May 8th Global Social: Latin America

By Anna Jensen-Clem

Tonight marked Global Washington’s third Global Social event, hosted by the HUB Seattle; the focus this time was Latin America. The three speakers focused primarily on development programs in Latin America and detailed their respective work across different sectors in the region.

Mauricio Vivero, Executive Director of the Seattle International Foundation spoke briefly about SIF’s model and introduced their basic program structure. After a brief overview of US-Central American history, Vivero placed SIF’s goals in context, saying that the organization believes that “true change comes from the bottom up, not the top down.” The Seattle International Foundation emphasizes building global capacity through “training health workers, women leaders, [and] creating economic opportunity to make countries more prosperous, more safe, and more equal.” By providing grants to Seattle-area groups that work overseas, Vivero said, SIF assists “thousands of people, like yourselves, who spend your day trying to make the world a better place.”

To that end, SIF has launched the Seattle Ambassador program—created to celebrate our development community. They invite anyone over the age of 18 who lives in Washington State to sign up and see how Seattle organizations are changing the world.

Katie Chandler, Program Director of Etta Projects spoke powerfully about the organization’s somewhat unorthodox approach to development. Rather than choose a specific sector and develop programs around it, Etta Projects determines each community’s “circumstances of poverty” and responds to all issues in a community. By adapting  projects to reflect what they need at a particular moment, Etta encourages local municipalities to contribute and maintain connection with rural communities. By “building a bridge” between rural communities and local municipalities, Etta provides new resources and opportunities for rural communities to care for their own health and to take advantage of programs that already exist. They have also started a local education program in Pierce County to teach kids about global education issues—water scarcity, the difference between poverty and extreme poverty and how it changes in different areas, and generally “opening ideas to youth” that normally aren’t on their radar.

Art Donnelly of SeaChar spoke passionately about the need for clean, environmentally efficient stoves in Costa Rica. Respiratory disease, usually triggered by breathing contaminated air from cooking fires, he said, is the leading cause of death among children under 10 years old and among agricultural workers in Costa Rica, and across Latin America. Clean stoves reduce carbon monoxide by over 80% and reduce inhaled particulate matter by over 90%, thus reducing incidences of death and disease across all ages.

Donnelly acknowledged that although clean cookstoves can be expensive to produce and distribute, SeaChar has developed a workshop training method and buyback policy, whereby they purchase charcoal produced by cooking fires and give families the financial resources to purchase a clean cookstove. In the last six months, 30 families participating in this program have produced 3.2 tons of charcoal; two tons have been put back in the ground and some has been re-sold to the government or to companies who burn charcoal. At this point, although the market exists for clean-burning stoves, and the materials are readily available, the stoves must still be transformed into a durable consumer product that can reach the more than 10 million people in Latin America who would benefit.

All told, about 25 people attended, and a large majority of those work directly in Latin America. After the presentations, attendees resumed networking, connecting, and chatting over wine, chips, and salsa.