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South America

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
Robyn in PeruRobyn in Peru at Machu PichuPeruvian runs
I seem to have started a theme about experiences in other countries – and as I am freshly back from a holiday in South America, I thought I would continue the theme.  Robyn and I teamed up with a group of mainly Toowoomba-ites, and marshalled by our common travel agent (Wendy), headed off to South America just after Easter.  We had not been there before and it was all a bit of a mystery to me.

We started in Argentina – Buenos Aeries.  I found a country that seemed very much like a version of Australia – just with the Spanish background rather than the British influence in Australia.  In both countries the original inhabitants were forced out to the more inhospitable areas – and you are left with quite a transplanted culture in the cities and agricultural parts.   Flying over the agricultural land was just like flying over NSW and SW Queensland.  Even our visit to a local tourist ranch reminded me of the early Australian era as well (well, except for the more colourful clothes and dances!).  A highlight was the large cemetery where Eva Peron was buried!  More like a city than our traditional Oz plots.

Next was Iguazu Falls.  Anyone who has watched the movie “The Mission” has seen the magnificence of these falls!  And you needed to go to both the Argentinean and the Brazilian side to truly appreciate all of the aspects.  The highlight for me was coming face to face with a troop of monkeys – always good to say hello to the rellies!

Then onto Brazil – or at least Rio.  What an incredible city!  It even made Sydney with its great harbor look a little small.  Standing at the feet of Jesus (the big stature on the hill) you could see the whole city and its bay and islands in their magnificence.  Much was built on the backs of slaves – who brought and sustained a rich culture with them despite this context.  The Samba night was a bit of a highlight!

The focus of the visit was Peru – Machu Pichu was in Robyn’s ‘bucket list’!  Spending time up around 13,000 feet in the Andes made the Great Dividing Range down the East Coast of Australia (on which Toowoomba sits!) seem like a sand dune.  Peru was just like the pictures in books I have seen over the years – fantastic mountain scenery; heaps of Inca ruins; lamas and rural people tilling the land in very tradition ways.  There is a lot poverty and lack of access to education and health.  We were fortunate to meet up with a great small foundation established by an Australian woman with a Peruvian partner – and look at some of their work with impoverished communities.  Well worth checking out and supporting!

Machu Pichu certainly was worth the visit!  Friends of ours walked for 4 days along the Inca trails to get there – but we took the train!  Just as well, as you needed all your energy walking up and down slopes as you explored the ruins.

We then found ourselves at Lake Titicaca – the highest navigatable lake in the world (I think) – with the highlight being the villages on the reed islands – pretty impressive technology and adaptation!

So now back in Australia and wondering what I took away from the trip (apart from the trinkets bought to help the tourist economy!).  One thing was the close comparison between Australia and Argentina and Brazil – and accident of history and a similar trajectory.  Close neighbours in this sense (and serious competitor in agricultural products!) – we could certainly learn from each other (including how better to work together with the original inhabitants of our lands).   The experiences in Peru highlighted the skill of the ancients in what they did, what they made and how they organised society – and the shame of having lost so much of the details.  It also highlighted that many communities still lack basic services – health and education – and we all could do more to contribute from our wealth.

Memories of Papua New Guinea

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
One place that I have enjoyed going to over the years is Papua New Guinea.  My first experience there was as a very young Australian Volunteer when my wife Robyn and I went to Hagita High School and Plantation in 1976 near Alatou in Milne Bay Province.  I managed a copra and cattle plantation and Robyn taught at the Catholic High School.  This was just after independence and it was great to experience the hope and confidence of this new nation.  One claim to fame – at least for Robyn – was making the outfits for the school brass band to welcome the Queen on a visit to Alotau.

