Every teacher knows that the start of a new school year inevitably brings some teething troubles with the timetable. It can’t be helped. Plans carefully worked out in the office sometimes look very different when put into practice by real people. This is a challenge the Nuevas Esperanzas team is facing as the sustainable tourism project for the Telica Volcano reserve enters its second year.
As part of the project, a cooperative has been formed, made up of thirteen people from the communities closest to the volcano. Developing this cooperative is as complex as building an intricate machine. It is as if the various parties involved represent the moving parts - if all are working out of sync, the initiative grinds to a halt. In a recent team meeting, members of the Nuevas Esperanzas team discussed the difficulties of coordinating efforts in order to build a strong cooperative. The parties involved include the Nuevas Esperanzas team, the Mayor of Telica's office, members of the cooperative and the residents of the communities involved in the project. The target is to have the tourism business up and running in August. With only a few months to go, the critical question becomes how to prepare the guides and members of the cooperative in a thorough yet efficient way.
Last year, classes began with a geology course. This year, given the time available, training sessions need to be more intensive. When classes for the tour guides began in January 2015, members of the community decided they could dedicate two days a week to the training sessions. These included courses on business skills, pricing, client interactions, and basic English skills, as well as special sessions for beekeeping. Despite their good intentions, members of the community found it difficult to attend classes twice a week, and it quickly became apparent that attendance levels represented a challenge which needed attention. Another meeting was held and the tour guides decided they should only receive training once a week on a Friday.
Discussing the situation, the Nuevas Esperanzas team felt that one day a week was barely enough time to create an independent tourism cooperative by August. The discussion in the office focussed on the challenges of implementing this kind of development project. It was clear that the structure of the classes needed revision, but agreeing on a viable solution proved difficult.
Several plans were presented. One included squeezing all possible classes in on a Friday – this plan was soon dismissed for lack of time. Other options included developing a few training routes from which members of the cooperative and tour guides could choose. This gave rise to yet more questions: how would each person know which classes they would prefer? How many guides are needed for each one of the tours to be offered? Should everyone receive English classes, and, if so, to what level? What if there are too few students in a certain class for it to be possible to carry on the work in the years to come? Can the guides and the cooperative be ready in time with only one day of training each week?
After much discussion, it was decided that Nuevas Esperanzas should offer several routes, each including English classes, which allow students to specialise in particular skills as well. Not everyone needs to be an expert in everything, but many aspects of the training on offer do overlap. Some people will have to run the kitchen, cooking all the food at the café, others will guide tours up to the crater of the volcano, and still others will take tourists round the model farm.
One of the challenges identified during the team discussion is that no-one really knows what life will look like for the guides and the cooperative once the Telica volcano reserve is fully functioning for tourists. Tourists are already going to Telica to see the crater but this project will develop the potential of the area on a much wider scale. It is hard for those who are so dependent on their crops for their food and their income to imagine an alternative. Giving up a day working in the fields to learn about something which has the potential to change their situation completely, but is not yet a reality, takes courage and a long-term perspective that is difficult to grasp. The team in the office can much more easily imagine the impact this project could have on the lives and livelihoods of the communities close to Telica. But of course, a plan made in the office needs to be flexible – things do not work the same way when real people begin to put that plan into practice. One thing is for sure, training on Telica is proving a steep but rewarding learning curve for all concerned.