By Ian McGroarty, Program Director
In early February 2012, Leo was introduced to me after he had already been elected by the community to be Alma’s Trout Farm Administrator. The first of the two main impressions I had of him after that meeting was that he was shy. Shyness is common in indigenous Andean people. When meeting someone, it is common that he or she will not look you in the eyes while talking to you and answers to questions rarely provide more than the bare minimum necessary. Nevertheless, despite this cultural shyness, Leo was extra shy. He was soft spoken; and was more concerned about thanking me for the opportunity to be the Administrator than about finding out how to actually fulfill the demands of his new position.
For me, hoping for an administrator who could take charge of and control a project, the shyness was a little worrisome. But the other impression Leo gave me somewhat alleviated my concern.
After talking for some time, it was obvious that Leo, more so than the average 22 year old, wanted to learn. Leo finished secondary school in Patacancha, and had even tried to continue studying in an institute in Cusco but was unable to continue due to economic constraints. The reason that he continually thanked me for the position was because he saw it as a second chance at learning a skill- something he could use professionally.
We both decided that day, that if he truly wanted to learn, we would help him learn as much as possible to study the technical demands of running a trout farm.
Over the past year, through various workshops and training sessions with local trout farm technicians and experts, we have done just that.
Fast forward to last month. By then Leo and I had built a more open and trusting relationship. His shyness had been gradually fading and he had even been elected as Secretary of Patacancha’s community government. Leo invited me to the community assembly to see and comment on the four year community development plan he and the other community officers developed*. Who I saw in the assembly was a different Leo.
The shy, soft spoken person I met over a year earlier was now the confident and self-assured leader of the community. Leo lead the discussion of the assembly, introducing each topic with constructive background information and moving the various debates along with authority but also the ability to assure that everyone had the chance to speak and be heard. First I was surprised. Then I realized that I shouldn’t be surprised because I had seen flashes of this side of Leo before. Part of me questioned if perhaps he had always been this way, and just hid it from me. But then I thought about how much time we had spent together, both privately and in public assemblies, and this was a definite change. So instead of surprised I was impressed. And finally, on top of impressed, I was proud.
Leo has become a true leader. I wish I could give the credit for his transformation to his position in Alma’s Trout Farm Project, but that wouldn’t be fair to Leo. Leo’s drive to always learn more and always improve is the reason that he has become the person of influence that he is. It is the reason that he was first elected to be the project’s Administrator, and the reason that he was then elected Secretary of Patacancha.
I look forward to what else Leo has in store for his community and for the Alma Foundation.
No matter what surprises Leo has left to show, if any, we are all lucky that he is an integral part of our project in Patacancha. He is a shining example that despite all the project plans and budgets, the true force of change are the people willing to put in the effort and make it happen.
*Some quick background information: 1) A couple months earlier, Leo asked me to meet with the rest of the community government to explain some of the many processes of project development. I accepted and we talked development theory and strategy for hours. It was great. 2) I generally avoid community assemblies. I always attend Parents’ Association assemblies because all topics relate to the school and, inevitably, the Alma project happening in the community. In community assemblies however, EVERY topic in the community is discussed. EVERYTHING. This means anything from large concerns such as the pros and cons of allowing a private company to install electricity in the community to smaller things like whose sheep ate Juan’s potato crop. They last the entire day.