H.O.P.E.S. Development

Disclaimer: This is the response to another prompt on the Third World Development final–about what advice you’d give president-elect Obama about turning around the dismal and disintegrating reputation of America abroad and conquer poverty, hunger, and social injustice at the same time. It’s a bit long, but I’d honestly love feedback.

Hopes are what the American Dream is built on—what brought, and continues to bring, millions of immigrants from every continent by land, by sea, and by air to this country. And despite our own past specters and present demons of corruption, hypocrisy and injustice, the American Dream is still real. We still hope that children of all colors and creeds will live together in security and respect. We still hope that opportunity and hard work will open doors and break generations-long chains of poverty and oppression. We still hope that this grand experiment of liberty will indeed enlighten the world.

But this liberty was meant to enlighten the world, not subject it. The shackles at the feet of Lady Liberty are broken—it’s the torch she holds high. This is the embodiment of soft power, as much as the so-called “gun-barrel democracy” of recent decades is the embodiment of hard power. Both types of power can be used to “export democracy,” but they accomplish it in fundamentally different ways. Where hard power seeks to command and coerce, soft power seeks to co-opt. The tools of hard power are force, sanctions, payments and bribes; the tools of soft power institutions, policies, culture and values. Hard power is authoritarian and self-serving. Soft power is neither. And HOPES development is built on soft power.

It’s not a cookbook recipe for poverty eradication, and it’s not a step-by-step guide for building world peace. HOPES development is an approach, an ideology based on bits of diffusion theory, behavioral change theory, world systems theory, and development theory (not to mention the blood, sweat, and tears lessons of some of the world’s great change agents) about what it takes to make a lasting difference.

HELP : Meet immediate needs, Give them what they ask for!
ORGANIZE : Design holistic solutions to authentic challenges.
PREPARE : Address financial, social, human and conceptual capital gaps.
EMPOWER : Confront social and structural barriers.
SUSTAIN : Implement long-term solutions for evolution and growth.
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Country Mouse

I’ve been in Asuncion since Thursday morning, the longest period of time I’ve spent away from the school since I got here.

Despedidas for three of the city interns this weekend, [suerte Sarita, Florian, and Andrew!] a sunny afternoon steeped in terere and stimulating [English] conversation, and a much-needed laugh at Andrew’s blog reminded me once again how un-characteristic my experience here has been.

It’s hard to say definitively that it’s a country-city divide, given the other significant differences between me and the other interns, [most notably my incompetence with the language and the fact that I don’t drink] but it seems to me a reasonable approximation of the difference I feel from Paraguayans in general.

I live in the Chaco.

It’s a bone-rattling, deathly boring 12-hour bus ride from the middle of nowhere, but I’ve never felt more isolated by a mere 25-mile stretch of relatively well-maintained highway. Coming to the city is a bit disorienting for me. I’ve never been one to shy away from new experiences, and I’ve certainly not devolved into some timid, frenetic home-body, but I feel strange in Asuncion. The noise is distracting, the air is oppressive, and the social structures blurred and unfamiliar.

In my little world, two-thirds of the adults can’t even read, let alone discuss poetry. In my little world people take a photo when they have a 100mil guarani bill, while the smallest withdrawal denomination at an ATM in the city is 1 million. In my little world, and in laughing spite of the Internet, nobody has any idea there were riots surrounding the recall election in Bolivia, not even the Bolivians.

As in any country, the rich and poor of Paraguay live locked in an utter empathetic impasse. And this country mouse isn’t sure what to do about it.

Vive Paraguay!

I was there.

Yesterday, Paraguay inaugurated its first democratically-elected president in more than 60 years. The political vestiges of a characteristically corrupt and brutal South American dictatorship literally [if only symbolically] handed over the keys to this characteristically corrupt and impoverished South American country to a 57 year-old ex-bishop wearing sandals and a homespun shirt.

Lugo’s first speech as president was inspiring, powerful at times. One line I will likely never forget; “I refuse to live in a world where some do not sleep because they are afraid, and others do not sleep because they are hungry.”

But Paraguayans are at times heartbreakingly pragmatic. And it’s difficult for even the young to believe he can or will do it. I’ve been here long enough not to have expected euphoria, but I was surprised by how tired, how ambivalent [in the most literal sense of the word] the crowd of 50,000 felt. It’s like all of Paraguay is trying to decide whether it dares to hope.

They cheered Chaves and Morales. They chanted for renegotiation of the Itaipu dam. The socialists sang some very catchy tunes. But the one time all morning that the kind of tangible wave of energy I so craved actually swept over that crowd was at the end of the ridiculously pompous national anthem when everyone, really everyone shouted, “Vive Paraguay!”

I’m actually not sure what the phrase means. Having only ever heard it shouted, I don’t know how it’s spelled and therefore can’t reverse-engineer the conjugation. If it’s indicative, it’s an exclamation; “Paraguay lives!” If it’s imperative, it’s a command, a challenge; “Live, Paraguay!”

Yesterday, in the centro, it felt like both.