Theodora Reyes rarely looks at the camera. I’ve never been in her presence, but in pictures her gaze seems to rather focus on stuff that matter for her, like the tiny coffee plantations that grow sheltered by her confident, skillful hands. On another picture, she barely looks at the lens while holding a plastic container on top of a water tank. The sun draws different timeless lines on her face but her expression remains unchanged, unmoved.

Every once in a while I think of Theodora’s calmness as a statement: she has probably invested her time and energy in making her coffee plants grow and blossom beautifully in her community at El Salvador. Her serenity and distance transform discretely into power, a power so strong I only recall seeing in women human right defenders, producers, farmers and indigenous leaders in any Central American country… or any country. 

Photo: Adam Keough / Blue Harvest

Photo: Adam Keough Blue Harvest

Don’t get me wrong

Theodora’s images were taken by the Blue Harvest project, an initiative implemented and coordinated by Catholic Relief Services that strives for sustainable water resource management in coffee lands of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. She is one of the thousands of producers that needed to urgently replant her crops after losing much of them to rust. She has of course, succeeded so far.

Blue Harvest is a part of SAFE, a multi-stake holder platform that brings together 16 partners. Financed by IDB and co-financed by partners, the program wants to bring smallholder producers closer to global value chains. I happen to be on board of this adventure along with a group of people that have no fear of focusing on those things that matter.

Photo: Adam Keough / Blue Harvest

Photo: Adam Keough Blue Harvest

Don’t get me wrong: We haven’t always been sure about how exactly we will do things. We’ve had moments of re-evaluation, discussion and plain honesty. We want to achieve a dream of climate-smart agriculture and improved conditions for smallholder farmers, but we want to do something else, something that I believe makes us different from other much criticized similar former initiatives: we want to learn and pass on the knowledge.  

Repeating the past

George Santayana once said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This is what we fear the most: how do we become a private-public platform with no structural impact? By never being humble enough to say: this was wrong. Let’s document it, learn a lesson and try to do things differently.

Looking around, it seems like the world has developed voluntary amnesia. Many of us follow a path of destruction and act as if it’s never been done before; we exclude, redraw, divide, and impose beliefs, then act surprised by the outcome. We frequently lose focus on what really matters, we disconnect from the earth and from our own personal mission.

Theodora’s gaze

In a context of no return for climate change and right before COP22, at a moment of great world changes and endless learning possibilities through technology, at a moment of much needed resilience and adaptation, examining Theodora’s attitude would be a great exercise: committed, focused, full of plenitude and certainty. She is a guardian of subtle, delicate possessions. She is careful, constructive, and creative.

Public-private platforms can no longer afford to fail or forget: Theodora’s powerful gaze towards the things that matter to her and to us should be a gesture to imitate and follow thoroughly. I want to think of us looking at our future plans of sustainability with her carefulness, serenity and –hopefully- with a thirst for never-ending knowledge.