Wichi/H20 is well under way. We have the cameras you’ve donated. Enough people have bought photos so that the project has begun to pay for itself. Now, all money from this project goes directly into developing a garden.
Then we ran into a complication.
As we talk to more people involved with non-profits as well as with the Wichi in Salta, we hear different things. It can be difficult trying to parse fact from people’s preconceived notions.
Jose Pintado, the regional expert for el Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Agropecuaria (INTA) in the Hickman area who works with the various communities to build gardens, had this to say.
“We’ve worked with the Wichi. They don’t take care of the gardens so nothing grows, and then they sell the tools.”
He explained, this is about understanding the community and culture. They are traditionally hunters and gatherers. There is no history or culture of planting gardens or raising animals, which requires time and effort in one place. They are a nomadic culture who lives in the moment.
“You’re hungry. You hunt for a rabbit. You eat the rabbit.”
In talking with others, we’ve been told that the Wichi are possibly just telling us what they think we want to hear. How many groups come in truly wanting to help, but don’t really listen to what the community wants? This is one of the most pervasive criticisms of non-profit development world wide. That people have such a strong confidence in their plans they try to impose what they want without actually listening to the needs of the communities they wish to support.
Two Stories. With Contradictions.
This is partially what we’ve heard from the Wichi themselves. Both stories echo the history of the Wichi as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Both talk about previous groups who have come to help build gardens. But according to Simon and Ramon, the two village leaders with whom we’ve been working, previous groups come, promise things and then never follow through.
It’s important to us, though, that the Wichi community are actually getting something they want and need, and so we regularly ask for their input and opinion about the project, the potential outcomes, and what resources they most want in the village. But it takes time to build the trust necessary for them to believe we will do what we say we will do. Meanwhile, the cultural differences between what we know and what they know often make clear communication difficult.
For example, how do I explain to a group of people who don’t have electricity that their photos have appeared in the New York Times? And if we don’t understand that families in the Wichi community work as separate units but are willing to share between families, how can we set up an effective community wide garden?
We could bring in volunteers. 3-5 people willing to live in or near Hickmann to help set up, tend the plants and go through the first harvest.
We can separate the garden plot and make individual people or families responsible for a section.
We originally decided to go through INTA — with the Wichi’s agreement — because they can get cheaper prices for tools, seeds and other equipment. Perhaps all money from the photos should go directly to each family and let them decide how to spend it instead of going through INTA or another organization.
Our Next Step: Meeting of the Minds
We’ve recently been in touch with an group here in Salta that has been working with the Wichi for the last 30 years. They have expertise in agricultural development and also have a much better understanding of the Wichi culture. We have much more experience with social media and spreading awareness.
We are talking about a collaboration.
We will also attend a meeting with Jose Pintado and the Wichi to see they are all willing to take the next step in building the garden. And if not, then we decide what to do next.
We are dedicated to creating this garden for many reasons. One of those reasons because it is what we promised people when we asked for cameras and for people to buy photos. But if a garden is not what the Wichi need, then we cannot allow my vision of what we think this project could be take precedence.
It has been a slow process, but we are learning, and as long as we keep moving forward, we will inevitably reach our goal of creating a sustainable means for this community to support itself.