WAVES for Development, Peru: "Sustainable Globalization: A New Model for Cultural Exchange"

Organization: WAVES for Development

Website: www.wavesfordevelopment.org

Location: Lobitos, Peru

Volunteer date: March - May 2015

Story by Riley Tangney from the USA, written as a part of a course from Portland State University


            It’s an amazing idea that we can use a common interest to bring together different groups of people for positive growth in both parties. By providing a catalyst for the interaction between different cultures, different nations, and different lifestyles the possibilities for growth are endless.  I experienced this rich exchange and positive growth through working with WAVES for Development in Lobitos, Peru.  Despite the many positive aspects of cross-cultural exchange there are also some very real threats to developing communities like Lobitos.  Over the three months i spent there I experienced the small community's battle to hold on to their traditional lifestyle while incorporating the world’s economic and cultural influences.  This is the inevitable struggle of adapting to globalization that people across the world are facing today.  

             Often it seems that the people who already have a wealth of knowledge and resources are the ones who are able to capitalize on this idea of globalization.  Small developing communities often still live in a very traditional sense and they are far behind the rate our world is developing and becoming globally connected.  As we become more and more globalized it seems we become greedier.  The truth is that these developing communities or even developing countries will be forced to face globalization and as they fall behind their resources and life as they know it may be stripped.

            In a small developing community there are many opportunities for local business and new ways for locals to prosper.  However in today’s fast paced developing world it seems outsiders often take those opportunities from the locals.  In an undeveloped community the population is usually still not very connected to the outside world.  The native population may only know what they know from parents and grandparents.  In this way a few different trades would be passed down through generations and life is continued to be lived in a very traditional sense.  Small developing communities or countries are particularly exposed to the adverse impacts of globalization because they are not as connected to the global network.  It seems impossible to hide from globalization so it’s the best bet for these communities or countries to incorporate these changes in a thoughtful way.

            More developed nations provide people and corporations with opportunities to acquire endless amounts of knowledge, skills, and financial resources.  Most of the world is connected to an ever growing global trade market that is dominated by these nations.  This market involves the interaction and transfer of ideas, capital, talent, and goods.  There is a historic pattern that as developed nations use up their own resources they begin to use the global trade market to tap into others.  This market driven system creates very competitive industries and greedy people who continue to exploit vulnerable countries for their resources.  

            Lobitos, Peru is a prime example of how a small developing community can be affected by globalization.  Lobitos was first established by the British and Americans who were taking advantage of the rich oil fields.  The Peruvians did not have the knowledge or experience to extract or process the oil and therefor it was the British and Americans who took control and profited off of this wealthy resource.  Eventually the Peruvian military took over Lobitos and all of the oilfields but still they did not know how to process the oil and the industry collapsed.  Soon Lobitos was a very poor town because there was not much else besides the oil of which the locals did not know how to deal with.

            Today Lobitos is still surrounded by oil wells and still the locals hardly benefit at all from their own resource.  The Peruvian government now sells the oil back the Americans in order to process it for sale.  The local population in Lobitos fish to make a living and have almost no involvement with the oil industry.  Their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all fished because it's what they know how to do.  The trade of fishing is passed down through generations and the community remains a very small poor fishing village.

            In the last decade a new resource has been discovered in Lobitos and many changes and developments are happening around it.  Lobitos has rich oil, delicious fish, and also world class consistent waves.  Surfing is a huge global industry and good waves are certainly a resource that can be taken advantage of.  As surfers flock to Lobitos, word of the amazing waves is spread and more and more tourism and development begins to happen.  The challenge is how this development is managed and who will benefit from it.  In my opinion it is the local people who should always have control over and benefit from their own resources. 

