Thoughts and Reflections about how UCB Beahrs ELP Influenced My Career

by Ronny Roma (ELP 2006), Guatemala

Image iconChinantecs-300x224_2.jpg Farmer to farmer exchange between Nahuas and Chinantecs at Tosepan Titataniske Organization in Cuetzalana, Puebla.

The first time I heard something about the Beahrs ELP Program was in Nairobi, Kenya at the Ecoagriculture Conference (held in 2004) where I met Dr. Robin Marsh, the co-director of the program at that time. She explained to me clearly what the program's aim was and motivated me to apply. I analyzed it but perhaps I thought I was too young then to fulfill the program's experience requirements. I wanted to apply for the 2005 program, but many institutional changes at the Guatemalan National Council of Protected Areas delayed my decision to apply. Dr. Robin Marsh never gave up in her efforts to motivate me, and I finally applied in 2006 and was also granted a scholarship. Thus, I was finally able to attend this course at one of the best universities in the world.  I tried to prepare everything I needed to share my work. At Berkeley, when I arrived at the room facilities and met my roommate, I received a nice surprise. He was Aman Singh from Rajasthan, India, a person I met at the Ecoagriculture Conference in Nairobi two years before. That made it easier to organize and explore the campus and nearby places.

Then little by little, I started to meet other participants from all over the world and learn about their experiences. I realized that all human beings have expectations, dreams and lessons to share: it doesn't matter which ethnic, religious or social background they come from. I remember my good times with Henyo, Valentina, Celia, Jens, Staline, Aman, Beatus, Kofo, Baraka, Staline and Eileen, and all the love, passion and care they put into their workplaces and projects. The ELP taught me the state of art about several socio-environmental issues. I learned how to use practical and non-expensive tools to create empathy, strengthen relations and create a more sustainable world by considering local contexts and factors that are commonly overlooked or misunderstood. So I went back to my home country with new skills, new friends and motivation to promote changes in my work.

This moved me to get closer to communities, indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations. In 2008 I decided to apply for the ELP's Buck Kingman Small Grant Initiative (SGI). My project was aimed to improving a process in which two governmental organizations, three municipalities and one NGO were involved to promote natural resources conservation without forbidding local communities from accessing these resources in the Guatemalan Central Volcanic Chain. That was a great opportunity to share and put into practice the knowledge on Collaborative Leadership gained in the ELP and to train local communities. Surprisingly, these communities were never included in any training session related to local decision making about natural resource use in their forests. The advice of Dr. Robin Marsh and Byron Miranda (from the Inter American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, Costa Rica) gave us valuable guidance for creating an interesting training program that enhanced not just conservation, but supported the provision of local necessities too.

Although I had job stability, I started to believe that it reduced my options to do something different. Hence, I decided to leave my job and acquire new knowledge by studying for a Masters degree in Mexico. During that time I personally met the Global Diversity Foundation's Mesoamerican team, with whom I collaborated in Guatemala in 2007. They further invited me to collaborate with them. When I obtained my degree in 2011, I started to collaborate as Field Coordinator of this organization. Undoubtedly I would have never reached that stage without the skills acquired at the ELP in 2006, and especially Dr. Robin Marsh's advice.

Considering the new challenges I faced in my work, I applied again to the SGI in 2011. However, lack of funding due to the international economic crisis affected the development of the project. Later in 2012, I again applied with a proposal to develop farmer-to-farmer exchanges between selected Chinantecs leaders from two communities in Mexico - Usila, Oaxaca and the Tosepan Titataniske Cooperative members from Cuetzalan, Puebla. The SGI funding allowed me to establish a project where the Chinantecs were able to share their knowledge and ideas about land management practices and in turn, learn about the sustainability practices carried out by the Tosepan Titataniske Nahuas and Totonacs members.

Thus, the ELP was undoubtedly a turning point in my life and career. The skills and knowledge shared by the professors and peers during those three weeks were fundamental to the decisions I made further in my life. The friends I gained have continuously shared their thoughts and reflections over the years and the SGI has complemented my abilities to offer ground-level solutions to farmers and indigenous groups, considering their thoughts, belief system and traditional way of life. The seed for these activities was planted while I attended the ELP and continued to grow inside me after I left Berkeley.