Innovación y diseño en un espacio de reincorporación de la Farc

Tool that facilitates the opening of furrows in crops once the earth is prepared, created in the international design meeting in Guaviare. / Photos: Courtesy Unal
Tool that facilitates the opening of furrows in crops once the earth is prepared, created in the international design meeting in Guaviare. / Photos: Courtesy Unal

Innovation and design in a reincorporation space of the Farc

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Natalia Herrera Durán - @ Natal1aH


Google translation to English:

Ex-combatants, peasants, students and national and foreign academics lived together for 16 days and developed, among all, prototypes with recycled materials to purify water, press cheeses and plow the land while pedaling a bicycle. An example of reconciliation. 

The town is in Colinas, located in the Guaviare. There is Ivan Ali, or Nelson Enrique Díaz, as nobody calls him, even if that says his card. Iván Moreno Guajiro, 42 years old, a chemical engineer, was part of the Central Staff of the FARC and today coordinates this village of 250 houses and 370 ex-combatants.

It was Saturday when a committee of 85 people arrived at the Territorial Training and Reintegration Space (ETCR) Jaime Pardo Leal. The most numerous visit they have had, but not the only one. Up to that point, dozens of people have moved, driven by curiosity and empathy, interested in their stories about the days of the war and their way of thinking and living after the signing of the Peace Agreement of Havana (Cuba).

Even so, the expectation for this visit was different. Days before, more than 200 tools had arrived in dumpsters: presses, sanders, jigsaws, pliers, hammers, cutters, drills, polishers, saws, screwdrivers and nails. The curious did not stop wondering why so much. Everything seemed ready in this small town of ex-guerrillas for the International Meeting of Design for Development (IDDS, for its acronym in English), organized by the National University of Colombia and the IDIN network (International Development Innovation Network), linked to the Technological Institute of Massachusetts (MIT).

A meeting that has been held for 11 years in Ghana, the United States, Kenya, Colombia, among other countries. That was the reason why peasants of the Guaviare, ex-guerrillas, students and professionals from Cali, Medellín, Bogotá, Barranquilla, Vaupés and Boyacá arrived in that corner, along with 15 foreigners from Costa Rica, Brazil, France, Ecuador, Mexico, United States, and Norway. Among them Amy Smith, the founder of the International Laboratory of Innovation for Development of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Photo caption: Amy Smith, founder of the International Laboratory for Innovation for Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at the ETCR Jaime Pardo Leal.

Your bet: live for 16 days in the same space with the purpose of developing, among all, low-cost technologies to improve living conditions and identify opportunities for the region. "For many, it was a new and fantastic event, it was to build better conditions for a place with the help of peasants and ex-guerrillas," says Jairo Alexis Rodríguez, director of Research and Extension at the National University of Colombia.

See some of these designs and tools here

Behind the meeting that took place between January 20 and February 4, 2018, there were months of prior preparation and allies that allowed it, such as the UN Verification Mission, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Governor's Office of Guaviare. An international call was launched and there was a process of selecting the participants. About 300 people showed up and 50 were chosen, most of them had already participated in international meetings or had worked with communities.

The first task consisted of creating teams and making the tables where they were going to work, everything: the legs and the wooden crossbars that saw and prepared days before the organizers. At the beginning they did not have daylight, because of a problem with the plant and, therefore, everything was more complex, even water was scarce. In addition, the one that was not so drinkable, that's why several foreigners got sick in the stomach. None of this was enough to diminish his desire to carry out the projects.

"One spoke with his fingers to make himself understood with those who did not speak Spanish. I remember that after two days Professor Stan said: 'good morning', "Ivan said.

Innovation at low cost

Freddy Candia is Bolivian and founded four years ago a project called Cochabamba Pedal Project. Freddy specialized in the construction of bicimáquinas to solve problems of the communities without the need of electrical fluid. The objective can be varied, the source of energy is the same, the pedal.

That's why Freddy's participation was important in getting the idea out of one of the groups: a bi-mill for the production of natural concentrates for animal husbandry. "If they can do it, they do not have to buy it", is the logic, and the concentrate is used a lot by farmers to feed their pigs and chickens. Freddy promised to return to Guaviare. The community was excited when he told them that he would give them courses to make bi-labs or bicyclists.

In Colinas, the peasant community produces cheese in a very traditional way and they had already had some health problems. For that reason, one of the working groups concentrated on this issue. In the end, they created a wooden press that facilitated their elaboration and their own brand of cheese with products from their territory such as achiote, turmeric, chili, cocoa, and sweet and bitter coca leaf.

The same leaflet that in the fight against drugs has stigmatized them and to which they thank so much also because it has been the sustenance of their families. In fact, one of the US participants said he had contacts and relations with markets in his country that would be interested in these cheeses. The project did not die when the meeting ended.

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Caption: Some of the activities of the meeting were aimed at strengthening group work.
Without barriers

"I was impressed that there were no gender pods, there was the human being, thinking, working," says Ali, with his coastal accent, and refers to the fact that during the meeting men and women designed and hammered alike. Marilyn Holguín and María Elisa Palacios were some of them. Marilyn is a biologist and has a master's degree in biotechnology and María Elisa is a sanitary and environmental engineer.

They were in the group that devised a water purifier, since the liquid they consume, which comes from nearby rivers, is not treated and often makes them sick. They made a kind of inverted umbrella, made with a guerrilla tent, to catch the rain, which in the Guaviare is constant. As well as a system of filtration and disinfection of water with sunlight that is known in the design world as SODIS, and uses plastic bottles.

"The tools are not only left in the territory after the meeting, but they are learned to do. That's why in each group there are at least three people from the community, "explains Jairo Alexis Rodríguez and gives another example to understand that idea of making simple developments that improve life:" To work cocoa, the grain is heated and peeled with the hand, but as it is so hot the peasants burn constantly. That is why a simple sieve was created that left the cocoa clean and a toaster was built with two welded pots and a propeller. "They are very simple things that one can apply in the field and get good ideas that are not too expensive for us farmers to put into practice," says Alexis Cifuentes, from the village of Cerro Azul del Guaviare.

You may be interested: Farc professionals seek to advise productive projects

What comes next?

In the reincorporation space, the tools remained and that is why now they seek to create a center of innovation and development so that the peasants and ex-combatants have a place to solve some problems. The governor of Guaviare, Nebio Echeverry Cadavid, committed himself to the issue and said he will present a project to obtain resources for this purpose. The photo was historical: a governor and Ivan Ali, the former guerrilla commander, sharing a table and cause.

The idea of another event also came out of the international design meeting. They have thought about it for the second semester of the year. It is a construction workshop with guadua that will be given by Colombian professor Alonso Correa. The American academic Stan Ruecker, of the University of Illinois (United States), also wants to return to Guaviare, and this time he will do it with some of his students.

Capture and purify water, cut and reuse bottle plastic, produce artisanal cheeses with its own brand, elaborate routes and tourist interests in the region, manage and take advantage of organic waste, create tools to make agriculture more efficient and build a playground for children. of the projects that materialized at the close of the meeting.

"The most important thing was that nobody had preventions. We were all unarmed. Around the knowledge and social problems do not prepare armies or rages, simply seek solutions to live better together, "concludes Ivan, and in that they agree Jairo and other participants who see in these spaces an honest way of reconciliation.