John Bayron is a development worker from Colombia who currently works as a development worker on Gender Strategies for the Prevention of HIV, with the organization CONTRASIDA in El Salvador.
What is your work background?
Before becoming a development worker, I worked on a project called “Nutrition through good habits” which is part of the Nutritional Improvement Plan of Antioquia (MANA). I also worked with leaders and families in a mining area of Antioquia, Colombia, where I carried out awareness-building education on the relationship between child abuse and malnutrition, indirectly addressing the issue of machismo in raising children.
How would you describe yourself?
Romantic, a dreamer and very passionate about the things that I enjoy. Betrayal hurts. I like to dedicate myself to projects and actions that promote justice and solidarity. I enjoy getting up early and watching the beautiful sunrises Central America has to offer.
What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?
In reality I never thought about being a development worker or anything like it, but a friend of mine sent me an email with the information and she said, “John Bayron, you work with masculinity, so this job might interest you” and I responded...and since they advertise jobs via the internet now, when I read the job advertisement I felt that it was for me and I thought to myself, wow, if I become a development worker they will pay me to do what I enjoy and in another country!
When they told me that I had been accepted, I cried while sitting at my computer for a good while because it seemed like a dream. I left behind everything I knew, all the comforts that I had in my country, and even gave away my computer. I only brought my most important books, some clothing and I came with the great hope of being able to share my experiences on masculinity issues and to learn about a magical and almost unknown region for me.
What is your first memory of arriving in your country of placement, and what made the biggest impact on you?
My first memory is coming out of the airport and feeling the tremendous heat and the wonderful reception from Carmen (the country representative), Rebecca (the administrator) and Marco Polo (a recently arrived development worker), who all had come to pick me up and made me feel very well received and welcomed.
What has always made an impact on me is how although El Salvador is a small country, the reality that is lived in other countries of Latin America is more easily reflected here. Even Macondo, the land that Gabriel García Márquez describes, has many similarities and consequently many with my country.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Working as a team (together with the Masculinities team of CONTRASIDA) and the flexibility and the respect for my contributions. Also when many of the families of the participants tell me that their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends are changing and that they are no longer the same after having participated in the Masculinity and HIV Prevention programme that we offer.
In sum, I do what I like doing whilst also exchanging knowledge and experiences with others.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
What is yet to come, because each day takes me onto another full of emotions, activities and experiences from what I do in El Salvador, which have filled me with happiness and fulfilment. Naming them would mean having to recount every one of the 6 years, 2 months and 9 days that I have been in El Salvador. I recognize that it has felt good when we have gone out to demonstrate and communicate that there are other ways to be a man than to be sexist and patriarchal. I remember when we joined the march for Labour Day this year, wearing aprons and carrying brooms and a banner that said that the work starts in the home, that the majority of the march – about 50 thousand demonstrators – applauded us and understood our message. I felt that we had done something useful for gender equity and justice.
And the biggest lesson?
Moving towards simplicity, humility, and the integrity of body, mind and spirit, in connection with mother earth, to be able to be a better person every day. And of course, also working to connect theory and practice to be a man with more respect for myself, and in my relationship with other men, women, children and with the earth.
Also, that everything has its own rhythm and process, that creativity is crucial for knowing how to adapt your knowledge and experiences to the context of the country in which the development work will be carried out.
What is the biggest development challenge facing the country where you are working and the area in which you are working?
I hope that what I am writing is published or at least read, since Progressio is in the process of gradually withdrawing from this thematic area (HIV) and it is a great shame. At a world level, HIV has unveiled the injustices, discriminations, and inequalities that still exist across the world. HIV once again has served to shine a light on the social injustices that continue to prevail, since behind HIV, the reality is poverty. It is here that Progressio works, where there are injustices and issues to continue fighting for regarding poverty. Working with issues related to HIV is to continue trying to change social inequalities. In my opinion, the challenge will be to continue what is being done here and in Central America in general, where they are having an impact on sociocultural factors that perpetuate HIV so that it continues to increase across the entire region, for example machismo, which is also related to other inequalities.
If you could change one thing, what would that be?
If there were the possibility within my limited power and skills, I would increase the support and funding to work on gender strategies to prevent HIV, from the angles of masculinity and femininity via group therapy and experience-based methodologies.
What strikes you most about Progressio’s development worker model?
That it offers the possibility for the exchange of knowledge, information and experiences that would otherwise not be possible - and if it were to involve more countries it would be even more successful. With the characteristics that exist in Progressio, I do not understand why development agencies prioritize financial support and not technical support as Progressio does. Besides, the exchange humanizes and helps us advance towards an intercultural interaction, something that we truly need in the world.
What is your favourite motto or saying?
“We are what we do, but above all, what we do to change who we are,” this gives me the possibility to continue believing that we can change and transform.
“We talk about the impossible because about the possible we know too much,” this helps me to continue believing in utopia.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
Do not lose the ability to continue changing and learning. Stay and work as a development worker for more than the original two years if you can, because it is a unique and singular opportunity to understand that life is beautiful and that it offers solidarity with other people and communities.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?
The only thing I am sure of is that when that day comes I want to leave the same way I came to El Salvador: happy and smiling! And with much hope about what life and my chosen path are carving out for me. Technically, I will leave full of ideas and dreams to fulfill in other places, since I still feel that I have much to contribute and learn. But wherever it is, the commitment, dedication and responsibility that I have reaffirmed in these beautiful lands will travel with me.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
That it is important to give but also to receive from the country where you are placed. The emotional cost is large. Living for a long time outside of the environment where you were raised or know implies that subtleties and day to day details are irreversibly lost and cannot be lived again, which is why it is important to continue growing and learning as part of a two-way process and not only give.
Live with intensity and if there are pending matters in your personal life, make the most and resolve them. This is a unique and singular experience and you will never be the same again.
From Central America,
JOHN BAYRON OCHOA