I was involved with a project that interacted with fishing cooperatives a number of years ago. We worked with a co-op for several years to promote compliance with a standard stipulating the minimum size of fish in their catch. It was very rewarding when the co-op not only adopted the new standard but also voluntarily adopted a standard for maximum fish size. This practice promotes the protection of fish that produce proportionally more eggs and fry. That was another example of how development works.

4. What has been the highlight of your development journey so far?

One highlight of my development journey has been returning to communities several years after project closeout and learning that our impact has transcended the project’s lifespan. For example, I visited rural communities where children had previously had access only to elementary education and learned that families there are now able to send their children to higher education institutions. A person who comes to mind is my friend, René, who started as a local fisherman and was later hired as a community warden for a newly created reserve. Almost twenty years later, I met him again and learned that not only was he able to send all five of his children to higher education institutions but also that he was able to obtain a high school diploma himself. Even though these are anecdotal changes and not increases in development indicators, it is these kinds of stories that help me continue when the going gets tough.

Another highlight has been learning that, although no two communities are identical, there are commonalities among rural human groups that matter more than their individual differences. Learning the language of community work and development — something that universities rarely teach us — is another highlight of my development journey.

Alex (right) teams with colleagues at the Laguna del Tigre National Park in Petén, Guatemala.