            We have seen this development boom many times along the coast of California and now worldwide as surfing continues to become more and more popular.  California is very different however because there are many restrictions protecting the coast.  The California coastal commission has preserved the amazing coastline and kept little surf towns like Malibu from being over developed.  Not only do huge development plans threaten the character of these small towns but they also pose huge environmental threats.  In places like Peru there is little environmental protection and so foreign investors can use their money to do the talking and get away with what they want.  This has brought up such issues as huge parking lots and high rise building affecting the way the sand blows into the surf.  Transnational corporations have so much power and often little respect for the communities they infiltrate.  During my time in Peru I saw many oil spills and even surfed a few times in water coated in a slime of oil.  Spills like this are a huge issue in the states but corporations and powerful people in Peru have no problem getting away with things such as this.  The environmental threats become very real as more development happens.  Fortunately the waves will be breaking long after the oil wells run dry, but we have to be careful about how we preserve the environment around them.       

            Lobitos is such an isolated and arid surf town that there is little other attraction to the area besides surf.  This surf spot has become well known because it hosts a wide variety and very consistent surf that is considered world class.  Today hundreds of surfers from ambitious beginners to professional level travel from all over the world to this remote desert town solely for the waves.  The changes brought about from this can be seen as good or bad but life in Lobitos is certainly evolving.  Since the area has become such a desirable spot, the price of land has gone from 1,000 dollars for a small parcel to 10,000.  The next generation of locals will likely be involved in many other things besides just fishing.  They now have opportunities to explore their interests and consider their options in a changing economy.       

            All these new opportunities brings up a very critical point that will decide the future of Lobitos.  What makes Lobitos so special is the small low rise local community character.  What we are beginning to see happen is the development of three story hotels and big restaurant.  There is lots of money to be made from these visiting surfers however those un-educated undercapitalized fisherman certainly did not have the resources to build a three story hotel.  When we look at other small surf towns we see a future we don’t want in Lobitos.  Think of small villages in Fiji with amazing surf breaks.  Well many of these amazing beaches and surf breaks are owned and established by huge foreign hotels.  Tourists stay at these resorts and nearly all of their tourist dollars go right back out of the country while locals work for cheap wages just to get by.  As more and more people flock to an area so does more money and more opportunity.  This can certainly be a very good healthy thing but when we factor in uncontrolled globalization it can be detrimental to the local community.  This seems to be a big theme with globalization, the money we spend does not support local communities but instead outside people, business, or nations.

            Taking a critical look at where the money each of us spends in our daily lives and who actually benefits from it gives us a better perspective on globalization.  We may not think twice about buying strawberries in the middle of winter, however there are many reasons this is not the best choice.  Your dollars spent on those strawberries will go to some foreign company that will continue to grow while your local economy is being depleted.  Soon your local strawberry farmer cannot keep up with the price and availability of these overseas strawberries.  It seems most of the money we spend does not support the people around us that we care about but instead large outside business and people we have no connection with.  Globalization is such a big factor today that the large majority of goods available to us come from thousands of miles away and from producers that have no accountability to our local concerns.

            Tourism is now completely globalized and is one of todays most centralized and competitive industries.  As more foreigners travel to developing nations it presents an incredible financial opportunity for countries that have little.  However, as Anita Pleumarom says, “tourism in developing countries is often viewed by critics as an extension of former colonial conditions because from the very beginning, it has benefited from international economic relationships that structurally favor the advanced capitalist countries in the North.”  As travelers we usually think of ourselves as helping foreign economies and contributing to some sort of global awareness but we may have to re-think that.  Even while visiting developing countries it’s hard to avoid supporting transnational corporations.  As many foreign travelers take the easiest most comfortable option they continue to support these corporations while the locals are deprived of the opportunity.  Foreign investors will continue to grow in this market driven industry and we see these transnational corporations gaining more and more power.              

