Dispatch from the environment team
Al fin, Cartagena. While other policy teams were suiting up for meetings with the DEA, etc., the environment team was in a taxi in the midst of the other side of Cartagena—one that tourists rarely see. Rafael Nuñez is home to 13,000 of the poorest people in the city, which has one of the most extreme income disparities in the world. By 8 a.m. the heat was already settling heavy on the neighborhood, and we drove past a trash-covered shore and bustling fish market before finding what we thought was our final destination.
It turns out that there are two sites for the non-profit Granitos de Paz in Rafael Nuñez, and we happened to have stumbled first upon the cuter one: a daycare center for hundreds of infants and pre-schoolers. The center had a nursery, a ‘dance studio’ with a full-wall mirror, an open-air cafeteria that served fresh meals, and lots of singing, clapping children. We were smitten.
We eventually were able to drag ourselves away to the site of our actual meeting, the Granitos de Paz office, run by the lovely and lively Diana Peña. There, we learned a bit more about the amazing work of Granitos de Paz, a non-profit that is leading micro-finance investment and urban agriculture development in the neighborhood. They have built 42 houses in Rafael Nuñez in the last eight years, and they teach families to grow crops in the narrow, sunny spaces behind their homes. Urban farmers of the neighborhood sell spearmint (for mojitos), basil, red pepper, eggplant, and cucumber to some of the fanciest hotels in Cartagena, and Granitos de Paz also offers cooking classes for growers to learn how to incorporate their fresh produce into meals at home.
Off to the side of the office was a ‘senior center’ which might more accurately be described as a ‘dance club’ given all the boogying that was going down at 9 a.m. We ended our visit with a walk around the neighborhood to visit some of the neighborhood gardens and take in the luscious smells. Though tangential to our research topic on biofuels, the visit to Granitos de Paz certainly renewed our faith in the possibility for grassroots, environmentally inspiring economic development in Colombia. We were also all grateful to have found a place to retire/get down with some Latin beats in a few years.