À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible
The COLIBRI journey is done. The two year path we trod… with its usual pitfalls, snags, thorns, leeches and busted SUV engines is over. What can we say looking back? We can probably say we could have done better regardless of COVID19 or national bankruptcy or societal collapse. We can definitely say that we fought a good, clean, honest battle to improve the lot of living things in need. Be those living things those that moved on no legs, two legs or four or simply didn’t move at all… standing as sentinels and beacons of green for the world to use, for the world to regenerate, for the world to be grateful for.
In the process we did not learn what to do and how to do. We knew those like the backs of our own hands. No. We learned what not to do.
What then, did we learn?
We learned that nature and people do not follow administrative patterns nor rules of law. We learned that they would rather follow their water and follow their customs. Therefore, we learned that we cannot toss rule books nor GN divisions at those communities. Therefore, luckily, we said bye bye to those types of segregations except for reporting purposes.
We learned that people have bigger and better histories to fall back on than a few bucks now or a few tools tomorrow. Therefore, instead of waving money at them, we got them to hold up their histories to us like flags rippling and ripping in the howl of the Knuckles winds. Through those standards held up by their elderly for all to see, we learned not to try to inflict our own flawed ideas of what is right and what is wrong on them.
We learned that when a person breaks the law, we must view that societal aberration in terms of cultural senses and sensibilities and not in terms of some Roman bloke or some Dutch guy whose ideas of right and wrong are what we practice here in Sri Lanka as law. We learned that to work with real communities, we must give them relevance and purpose even to the point of not embracing but rather, turning gently aside when we witnessed their minor intransigencies vis-à-vis the oft quoted but dimly understood and rarely practiced “law of the nation”.
We learned to address issues that those communities had and not always the issues that we planned to work on through project design. Be those issues veterinary services for their bovines and canines or a COVID mask. Through such simple interventions funded by ourselves, the communities learned to trust us because we were not doing NGO b/s and trying to clear some weird-assed indicator or budget line which, in the complexity of rural development and conservation is mostly just plain mad. Through such efforts, we hope everyone engaged in COLIBRI including the EU and ACTED benefited although project budget lines, rules and agendas – logical though they are at the due-process and due-diligence level – meant zip in the field. The field is too pulsing, too breathing, too alive to be treated linearly. Those communal symphonies and cacophonies are both intense and ring-fenced within micro-geographic agro-ecologies and the plants, animals, people and nature that live therein. Under such scenarios, we cannot parachute an idea into their midst and believe it will take root and grow. Like all ecosystems, whatever grows there must be in harmony with everything else that grows there. These communities have their own rhythm of doing things and loving things or hating things. It is important for future efforts of the EU to have obtained that nugget through GMSL reports on COLIBRI. We know our EU team is smart and we know they will adjust based on our findings. That way we will not add to that global body of metadata on aid driven development by Dugoliogas and Paldam said 14 years ago where they found that the growth and the accumulation of such projects spanning 40 years is zero!
What then did we teach?
Easily and simply stated. We taught these wonderful communities to see themselves as they should. As men and women with strong hands and stronger minds that do not need a handout from an NGO that will allow them to kick the can of life down the road a few feet and temporarily postpone decision making. Life coaching if you may and not rhubarb rhubarb training or capacity building or awareness creation which has all been done ten trilling times over in the last 40 years to no effect at all.
What did we observe?
We observed a young single mother who goes by the name Thamara hoisting 50 kg stones in a wheelbarrow stone by stone from 300 meters away to build a wall for her spice garden. Did we say, as most nutjob NGO activists would say “oh god look at that woman suffering”? No. We saluted the woman. In that small neck of the Knuckles woods, we saw a woman who was better than three of their men. We will help her build her spice garden but we will never tell her not to put that sweat into it.
We observed a young forester who fought with his own superiors to ensure transparency to such an extent that they had him transferred but who nevertheless worked with the Greens to get nature trails running right, to get homestays running good, get produce growing back on firm rails.
We observed that 60% of the beneficiaries were fully committed to the work. Working with them was a joy because they understood the simple equation that if we give 10 and they give zero then 10×0 = 0. In most cases, when we gave 10 they gave 20. It was a joy to work with such strong people. 15% were somewhat committed but lazy. With a bit of additional coaching and more than one stern finger pointed in their general direction they eventually did come around. About 5% opted out. They saw no need for assistance or saw it as being just too much darn trouble so we let them be. And, finally, about 20% were in the program but not really in. They would grin and smile as we came by, have a table full of goodies for us and behind our backs work to derail the entire project. They were vicious, manipulative low-life who were a cancer on the KCF terrain. Not easy to eradicate. We are still fighting that bunch of jokers.
We observed that those who benefited from working with COLIBRI in the best sense were utilizing our intervention to further themselves in areas that we never even thought of. They were doing other businesses with their mobile phones, they were inventing new nature trails and they were creating new products and adding to the range of their fresh produce. They were actually working twice the amount of time they normally worked in the bad old days of agrotoxins and loving it.
We observed that the youth came into their own. They were going deep into the KCF and having chats with those one off guys who went in to get a bit of meat to feed the family and encouraging such blokes to become watchdogs themselves … dismissing that hare or this deer or the other sambhur simply because there was enough carrying capacity in the KCF. The man was a subsistence hunter for crying out loud and posed no real threat to the fauna but was steeped in lore of the various plants and animals and … what better person to be a watchdog than such a person? Another might frown and them and say, if you let one person through, everyone else will also go through but that is the mad “one size fits all” argument that has been so disastrous for environment conservation across the world.
We observed that we placed trust in many people who we should never have trusted. Some of them were our own staff. They tried their best to screw the effort for our beneficiaries. Luckily, Head Office was on to them quickly but it is a point worth noting. A “lesson learned” so to speak – ha!
We observed that impossible headwinds be those related to COVID19, national socioeconomic meltdowns or lead partner delays can be met head on if we possess stout hearts and indomitable resolve. Quietly, we can say we had both as that quote from Jacques Cœur that was the strapline to this piece attests: To a valiant heart, nothing is impossible.
What do we know?
*smiles* We know that COLIBRI has come to an end but that community livelihood improvement and biodiversity improvement are tasks that will never end. The project is over but the program continues.
COLIBRI is dead. Long Live community livelihood and biodiversity improvement.