Dr Jennifer Hazelton, a Research Coordinator for the Institute for Sustainability at Newcastle University travelled to Lobitos, a small town in Northern Peru, in March 2014 for five weeks to help develop the town’s infrastructure. In the first of a four-post series, Jennifer tells us about her trip.
I am writing this blog in the final throes of preparation for a research trip to northern Peru, which I am undertaking in less than a week’s time. As with any absence, there is a lot to do in the office leading up to it as I try to clear the desk and hand over tasks to colleagues – particularly as I will be away for 5 weeks! And, as is often the case, I have been so busy doing everything else that I have not had as much time as I would like to prepare for the research aspect and instead am just piling up materials to read on the plane…
The overall aim of the project I will be working on is to support the inhabitants of Lobitos, a small town in northern Peru, to develop the town’s infrastructure and, accordingly, their livelihoods. This is to be achieved sustainably, preserving the ecological integrity and resilience of the area alongside development of tourism, infrastructure provision and connectivity. I will be working with primarily non-academic colleagues through a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) called EcoSwell, during the project’s consultation phase.
I will be in Lobitos for 2 weeks in total. In this time I need to follow up on the initial social assessment undertaken in August last year by Alejandro Pizarro, one of the EcoSwell founders who is an independent researcher specializing in local governance and development. I have been working for the past few months to analyse the data from focus groups and interviews that I helped him to design and plan. Alejandro will also be in Lobitos with us as a guide, interpreter (my Spanish is rusty!) and gatekeeper; all of which will be completely invaluable!
My fieldwork will include clarifying specific queries highlighted during the analysis, but will primarily seek to involve the community in the planning through informed multi-stakeholder consultation. I am going to modify and apply a method that I developed during my PhD research, which I designed to help understand and map stakeholder dynamics in bioenergy projects from Africa and Asia. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to further that work in a new context and geographical location, and I am really excited by the prospect.
The trip is not without its complications, of course. We have still not actually agreed and confirmed the accommodation in Lobitos, which will be basic but probably significantly better than the homes of the locals; we don’t actually have a programme or schedule so it will be a bit of pot luck and a lot of work on the ground to make sure we get to see everyone we need to. There are a few medical arrangements as well, and all in all it is a good example of how research in remote areas is rarely straightforward! It all adds to the appeal, though, and I’m not sure I would be so keen if I thought it would be easy. Luckily, whilst this is my first time visiting and working in South America, I have had quite a lot of experience in Africa and Asia, and am already finding that there are definite parallels!
I will write again during my trip, to give an update of how we are getting on. I am travelling with my husband this time, who is going to be doing a feasibility study for the use of renewable energy in Lobitos. This is a new experience for him, so it will be really interesting to see how he copes with the uncertainty and constantly changing parameters of working in a developing country!