Tuesday, July 22, 2014

1 in a million

Previously on Facebook I mentioned a man who relentlessly pursued his vision of bringing hydroelectricity to his homeland.  I got to spend Sunday with this guy, which inspired me to write a top-10 list:

10. He woke me at up at 3:30am, "Mr. Andy, get on the motorcycle and take me up the valley to work on a project that called late last night."  I immediately regretted calling the man relentless!

9. While we bounced along the road on a motorcycle that should have been scrapped 10,000 miles ago, he told me stories the whole time, which helped me relax and let the bike and the road find their own way to get along.

8. One of said stories was about the government 20 years ago doing "flood relief" by dropping bombs from planes onto logjams that were holding in the floodwater.

7. When we had a sudden session of side-to-side sand drifting, he threw up his hands and begged God for mercy (and we didn't wipe out).

6. It took him only an hour to fix the hydro turbine, because he knows his stuff.

5. After 6 hours of getting beat up on some of the craziest roads I've ever ridden, he was still happily telling stories, like how he was the best donkey-shoeing man in the district back in the day.

4. Baked by the sun and covered in fine dust, what was the first thing he did after getting back to our room? Sit down and play a local instrument of course (click video below).

3. While in Tajikistan he caught the young guys on our team starring at the local women, and smacked them and told them if their jaw hung any lower a bird would fly in.

2. Throughout the day he was a great help: he directed me to and gave me great introduction to village elders, police commanders and governors, allowing me to easily get into conversation with them, collect data for an upcoming proposal, and exchange facebook IDs with them.

1. Before this trip, I already knew this guy was quality, because in the spring when there was a bad fallout in one of our staff teams, the entire project would have gone down the drain, except that he withstood tremendous pressure to ally with some corrupt workers, and instead held up truth, integrity, and genuine service to poor communities here.

One thing that always makes me happy to be here: Spending time with 1-in-a-million characters like this guy.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The "great" and the "not great". Part 2

In KT village we are having a sort of wrestling match with one of the community leaders.  He has not been around for much of the 2 years that our teams have done community mobilization and training, and each time he comes around he makes that he would like us to get on with do some big physical project or else get lost.  This is also the village that would really benefit from the reforestation project, but the problem is no one in the community seems to have the goal to work together toward that project.  I will try to get a chance this week to go out and visit with the big grumpy fellow, and explain to him that our funds are from one community (in a foreign country) to their community, and that he can help by getting his community mobilized around an activity or goal that will be a great development for all the community.  At the moment he is fixated on a more drinking water wells in his part of the village, or expensive cement walls for flood prevention.  It will be an interesting conversation.

This past week in the village I had a great talk with a couple of my local leaders about how we negotiate with community leaders when they have different plans/ideas than us.  We thought of plenty of examples to reflect on and discuss what has worked and what has not.  They gave me a really great and truly genuine compliment, saying that I have an effective way of managing angry or disgruntled people by cutting through all the blame game and going straight to agreements on common ground.  I remembered the main conversation that they were commenting on.  A group of 6 elders came to me and were ready to throw us out of the village.  Some on my team are prone to being defensive, which is sort of an essential to this shame/honor culture.  Rather than defending against the accusations they made against us, I cut to the quick and said, “I understand the problem you’re facing, and how hard it has made your lives.  What we have tried to do together has not given the results that either of us hoped for.  Now our goal is the same as yours: to improve that.  We don’t need to argue, we need to find the next opportunity to work on this problem.”  This week my staff told me that after 3 months the men still remember how I addressed them and turned a fight into a search together for a new solution.  Like always, we seem to influence or impact people most when we’re not really thinking about it but just going through regular life.  It’s great to get a compliment now and then and know you’re being understood, isn’t it?

We also heard some great things from the community of MZ this week.  Our 3-year commitment to working in that community is up this fall, so we have been having some nice reflection times on what has gone on there.  In the first 4 months the community did not trust our staff, would not guarantee their safety in their village, and paid little attention to the community mobilization and training that our facilitators would bring.  Now nearly 3 years later our team that works there is accepted like close family there.  Trainings are well attended, and the content and plans have gone much more into the hands of the community.  They chose the knitting learning, for example.  They also were great participants in the Birth Life Saving Skills course, both men and women, because they saw that our team really believed what they were teaching (one of those couples had their first baby during the time of the course).  I am certain that this community will be said to let us go this fall.  This is not “great” in a way, but it is, in another!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The "great" and the "not great", Part 1

I should be writing more and putting some effort into this blog while I am here alone.  Perhaps the reason I have not done that yet is that I prefer to keep myself very busy when I’m alone.  So I’ve kept busy in the office, with the teams, in the villages, and doing some work on the house, and that helps pass the time. 

