(IAP ’17) Carey Dunfey, G
Carey Dunfey (G, Urban Studies and Planning)
Carey will be traveling to Colombia over IAP to support economic democracy initiatives being developed and launched by grassroots social innovators in the Pacific Region. This project seeks to promote the region’s diverse initiatives, including eco and community tourism and cooperative business development, through a process of asset and resource mapping and media documentation for local, regional, and global audiences. The project is a crucial piece of Colombia’s post-conflict context and has been made possible through the collaboration of the MIT Community Innovators Lab and Corporación Manos Visibles, a nonprofit organization with five years of experience in leadership development, capacity building, and networking growing in the Pacific.
Check back for her updates!
Week 3: Back to Bogotá
After many eventful, full days away, we returned to Bogotá eager, and maybe a bit sunburnt, to start putting together the data we’d collected and the insights we’d learned. As urban planners, we tend to look at the big picture: housing; transportation systems; big structural change. We want to solve complex problems. From the top of Monserrate mountain, we saw all this: large social housing developments; the bus rapid transit system; the construction of Colombia’s tallest building. We also saw the urban sprawl. Although one of the densest cities in Latin America, Bogotá has experienced substantial growth, particularly with regard to movement into its peripheral neighborhoods from regions affected by the conflict, including the Colombian Pacific. The work of community initiatives on the ground begins to come into better focus when considering this. Strong community organizations that provide outlets for youth, encourage skill-building, and promote equitable development are vital to the creation of opportunities that ensure communities are places people can stay and grow in. While it is important for us to step back and try to understand the bigger picture, we need to remember to focus on the small scale, to listen to what’s happening on the ground.
Within the stories we’d heard in the Colombian Pacific there wove a beautiful story: one of identity and resilience, of culture and knowledge. From municipalities and cities that have experienced disinvestment, neglect, racism, and violence, these community leaders know so well of what has happened to their region and are actively working against the stereotypes others have used to define them. They are creating community knowledge and power from below. They are utilizing their skills and actively honing new ones. We cannot understand the way forward without understanding the importance knowledge of place plays in our work in communities, especially in those that have been systemically marginalized. We need to resist thinking that, as outsiders, we understand problems and that we know how to fix them. Instead, we should focus on finding ways in which our collective skills can work together by placing value on collaboration and collective knowledge production.
From the top of the Monserrate mountain by the historic center of Bogotá, the city sprawled out beneath us. To some, it might have appeared chaotic. However, even though we were breathing heavy a bit up there—the capital city is over 8,600 feet high—the view put so much into perspective. There are people, in each of those houses, buildings, and buses, on bikes and in cars, who are working for a better city. We’d do well to listen to them.
So long Colombia — I learned so much from your beautiful country and people. It is not an experience I will soon forget.
Week 2: Nuquí and Quibdó and the Colombian Pacific
We left the warm embrace of Mano Cambiada’s team in the Utría National Park and headed back to Nuquí on a small boat. While we’d barely seen rain, rare in this place that has over 300 days of it, we were in for the complete experience on the hour long return. The downpour ceased just as we arrived at the narrow river that took us to the small port — there seemed to be a metaphor in there somewhere.
During our short stay in Nuquí, we visited the school sponsored by Mano Cambiada that supports music, dance, and art programming for local kids. While most older teenagers leave the town for college, migrating to larger cities such as Medellín, they feel a strong sense of place, exemplified through their connection to the rich art, culture, and territory of the Colombian Pacific.
From Nuquí, we headed to Quibdó, the capital of the Chocó department. While the city may be small population-wise, the constant hum of motorcycles would make you think otherwise.
Here, we met with inspiring members of community initiatives — most of which are working with youth to provide them with creative outlets, such as through dance and video. The initiatives place a high value on personal and leadership development, hoping their students will gain skills that will keep them away from the violence that has effected the region. ChocQuibFilms, initially sponsored by the now-famous Colombian band from Quibdó, ChocQuibTown, prepares its students to hone and use their artistic talents through film. Robótica Educativa aims to teach students about utilizing robots and drones to document the world around them. Jóvenes Creadores Del Chocó empowers youth through an emphasis on uplifting cultural assets. You can find a range of incredible videos from one of the organizations, Jóvenes Creadores, here.
In each of our meetings, we invited the members to participate in an engaging asset mapping activity. Beyond the immense talent of the members we met with, what constantly stood out for us was the dedication and connection to the Colombian Pacific.
Much of the land in the Colombian Pacific is collectively owned either by Afro or indigenous Colombians; Chocó is over 80% Afro-Colombian, Quibdó over 90%. There is a sense of territory as being integral to one’s identity. The richness of this shared cultural asset, however, appears in sharp contrast to the lack of infrastructure in the region. Understanding the connection between the lack of development planning and the identity of the people in the region became a critical piece in understanding the potential impact of supporting these initiatives going forward.
Week 1: Planes, Boats, and Utría
We arrived on a red eye to Bogotá groggy but excited and ready to get working on our project. Our five-person team (four DUSP Master in City Planning students and a locally based consultant for MIT CoLab) is working with MIT CoLab and Manos Visibles on documenting the networks, resources, and assets, both material and immaterial, of community initiatives in the Colombian Pacific. Members of these initiatives previously participated in the EIC Lab, a program dedicated to the development of grassroots social enterprise for economic democracy, particularly for Afro and indigenous Colombians, whose population makes up the majority of the region. Our objective is to create a tool that will be useful both internally and externally for the initiatives and current and potential partner organizations to identify opportunities for collaboration.
The region, parts reachable only by plane and/or boat, is covered with rich rainforests, dense river networks, diverse flora and fauna, and warm people. However, given its relative geographic isolation and other causes, it has been negatively affected by external forces during periods of Colombia’s political instability. Currently, there is hope that the ongoing peace process will bring much needed equitable development in the form of improved infrastructure, job growth, and security. You can also check out the blog of PKG fellow and team member, Juan, here!
Before flying to the Pacific Region, we packed three short days in Bogotá with planning meetings: at cafés and co-working spaces; over Skype with CoLab; and at the office of our community partner Manos Visibles. As we learned about the region, we developed questions for an asset mapping activity to do with members of the community initiatives, hoping the exercise would be helpful for both our objectives and the participants.
From Bogotá, we flew on a tiny plane to the Pacific city of Quibdó (population 200,000), hopped on a tinier plane to the beachside community of Nuquí (population under 2,000), and immediately packed into a motorboat headed to Parque Utría, a protected national park. To say we were unprepared for our arrival on this secluded inlet of paradise would be an understatement. Mano Cambiada, an EIC Lab participant and community-based tourist organization, is the only place to stay in the park. Started by dynamic Josefina Klinger, it’s dedicated to the natural and cultural preservation of the Pacific territory. While Josefina was away during our stay, her son and manager, Luis Palacios Klinger (“Don Lucho”), National Parks employee, Evelio, and the five-star kitchen team, Maria Eugenia and Magdalena, shared their passions, dedication, and love for their work.
While there is much to be done in the region, our initial experiences reinforced our understanding of the wealth of assets present in the region and the potential to leverage them for better, more equitable development.
Stayed tuned for more updates.