Our next sojourn to PNG was from 1981-84 when we went to Banz near Mt Hagen from 1981-84 to use my poultry management skills to manage Girumbin Poultry – a commercial enterprise associated with the interdenominational Christian Leaders Training College.  While I managed the poultry, Robyn worked with the many pre-schoolers that belonged to staff and children.  The Highlands was very different to the coastal areas – cooler, more people around…. and more conflict.  It had a terrific climate – ideal for poultry – the only down side was the cost of bringing imported feed up the long Highland’s Highway from Lae.  The poultry operation was based around breeders, a hatchery, sale of day old chickens and a layer farm – and was quite profitable while provided training and jobs for a good number of highlanders.  It was here that our eldest daughter started school – at the Banz International school (which I believe is no longer there).

Since then, we have been involved in a number of projects which has meant regular trips to the country and having the chance to watch it grapple with nationhood and wielding a diverse culture into one that speaks the same language of measured development.  A favourite destination has been East New Britain Province – an island in the north – and The University of Vudal.  There we have been involved in working with the agricultural department and providing a range of training packages to staff.  East New Britain – despite the destruction to much of the capital Rabaul from the volcanic eruption – has a good steady development and very stable community – and always a pleasure to visit and work with the people.  In one project – an AusAid funded training project – training in a range of topics was undertaken in the villages themselves with University or Department of Agriculture staff (using adult learning approaches).  Our role was to monitor and evaluate the process and impact of the training – and there was a lot of positive impacts that we observed from the project!

Another project was known as the PNG Scientific Communication Project (SciCom) – funded by the AusAid through Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).  I was project leader, Robyn was the gender advisor and various staff from the University of Queensland paired with PNG national staff to develop post-graduate training courses.  Dr Ken Rickert from Toowoomba was the academic leader and Laurie Fooks managed the project from Lae.  The project came about largely through the efforts of Robert Songan – who at the time was on the staff at Unitech in Lae – who had a vision for such a course.  These courses could be delivered in one-week blocks and aimed to develop the skills of university staff and researchers in government or private agencies to better communicate the outputs of their research.  The most exciting part of this project was seeing the way that the PNG national staff embraced the concept and became such advocates and deliverers of the course throughout PNG.

Its been more than a year now since my last visit to the country.  I miss the smiles and “Moning tru…yu stap orait?”…the people and their resilience faced with sometimes very difficult circumstances.  It is their country and they know it well.  They put up gracefully as we ‘foreigners’ come in with yet another project to help.   Maybe…I will have chance to get back someday.

Purpose of this Blog

  • Published: by Jeff Coutts | Permalink
In this new website, I was keen to have a place where I could provide an update on my latest experiences and thinking when it came to evaluation, extension or development issues – an opportunity for a bit of free thought.  Although the blog doesn’t allow direct comment as such, feel free to use the contact page to email me any feeedback or thoughts that have been triggered by my entries.

In this line of business you get to experience a wide range of places, sectors and projects.  Over the last few years I have worked in such areas as: the Philippines (ACIAR project looking at improving the decentralised extension system); Indonesia (looking at what was happening in applied agricultural research approaches – and before that smallholder shrimp production); Laos (looking at a livestock forage project in the high country); New Zealand (looking at the role of Agricultural Consultants in agricultural extension and environmental services); and of course across Australia (wool and dairy industries, and an educational program in Tasmania; sugar projects in Queensland; agricultural development in the Kimberlies; natural resource management programs in various states).  And with an evaluation focus, you really get to hone in what is happening and why and the issues surrounding them – and meet some fascinating and great people along the way!  Quite a privilege!

One person who made a significant impression on me was Sandy Cuthbertson – one of the founders of the Centre for International Economics – who passed away very recently with many of us very saddened by his loss.  Sandy was a real gentleman and excellent soul.  I travelled with Sandy some years ago to the Philippines for a scoping study – just prior to starting up my own consulting career.  During our visit, I asked him to share his experiences about successful consulting – I was after the top 10 lessons!  Over the next few days, Sandy tried to oblige – very thoughtfully and humbly.  I can’t remember them all now, but his Number 1 message was “be generous”….in the broadest sense!  Consulting to him, was not about ‘screwing the client’ and charging for every minute – but to give of yourself to do what was needed to be done to make the world a better place.  He found that such an approach had its own rewards – and the dollars took care of themselves.  A nice lesson that I took with me when I took the jump to the consulting world.