Day 23 – A sustainable development paradigm that works:  Vivir Bien.

Day 23 – A sustainable development paradigm that works:  Vivir Bien.

A father daughter team, Crispin and Selina Quispe shared their experience of living in “vivir bien” the Andean paradigm for sustainable development.  Vivir bien, explained Crispin is living in balance with the animals and nature around them.  It starts with knowing who you are, your history and identity – this knowledge lets you know your role in life he explained.

“We all have a role in our life,” he stated, “we forget this.”

“People talk about Vivir Bien,” further stated Crispin, “but it’s just in adjectives.”  He went on to clarify how Vivir Bien is more than just an abstract term.  It’s a future lived with no hierarchy he explained.  It is a shared life in a community with natural responsibilities which manifest in complimentary and reciprocity – the sharing of resources and returning of favors.  He criticized how people view their domestic animals as more important than other animals, blaming it on ingrained colonial thinking.  He explained that they are creating a hierarchy of one animal being more important than another because of its economic benefits.  For example, people will hunt animals that do not have an economic benefit, such as a fox, in order to preserve those that do, such as a llama.  He stated that these ideas came from the colonial era and are a part of Vivir Bien, the original way of thinking of the ancestors, and that we should forget them.  Some people nodded in agreement while others waiting in silence to see what would come next.  All have been well versed in Vivir Bien which is now in the Bolivian constitution and is being used as a basis for country-wide development decisions though it still exists more in theory than practice.

Selina appeared to be about 24 and shared her experience of growing up in harmony with the natural world in Vivir Bien.  She explained that her family lived near a highway that crossed their rural lands.  Often injured wild animals would come to her when they needed her help and she would tend to them the best she could.  She explained that she would help the fox equally as she would help the llama, though the fox is considered a llama predator and pest.  She explained that when one respects the animals, they will respect you back.  Selina claims that even maintain lions have been present in her llama lands, but they are able to live together without much conflict.   She explained how there are many ways to live and that life has a spiritual village shared with all, not just a cultural one that is created for its members.

“One can live for money in a capitalist environment, or live for the people in a communist environment, with vivir bien, we live for life.” Stated Selina.

She explained how water, not money is the provider of life and that like the vicuna and llama, one needs to learn to live together in harmony.  She explains how the two are both sacred animals, and even though the llama brings money to the herder and the vicuna does not, they are equal in their value in that both have life.

“If you only value money,” explained Selina, “then you lose the value of the life.”

To emphasize this, Selina talked about the “internal fight” that the quinoa is provoking.

“Quinoa is destroying mother earth.” Stated Selina in reference to the quinoa boom of 2015 where thousands of acres of grazing lands were plowed up for quinoa production and financial gain.

The internal fight is the family’s need to. “plant (quinoa) for their children while also leaving (resources) for nature.  It’s a balance.

An audience member asked Celina about her views on climate change.  “Climatic changes, “ she replied,” happen all of the time.  “That’s what climates do, they change.  In our history there have been times of even more changes than now.”  Selina went on to explain, how when living close to the land and in harmony, you also learn how to recognize and work with these changes, whether made by man or nature.  She felt that it is part of being connected to the earth and is the way the ancestors survived and how we too can survive.

I asked her about her views on technology, as we were sharing these ideas via a powerpoint slide of her community, communicating via smart phones and arriving in modern transportation: cars, buses and trucks.  She explained that it was all a balance.  As with the natural world as well.  When we live in balance, she explained, we learn to share but not to distract or take away.  For example, she sees phones as being in balance with the sharing of information and connecting people and ideas, but moving out of balance when this information, or games are used to distract or take people away from their present lives or communities.

The audience showed a lot of support for her ideas.  As Vivir Bien is still more of an aspiration at the moment, it was refreshing for them to hear some more practical ways of how it is understood.  Especially from Celina, a younger member of the community.