- The Caribbean, Dominican Republic
When I arrived in my community as the promised agroforestry technician and Peace Corps Volunteer, a number of men said to me, "I thought we were getting a man."
I usually smiled and replied, "There must have been some sort of horrible mistake." They would smile back, and I would swallow hard, knowing my work was more than cut out for me. Living in a remote village in the mountains was difficult, but getting the male farmers to look to a female technician for help with their land seemed impossible.
For the first few months, a male technician working for a local nongovernmental organization took me under his wing. I accompanied him to the farmers' properties and began to get to know a few of the farmers this way. After some time mostly observing their work, I began to ask my own questions and make my own suggestions. I found the technician less responsive to me than the farmers were. I knew that I would have to make my break from the technician soon, or the locals would never listen to me. I took advantage of the days when the technician did not come up the mountain to work with the farmers one on one.
I would help the farmers with their work, talking about projects and possibilities for their land. I asked many questions and learned much more alone with the farmers than when I was with the technician. Nevertheless, in the first six months, I got very little accomplished with the men. In the meantime, I started a home-garden workshop for the women, to strengthen the existing gardens. We had weekly meetings and demonstrations, and each week worked in a different garden.
After spending months on the gardens, I tried once again to turn my attention to the farmers. Some days I would find myself alone, planting a hundred trees, and some days, with a group of farmers, planting 2,000 trees. I continued to wake up early every morning and strap on my work boots. After nine months working in my site, I had established a few strong friendships with farmers. I encouraged them to start building soil barriers in the dry season, in preparation for the next rains. Then, one morning, a farmer came to my house and asked me if I would like to come out to his land to start building barriers. I looked into his face, expecting him to laugh, but he was serious. In that moment, I felt nine months of persistence and struggle all come together.
After I worked a few weeks with that farmer, some of the other farmers came to me asking to build barriers as well. With three farmers and other helpers, we formed a work party and rotated our work among the different pieces of land. In two months, we had established more than 11,000 feet of barriers and I had created a strong bond with these men, who now talk with me daily about work and projects.
As a woman who works with male farmers all day long, while their wives stay close to home cooking, washing clothes, and tending to children, I am challenged every day. The work in the fields is often physically demanding, but with sheer persistence, I have managed to convince most of the farmers in my community that my work is useful. Although it took time to wedge myself into the farmers' lives, I feel I have accomplished something great. Today, I spend most of my time with the farmers. Recently, they even voted and made me the official "educator" of their farmers' association.