Friday, December 13, 2013

   Spanish Headaches and Hydro-dams

    A Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Mini-Course

     "When you live on a round planet, there is no choosing sides." Wayne Dyer

I stood shyly in front of 20 people, including my boss and 19 other natural resource professionals that I had just met. "Disculpame, mi español no es perfecto" I said as I began to introduce a Director of a Guatemalan Univsersity. A part of me wanted to run away, pass at the opportunity to participate, in fear of what? People making fun of me for trying to speak their language? What is the worst that could happen? I will make a few mistakes. I recalled my days in France, when it dawned on me that I could try to speak, and eventually improve, or I could not say anything at all and have a very silent three months. With this re-affirmation I pushed my nervousness aside, smiled and did my best to introduce my new classmate. This 45 seconds on my Monday morning was a privotal moment, demolishing my fears and setting me up for a week of mini-presentations, rich conversations and enlightening presentations.  

Prior to my presentation debut!

I feel so grateful to have already had so many enriching experiences in my short 4 weeks working with the Model Forest Reventazon. The opportunity to participate in a Natural Resource Conflict Resolution course has been the highlight. This topic fascinates me, as it is at the heart, I think, of environmental and social sustainability. People need to find ways to work together and compromise to meet both the needs of humans and preserve, at least some of, the integrity of the environment. 

At the end of the week we were asked what we will take from the course. Here are three things that stood out for me.


1. Face your Fears

Did I make mistakes when I was speaking spanish? Of course. Did I sit there with a blank face when everyone else broke out in laughter at a joke? Yes, many times. Did I have a spanish-headache all week, and at some points think my head would explode? Most certainly. Would I do anything differently? Absolutely not. I don't even regret attempting to salsa! 

So often, we act, or don't act out of fear. Moreover, we don't take the time out of our busy days to ask ourselves, why are we fearful? What would happen if I did act? What would happen if I didn't? Although I was beyond my comfort zone, I felt liberated pushing past my fear of speaking spanish in front of a large group of people. Now, I have proved to myself I can do it, so there is no excuse to hold back next time. 

2. Canada, Canada, Canada....
Another Cuso Volunteer & I discuss the Oil Sands Conflict

Canada came up many times during the course. More than any other developed country, and it wasn't because they were singing our praises. Natural Resource Conflict and Canada are too often in the same sentence. Of course this was not a complete surprise, but it was the first time hearing the 'other side' of the story. In Canada, we may hear about Barrick's operations being stalled in Chile, or Rio Tinto's in Argentina, yet it is often written from a business standpoint. How will this affect the business of these mining giants? What does this mean for investor returns? Of course, it affects their corporate image, but the Canadian government and industry assure us (the public) that Canada is a world leader and moving "Towards Sustainable Mining"...whatever that means. That is not to say that the conflict is all on the part of the mining company, of course not. The dynamic is much more complex than that. There is a history of exploitation, disputes over land tenure, government granting concessions prior to any stakeholder consultation. But still, as a Canadian, I was a bit taken aback at how focused it was on Canada specifically (although the majority of the world's mining companies are Canadian), and in the typical Canadian spirit I found myself saying "sorry". 

3. You don't always have to take sides

Local farmer expresses why he opposes the dam
The most important lesson I learned, was that it is not always my job to take sides and make an argument (I can see my dad's grin as he reads this). We had a field day to assess a conflict over the potential building of a hydro-electric dam within the Model Forest boundaries. Part way through the day I found myself conflicted, I could see both sides, how was I going to decide who was right? Then I remembered our assignment: assess the conflict and look for ways forward. "When you live on a round planet, there is no choosing sides.", this quote has such a powerful message that I think we need to be more cognisant of on a daily basis in all acts of lifeWe are always so quick to judge, assume, discredit and take sides, perhaps without good reason or where it is not our role to do so. Rather, the challenge is to remain objective, assess both viewpoints and be creative in looking for ways to constructively move forward.

Natural Resources and conflict are two words that are too often put beside each other. Wouldn't Natural Resource Collaboration sound much better? 


The group at the end of a great field day, overlooking the Pacuare river 

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