Listening to Local Voices : Storytellers Around the Globe
In the US, there is a heightened sense that the rules of our political and economic system seem
broken, and that our legacies of racism and colonialism are connected to that. But what do
these issues look like from the perspective of storytellers around the globe, namely Groundswell International’s partner organizations in Africa, the Americas and South Asia?
Groundswell works to address big-picture challenges by starting locally. To do so, we try to stay
grounded in the insights, wisdom and priorities of our partner organizations and the
communities they work with. Over the last six months I’ve made it a point to interview leaders
from each of our partner organizations, to listen more deeply to their stories.
How are they experiencing and responding to these tumultuous times? How should we respond and support
them? Although I know it to be true, I’ve been struck by the common threads that interconnect us, regardless of our geography. Yet, the complicated circumstances of our geography often impact how we experience global themes.
For example, the forces of political power and decision making are too often
disconnected from the practical and economic needs of communities. This is true in cases of
outright government dysfunction and corruption, but also often where the political rules may
look pretty good on paper. Of course, the marginalized indigenous and farming communities
we work with have long faced painful histories of oppression and exclusion.
The work of Groundswell and our partner organizations starts with recognizing that, and with approaches
developed by local leaders over decades to reverse those dynamics. We seek to recreate
healthier connections, linking the power of people and communities to meet their priority
needs and generate real solutions from the ground up.
Here are some excerpts from a few these conversations, with more to come:
Bern Guri, Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD), Ghana
“The law we are trying to avoid has been passed, and this law is a so-called plant variety
protection law… which says that if a farmer acquires seed from these seed breeders, you are
not allowed to select it. It criminalizes local farmers. Culturally, (selecting and sharing seed) is
what we do. To even share the seed with other farmers or other family and people around, if
you do that you are liable to go to jail …
I would like to see a country in which we have established systems that help communities
organize themselves and take charge of their own affairs to be able to decide what they want
to do and have that alternative to do that. …. For me, the … thing that keeps me moving is this
concept of endogenous development, which we at CIKOD have been trying to promote…
(We also) talk about intergenerational learning. How do we transfer our knowledge to the
Ross Mary Borja, EkoRural, Ecuador
“We have a constitution that strongly supports “pluri-nationalism.” … According to the
constitution indigenous peoples … should be included in these decisions. But in practice this
The neoliberal sectors of our country have followed policies of the IMF and InterAmerican
Development Bank (IDB)… For example the government doesn’t focus on campesino family
farming … there is no real budget dedicated to smallholder production.
There is a massive migration of young people from rural areas… I believe we need to return our
focus to training community leaders … supporting new processes that allow communities to
respond to these new challenges.
Agroecology has been a space for development for women. For example … women’s
associations started working with household vegetable gardens … which strengthened their
organizations. Agroecology created space for them to pursue larger changes. Agroecology
allows them to have better health … and is a space to link with other women. It has allowed
them to engage with markets, not only customary markets where there is little space
differentiate or negotiate for what they do. Women have become actors spreading this to their
farms and communities….
I believe success for us means resilient communities, that can take their own decisions … (For
people) to express their identity and pride in being farmers … with all the pride of what I am
We know that we share common interests in a more just and sustainable world. This is larger
dream that Groundswell and the member organizations share and are working towards.”
Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Partnership for Local Development (PDL), Haiti
“If you remember the system in South Africa, Apartheid, we knew some kind of Apartheid in
Haiti, but at a different level. Because even when you are in the countryside, the remote areas
in the mountains, there are small cities, big cities, and also there is the question of the color of
people. I have suffered this situation. When I came from my rural community to go to school in
even in this very small city, I (was) treated like moun andeyò (“outside people” or peasants).
… PDL is progressively building organic community organizations … build(ing) the capacity of
those organization … In spite of the difficulties, we have to look for ways to scale up what we
are currently doing and also to highlight those initiatives inspired from our (community)
We are Haitians in Haiti, and each one (of us) can contribute to changing the world by changing
things where we are.
And we (also) have to learn from good examples … and I think Groundswell is playing and can
continue to play a very key role in sharing good examples (and) lessons from many different
I remember there was an African president … who said while other people are trying to go to
the moon, we are trying to go to the village … Let those people go to the moon. For us, let us
go to the village.”
The Next Chapter of Stories
I’m continuing to listen to the stories of our partners to work to understand their realities, challenges, and opportunities and how Groundswell can continue to evolve to support them. But, the stories don’t stop, or start, there. In 2022, we will be sharing stories from a very important group of people – youth. What do struggles look like to those coming of age in difficult times? What perspectives are being shaped? What can we do to help them not only survive their circumstances but being to shape them into a future where they can thrive?
If you want to be a part of this very important storytelling work, you can do that here.