            As a volunteer through WAVES for development in this small community of Lobitos I was able to witness first hand many these challenges.  WAVES is a non-profit organization working against some of the issues of globalization in community development.  It was only in the last decade that the local Lobitans learned to surf the amazing waves that they call home.  WAVES has provided the next generation of kids with the skill of surfing.  This not only can be an improvement to daily life but also an amazing opportunity to connect with and capitalize on surf tourism.  Without the amazing surf breaks, Lobitos would likely remain a small fishing village and they would have little hope for financial prosperity.  In recent years there have been a lot of changes to the town, including roads, a new school, government building, electricity, a new pier, many new hotels, many new houses, small stores and restaurants.  The new wave of tourism is good for the town, with the right control and the right people working around it.  Without some outside help and motivated locals we would likely see what we don’t want to happen with Lobitos.  WAVES is working hard to give locals the opportunities around surf tourism before they are all taken by others. 

            WAVES now teaches English, swimming, surfing, photography, and more as well as employing many locals and providing unique opportunities to individuals.  Through WAVES grassroots efforts the locals now have more opportunities to learn new skills.  Learning English, for example may allow them to connect with a tourist and lead to a new opportunity.  Some may soon have the skills to open a surf school, or start a new business of their own.  It’s still inevitable that wealthy outsiders from bigger cities will see the opportunity and take advantage of it but the locals are now at least given a chance.  One example is Henry, a local photographer in Lobitos who has been able to sell his photographs to tourists and pay to put himself through school.  He was taught photography by a visiting surfer who shared his knowledge with Henry and changed his life.  Through examples like this we see a whole other side of globalization, one that presents a much brighter and sustainable future.

            Surfers not only share a common interest, but a way of thinking and a hunger for waves.  People are brought together from all around the world in this search for waves.  It’s an awesome idea to use this connection for a bigger thing than personal gain.  Through WAVES for development in Lobitos, Peru I was able to not only experience some amazing surf but also support and connect with the local community.  I was able to share some of my ideas and knowledge with the locals while learning some things from them at the same time.  Not only was I able to be a very small part of a movement that is attempting to break the next generation of Lobitans out of a cycle of poverty but on an even bigger scale, to appropriately navigate the impact of globalization.  

            In this process I was also able to learn about the simple life they live here in Lobitos and some of the values and traditions they hold.  It was a very rewarding and positive experience for me as the volunteer and I am very glad I was able to make an impact on some of the local people.  They seem to live a very happy life and they don’t have a lot but they do seem to have what they need.  I learned how to truly live in the moment and relax without constantly worrying about what’s happening next.  In Lobitos time has a completely different meaning than what I'm used to.  Showing up an hour late is respectably on time which often means a lot of waiting around.  Usually in life we would sit and stress about why this person is late and what’s going to happen if they don’t show but here I learned that doesn’t have to be the way.  People in Lobitos don’t have a particular schedule, instead they just live in each moment.  I was amazed at how welcoming and inviting the Peruvian culture was and I feel very privileged for the opportunity.                

            WAVES for Development believes that surf travel should benefit the people and the communities where it happens.  Looking at this system that Waves has created we see an amazing opportunity for locals and travelers alike.  By connecting different cultures and sharing ideas, knowledge and wealth we see endless possibilities and it’s awesome to see some of the people who really deserve it being able to capitalize on it.  This is using the same ideas of globalization but with a more specialized structure in place.  I think we could use the model WAVES has created to rethink the way we travel and potentially how globalization impacts local communities.    





Works Cited

Birdsall, Nancy. "Globalization and the Developing Countries: The Inequality Risk." Globalization and the Developing Countries: The Inequality Risk. N.p., 8 Mar. 1999. Web. 12 June 2015.

Gee, Phil. "Surfing - A Growing Industry." SurfCareers. N.p., 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 June 2015.

Pleumarom, Anita. "Active Adventures in South America." Sustainable Tourism. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2015.

Sanders, Marcus. "Small Surf Town under Threat from Possible High-rise Development, SAVE JEFFREY'S BAY | Surfline." Small Surf Town under Threat from Possible High-rise Development, SAVE JEFFREY'S BAY | Surfline. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2015.

"WAVES for Development International - Go to Surf, Volunteer to Serve." WAVES for Development International Home Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2015.