James Wainman, Clara Chan, two members of Junta Vecinal, Alexandra Kirkham, Brysa Baker, Bartosz Pęziński, Adriana Vacaflores Villazón

By Wednesday, we had 28 questionnaires completed and a lot of material to analyse for the community event we were organising for the following Saturday. During that week, when we were getting responses for the questionnaires and some of us were working at the children’s centre, we felt how quickly we were getting attached to this small community. Going there every day and spending a lot of time with Freddie and Natalio – the representatives of Junta Vecinal – who took us around Portada Triangular and introduced us to many members of the community which we spoke to and who happily participated in answering our questionnaires – left us feeling very welcomed and even more enthusiastic about the purpose of our project. As a result of our research, we learned that most families in Portada Triangular live on a very small income and have monotonic diets consisting of mainly carbohydrates. Most importantly for us, many people we spoke to saw the need of changing their diet, by increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables. The great majority perceived our project as very important for them and for their community and expressed their willingness to participate.

The main aim of Emprendimiento, which also is the biggest challenge in its successful implementation, is to get the people of the community directly involved. The fault of many development projects can be found in a blunt attitude by Western organisations that provide the financial resources but overlook training and motivational aspects. Here, in Portada Triangular, our aim is to introduce the idea of a greenhouse, assist in implementing the pilot scheme and leave it to be run solely by the community. It won’t be our greenhouse – it will be the community’s greenhouse.

As part of the process of getting the community involved, after the week of implementing the questionnaires; we organised a social event in the community centre. It was a big day for us as the result of the event would tell us about the true level of community interest and enthusiasm in our project. When we arrived at 4pm on Saturday, the meeting room in the community centre was empty. No one had arrived yet, but as we were getting anxious, Freddie explained to us – Patiencia [“patience”] – the word you hear often in Bolivia. And true enough, by 5pm, the room filled with people and we started our presentation. After introducing ourselves, we spoke for about an hour about the goals and specifics of the project. People listened, some took notes and afterwards we were acknowledged with applause. The reception was brilliant. The presentation was followed by a vigorous discussion between us and a clearly enthusiastic audience. The sheets we prepared for potential volunteers to help in the project were filled with 13 names and numbers, topped with a donation of 150 adobe bricks we plan to build the greenhouse with. The meeting ended with a friendly atmosphere when all of us sat together and ate the food we had earlier prepared.

Kapil Pankhania presenting, along with Bartosz Pęziński, Clara Chan and James Wainman to the community of Portada Triangular
Kapil Pankhania presenting, along with Bartosz Pęziński, Clara Chan and James Wainman to the community of Portada Triangular

That week, following the successful Saturday event, we were imbued with optimism and motivation for the greenhouse project. Having experienced the welcoming and positive attitude of the people of the community of Portada Triangular, we have felt our work there has a real and great purpose and now we look forward to the next steps of the project. We all know that once we see its final result we will be able to leave Bolivia feeling happy and complete.

Written by Bartosz Pęziński
Edited by Liam Hilton

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