Entravistas y Grupos focales…and more…
So I finally arrive in Pedro Moncayo County to live for three weeks. Ines (a social sciences student from Cali), Morgan (a political science student from Seattle) and I lived in Tabacundo and worked together to complete an important part of the first project. We were supposed to conduct 21 interviews and 8 focus groups in 3 weeks. This may not sound like a lot to do in that period of time, but time here is just not the same as in the States or in a big city in Ecuador for that matter. Needless to say, things were a bit hard to organize at first with everyone’s schedule, etc, etc., but we ended up completing everything, but 2 interviews and 1 focus group. They’ll be done after I’m gone….
But first let me tell you about where I stayed and a little about the area…Tabacundo is the largest of the towns in Pedro Moncayo, it’s the capital and also contains the most flower plantations out of the 5 parroquias. In fact, it’s pretty much surrounded by these floricolas (flower plantations) on all sides…and yet I still brushed my teeth with the water….hmm…well, anyhow I stayed with a family well known in the county. La senora was Zoila Espinosa and there are about 500 relatives in this small town of a few thousand. One of her brothers (there are seven in her immediate family) wrote a book about their heritage in Pedro Moncayo with pictures of many ancestors (I think their family has been there since the early 1800’s). Zoila has only one daughter, Estella, about my age who works in the sales department of a big flower plantation that only sells to Russia. Ecuador has various markets around the world, United States being the biggest, but Russia coming in second. The process is an interesting one for each market because they raise the flowers differently (in Russia they like the flowers to be very long-stemmed and have a big blossom, it’s different than those for the states and other countries). Well, Estella certainly has a different view on the flower industry than others I’ve talked to, so it was really great that we were able to talk to her as well as workers and others in the community.
The house was located in the middle of the town, which was nice and close to everything, but not too far from el campo (country-side), where I went for many lovely runs in the morning (great, not to have smog from the passing cars, like in Quito), but an occasional wiff of pesticides that were recently sprayed reminded me of how contaminated the environment might be (I say that because there still must be a lot of research done to prove the contamination exists). In general, it was lovely staying in an area surrounded by the Andes’ mountains and had a beautiful view of Cayambe (snow-covered) everyday, but it was cold (so much for a hot summer in South America). I especially loved the food that Dona Grey made (the woman that helped cook and clean in the house-it’s very common for a lot of people to have help around the house here) because she is from the coast and makes some good fish and shrimp. Yumm!!
Well, onto work stuff…So a day after arriving we had a meeting about what we would be doing and how it would get done. Basically we divided the work into teams—we were working with two community leaders, Frank (an engineer & works with the youth of the community) and German (a lawyer & his wife was the ex-mayor of the town). We also worked with Sebastian, he was hired by Cimas to help with the project, mostly to help with the political aspect and doing the focus groups and interviews. Well, I worked with Frank, which was fun because we talked a lot about his work with the youth and some of the history of the town. Interestingly enough, Frank is organizing an international youth human rights conference in Tabacundo for many youth leaders in Latin America. I only wish I could be there for it, but it’s in September.
So we used our interview guide we had made up earlier and set out to get our 7 interviews done. The guide was pretty long, 51 questions, and asked mostly questions about the perceptions and knowledge of pesticide use in PM. We tried to interview people from all working groups and communities in order to get a well-rounded view of what was going on. So the first day Ines, Morgan and I went over to the municipal building to set up some interviews. That was interesting and somewhat of a cultural clash because we thought it best to schedule a day or two ahead, but that’s not how most things work in the community. Most people wanted to interview the same day or that same moment we arrived. Since the interview guide was still being revised we couldn’t do interviews that day, but it was a lesson learned that things in small towns just happen that same moment and schedules and appointments are not the most useful of tools for them.
Well, all in all Frank and I interviewed our 7 people—a doctor who worked in the community clinic & in the flower plantations; the priest of Tabacundo who has witnessed the changes over the years; a school director & leader of the CIID, a community branch of the government; a councilwoman; a veterinarian who sells fertilizers and other products for agriculture in PM; a small flower plantation owner; and a man who works for a company that gives out small loans to local farmers. The other two teams interviewed others from the local government, community group leaders, flower plantation workers, flower plantation owners (one was very interesting-he was head of the flower plantation corporation-Expoflores) and others.
The results from these interviews were varied, but in general there was a realization from everyone that the flower industry and the local agriculture were contributing to the contamination of the county and that there was a lack of knowledge and ability to prevent more pollution from occurring. Many stated that the health effects of the pesticides were apparent in many communities, but the county did not have the capacity to help many of those affected by pesticide exposure. Some of the stories told about personal effects or those of others were heart breaking, but most made me realize how big businesses can change entire communities and ways of life over a period of a decade or two. On one hand the business has provided many jobs to the community, so they no longer have to travel an hour or two to find work. The salary and availability of jobs have helped local business to grow as many more people come from around the country to find work in PM. As a result many the population of the county has doubled or so in 20 years. However, there have been some serious consequences in health of the community, contamination of the environment, changing of cultural norms, production of agricultural goods, family structure, safety of the community and many other aspects.
In general, we found similar results from the focus groups we did. We conducted 7 of the 8 groups which included 2 groups of flower plantation workers, 2 groups of agricultural workers, a group of healthcare workers, a community group and one that included government & community leaders. I thought some of the responses were better in these groups because people were able to spin ideas and comments off one another. I especially liked hearing from those that worked in flower plantations to hear what the conditions were like.
Well, this has been a long enough entry. I’ll be writing a couple more and include pictures and little more about the experiences I had visiting a flower plantation, going for an outing at a local hotspring, going to the beach and some more fun things. See you all soon!