Due to isolation, rural communities often have limited access to employment, health care, education, and resources such as information and communications technology. A culture of dependency tends to arise from these circumstances.

Angela-conversing-with-change-agents-6_webThrough the cCLEAR Proof of Concept Project, CEN aimed to transform the economic opportunities of communities within the Middle Amazon by creating a culture of learning through accessing and applying information, where communities become truly empowered with the skills and attitudes to accomplish their objectives.

The objectives of the cCLEAR Proof of Concept Project were to:

  1. Test and implement the PRATICAR Learning Approach, a sustainable and cost-effective methodology that fosters a culture of learning and empowerment and provides skills which participants can successfully apply to a range of community development priorities.
  2. Ensure that the participants continue their development efforts more independently as well as become role models for future efforts to serve other communities in the region.
  3. Create a solid platform for subsequent activities in these communities aimed at creating and sustaining micro and small enterprises through which families can meet their economic needs, become effective stewards of their environment and adapt — but not abandon — their unique way of life.

The Problem

Due to isolation, rural communities often have limited access to employment, health care, education, and resources such as information and communications technology. A culture of dependency tends to arise from these circumstances, along with the all too often paternalistic attitudes of governmental and nongovernmental organizations. CEN aims to transform rural communities by creating a culture of learning through accessing and applying information, where communities become truly empowered with the skills and attitudes to accomplish their objectives. Instead of communities saying “I can’t” and waiting passively for someone to give or do for them, they will say “I can” and figure out how to achieve their objective on their own.

The two communities where CEN implemented the cCLEAR project were Suruacá and Maguary in the Brazilian Amazon basin. The approximately 500 residents are largely dependent on farming, hunting, and fishing. This means they are vulnerable to economic crises such as a poor harvest, health-care emergencies, and other unpredictable events. There are very few employment options in the rural Amazon.

Suruacá and Maguary, like many other isolated and traditional communities in the Brazilian Amazon, tend to have difficulty adapting to the rapid modernization of today’s world. Operating in modern society requires the use of vast amounts of diverse information, much of which is structured in very different ways from those which residents are accustomed. They must also interact with diverse cultures, behaviors and ways of thinking, which often doesn’t come naturally. There have been great efforts to install computers and Internet access in the developing world in order to “bridge the digital divide.” These are very powerful tools, but their great potential has not been fully realized due largely to the inability of residents to process information and apply it to their needs. Although CEN and others have improved infrastructure in Suruacá and Maguary through technology and transportation, these communities must be able to manage their own resources; otherwise, they will be managed by others for them — to the benefit of others. Today many of their resources — their youth, money and forest resources — are being drained to nearby cities.

Project Objectives

This project was a proof of concept for CEN’s comprehensive, integrated approach aimed at sustainably transforming the economic opportunities of communities within the Middle Amazon region of Brazil.

The objectives of the cCLEAR Proof of Concept Project were to:

  1. Test and implement the PRATICAR Learning Approach, a sustainable and cost-effective methodology that fosters a culture of learning and empowerment, and provides hard and soft skills which participants can successfully apply to a range of community development priorities.
  2. Ensure that the participants continue their development efforts more independently as well as become role models for our future efforts to serve other communities in the region, as a result of the skills and confidence they acquire.
  3. Create a solid platform for subsequent activities in these communities (and others) aimed at creating and sustaining micro and small enterprises through which families can meet their economic needs, become effective stewards of their environment and adapt — but not abandon — their unique way of life.

Activities

We worked with 30 thought and action leaders (including health care workers, teachers, youth, entrepreneurs, and women’s groups) in Suruacá and Maguary. The project focused on developing essential skills and mindsets as well as entrepreneurship skills. The instruction team developed a methodology called the PRATICAR Learning Approach, which is a cycle of discovery-based activities, mentoring and discussions between each participant and facilitator, which strengthens essential basic skills and habits of participants.

CEN partnered with Link Social, a Brazilian-registered nonprofit based in Rio de Janeiro, to implement the project.

The project ran from May 2008 to October 2009 in Suruacá and May 2008 to December 2009 in Maguary. CEN sought to build the skills of the 30 thought and action leaders by mentoring them on a variety of personal income-generation projects, including new personal businesses, rubber products, and ecotourism.

The first two months were spent selecting the 30 participants, mapping out what resources they had and what skills were needed, meeting with participants to determine what skills and projects they wanted to work on, developing lesson plans, and other preparatory work.

In months two through 12, the instruction cycle took place:

  • Custom activities were created for each participant based on their needs. Although some activities were similar, the specifics often differed. Each participant profile outlines some of the specific activities that helped the participants achieve success.
  • The PRATICAR Learning Approach was used to help participants.

Status

The project concluded in September 2009, somewhat abruptly, due to the resignation of both local staff members. At the time the project concluded, the participants were in the process of completing their last cycle of activities, which was to involve the creation of a booth in Santarém where residents could sell products they produced. Due to their abrupt departure, this last activity was never completed and was a source of demotivation for several participants.

In July 2010, CEN’s director, Bob Bortner, returned to the community to conduct an evaluation.

Impact

The initial impact of our work is best seen by changes in the behavior of the participants, such as by:

  • Demonstrating stronger critical thinking and problem-solving habits
  • Showing a clearer perception of their situation and a greater realization that they are capable of realizing their goals

In addition, an increasing number of residents we've worked with:

  • Have a better appreciation of market demand
  • Improved their ability to set prices for their products at levels that will enable them to earn a profit

With this increased income, participants are able to:

  • Purchase a wider variety of food for their families, thus improving their family's nutrition levels
  • Pay for their children's high school education, improving their children's employment opportunities
  • Put money away for emergencies
  • Pay for materials needed to keep operating their microenterprise

The most important accomplishment of the Proof of Concept was the development of our comprehensive approach to building self-reliance in communities, as well as our unique learning approach called PRATICAR, which sets CEN apart from the work done by many other development organizations. More than a year after it ended, community members are still using the skills they developed during the project. Learn more about the impact of our work.

Additional Resources

cCLEAR Participant Profiles
The impact of our work
cCLEAR Proof of Concept Wraps Up in Suruacá