TEDx Guatemala City 2012

To kick start any day, there’s nothing more inspirational than an eighteen minute TED talk. I personally watch several a week, and at times, one per day.  For those who aren’t familiar, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment (sometimes substituted by Education), and Design, and was created for one simple mission – to promote and spread the best and brightest ideas worth sharing. They’re just really interesting to me and allow my mind to ponder issues and subjects that I’ve never been exposed to, or force me to look at familiar subjects from a different viewpoint.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending a TEDx event (x indicates an independently organized event) in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  Although only in it’s third year, it was quite well organized and enjoyable!  During this information packed day, we listened to 28 presentations – TED videos mixed in with live performances and presentations.  Thankfully, there were a few talks that were given in English, but the majority of them were done in Spanish.

As I sat there intently, I couldn’t help but think, “Just two years ago, there’s no way I could have attended an event like this!” To be able to sit through these high level lectures, in Spanish, and not only hang, but pick up on their jokes, anecdotes and analogies, I was quite pleased. Especially remembering how long it took me to get here.

Out of 28 talks, there were a few presentations that resonated with me.

Hug-it-Forward‘s presentation was given by Heenal Rajani - an English backpacker, and Oxford graduate who felt inspired to help communities educate themselves and participate in the global Green Movement.  This Antigua based NGO makes schools out of bottles filled with community trash.  Yes, that’s right, trash and the normal plastic bottles that everyone throws away daily.  He even passed around a sample bottle and I remember being surprised at how sturdy it seemed.  Moreover, it was quite exciting to hear about a viable solution to all of the trash that is simply flung all over the country side.

The founder of Plaza PúblicaMartin Pellecer, gave an interesting talk about open journalism.  Plaza Pública is a non-profit, independent, online newspaper committed to progressing towards a more transparent Guatemala.  Funded by the Jesuit University Rafael Landívar, their staff has the coveted flexibility to go in-depth on issues and stories (that most would not dare), without having to “depend on advertising” or “cozy up with politicians.”  Although a democratic nation, the people of Guatemala are not necessary safe to speak out against politicians or large corporations.  In a country enlaced with corruption, this publication is a “breath of fresh air for the Guatemalan people” and much needed for the progression of independent thought.  Personally, I applaud their efforts!

Artes Muy Especiales had, in my humble opinion, the most moving performance of the day.  Over half of their members were in wheelchairs and put on a performance that took a lot of courage, practice, and heart.  Their message was simple, “Don’t overlook me; don’t tell me I can’t do something; all I want is respect.”  They received a very-well deserved standing ovation.

Artes Muy Especiales

Juan Pablo Romero started a movement in his hometown of Jocotenango, Guatemala.  His concept was simple, give neighborhood kids a safe outlet to express themselves through art and dance. Thus, his organization Los Patojos, was born and has since given hundreds of kids hope and an alternative to drugs, gangs, and violence that is so prevalent in their town.  One of the most popular forms of expression that’s spreading like wildfire is the art of break dancing! That’s right, the head spins, “K” kicks, windmills, and flairs are all back. Watch out “Best dance crew!” These kids are up and coming!

John Glasgow‘s talk was entitled “Re-thinking Invention: Bridging the technology gap in education.”  I thought it was incredibly creative and worth sharing!  In short, he posed a question, “What if we used existing old technology and repurpose it for the use of innovative education?”  How would it work?  For starters, what if newspaper distribution channels were repurposed to also distribute books all over the country, including the rural areas? Then, what would happen if radios were used to give mass lectures?  Imagine a different class being on it’s own radio frequency.  During these classes, they could use cell phones to monitor answers and communicate between teachers.  Would this actually work? It could, if someone were brave enough to give it a try.  Regardless, I thought it was a cool concept!

It was clear that the common thread of these talks were centered around improving Guatemala.  During personal discussions with other TED goers, it seems as though throughout the educated population, awareness about the country’s challenges exists and the desire to change is crescendoing daily.

Despite all this great subject matter, talks about helping the poor, new ideas for improving organizations, and presentations about up and coming technologies,  I still felt like the there was a void.  Nothing was ever mentioned about the minority middle class.  With more than 75% of the national population living below the poverty line and the upper 10% of the population controlling over 50% of the country’s wealth, the middle class only makes up 15% of the population.

Historically speaking, any nation that has made the jump from under-developed to developed did so with the growth of the middle class.  Take for example, the rising nations such as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, & China) where each of their successes has been attributed to the rise of their middle sector.  Sadly, my prediction is without the expansion of this crucial economic class, many of the progressive ideas which were proposed have little chance of getting off the ground.  Guatemala will need to move as one united nation towards the goals which they so deeply want.  To do this, they will need the participation of everyone, from the rich bureaucrat to the indigenous farmer, to create, develop, and offer, things that the entire world needs, but only Guatemala can offer.

After ten hours of lectures, performances, and presentations our brains were fried.  We walked away tired, more enlightened, and inspired to change the world! We all have much to think about!

TEDx Sign


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