I have slowly come to realize that in community development work, there will never be a time when everything is going great.  I was going to write perfect, but I have known for a long time that perfect is not what I should set my heart on!  Instead I hope for projects to be “great”, but it is not possible for them all to be “great” at one time.  Each community goes through an amazing assortment of circumstances that influence and affect and shape the way they live and how they interact with us as a team there to work with them.  Here’s the rough list, then, or the “great” and “not great” things going on:

In MZ village, the construction of the irrigation reservoir has not begun, even though the materials were sent out in May.  The community did a terrific job of digging the sub-foundation for the 14,000L reservoir, but then there was a conflict with a neighboring village regarding that land that the reservoir would be built on.  This became an acute issue at one point, but the right mediators were around and violence was averted.  That situation is completely resolved now, says the community, but it will be a few more weeks before most of the families return from the mountaintops where they go each summer for wheat and pistachio harvest.  This is “not great”, because I wanted to see this project through.  I’m confident, however, that my local staff can finish the job when the time is right.

Also in MZ village a group of young women has just completed a quick hands-on training in knitting.  I let 2 of our female facilitators design this intervention and do it as an experiment, and I’m glad I did!  For less that $3 we equipped each woman in training with the materials needed to make 2 child-sized sweater-vests, which they are now selling for $4 apiece.  The girls that have sold have bought their own materials and are continuing on.  This is “great!”

In AQ village, the community is once again without water.  I was out there this week, and arrived just in time to hear that the well has filled with over 5 meters of sand, burying the electric pump.  This is probably due to the rise in the water table.  We considered our options for resolving this problem, but at 40 meters in the ground it’s too dangerous to depend on water pumps to keep the water level down while digging out 5 meters of sand, that is, 5 meters below the water table level.  It is just too risky right now, so we have to wait for the water level to go down.  This is “not good”.  We are now working on advocacy to neighboring villages to share their drinking water with AQ for the time being. 

This week when I came out to AQ I went with a few of the farmers and a couple of our guys up on the mountaintops to evaluate the chemical weed control trials they did this spring.  It was a blast stomping around the mountains with the farmers, because they were so enthused to show me the difference that the herbicide 2 4D made.  The broadleaf herbicide not only eliminated the broadleaf weeds (including nasty thistles that destroy the farmers’ hands during harvest), but it also made a serious reduction in the grass-type weeds, which was unexpected.  Few farmers sprayed, (perhaps because many were scarred after we gave a warning training on the hazards of chemicals!) but the ones that did were very excited, and the ones that did not regretted their decision.  We harvested 1m x 1m sample from fields that had been sprayed, and from their control plots.  Saturday we’ll thresh these by hand and find the difference in wheat weight, in order to determine if the yield increase will pay for the chemical or not.

I have more to write but I am out of time.  I guarantee Part 2 will come soon!

Friday, May 16, 2014

For the fear of floods

Flash floods have wreaked havoc all the way across the northern region of this country this spring.  It is crushing to get report after report of new floods.  The government and aid community can barely begin to respond to one flood affected area before the next flood hits in a different area.  Pity the villages that were hit hard by floods but mostly forgotten when the next flood hit another area harder yet, demanding all the attention of the responders.  This is how it has been, especially in the case of the Argo landslide.  In the days just before that landslide occurred dozens of houses were buried and fields destroyed in villages near the ones we work in.  Then the landslide happened, and all spotlights pointed exclusively there.  I could write a lot more about this, but that’s not the subject I’m after tonight. 

All three of the communities we work in were affected by floods in the last 3 weeks, but there will be little to no response for them from the gov or big aid orgs.  It is not that they were less affected or lost less than the Argo residents, but rather they are outside of the center of the flood relief hubbub.  So, since our staff are there several days each week, we are hearing about these communities’ needs and wants after the floods.  They don’t want food or common staples that the gov and big aid orgs always give.  Instead they are saying they want cement and payment for the labor to build floodwalls, check dams, and ditches.  What should we do with their requests?

In each of our three villages we have a house; we call these our community offices.  These houses have been generously provided as a free lease, by community members, as a part of their participation with our programs.  Our staff stay there 3 nights a week generally, and the rest of the week the rooms are empty.  On a recent weekend when no one was in those rooms, floods swept into all three of our villages.  In two of the three villages, the landlords of our community houses were outside during the downpour with their shovels, shaping a path for rain runoff to go around the houses rather than pooling and soaking into the rock and mud foundations.  In the other village, however, the landlord does not live nearby, and the neighbors were attending to their own houses rather than our community office.  When I sent a team out the next day to assess flood damage, they found a 12” layer of mud in their community office.  The other two community offices were untouched by the flooding because of the responsibility taken by the property landlords.  Clearly the defining difference in the effect of the flooding on these three houses was the action taken by humans, not the type of construction. 

One of our three villages has been slow to work out a plan for projects this year.  The big leaders have made some requests, but as we’ve worked through technical and social surveying we have determined with them that each of those suggestions would not serve the community that well (usually in terms of sustainability or benefit for the whole community.)  Finally after the flooding, the leader of the village council came to my facilitators in the field and demanded that we hire an excavator to come and begin clearing the flood damage to their village and clearing a foundation area for a flood wall above their houses.  He said that if we didn’t do this, there would be no future for our work in their village, because their village itself would have no future if the flood risk continued!  This is not the first ultimatum I’ve received from villagers, so I have a few ways of responding to these types of demands.  This time I made a slight subject change and talked about the asphalt road connecting this province with the rest of the country.  I talked about what a tremendous project it was, how much it changed all of their lives to have such a great improvement in transportation, but also how costly and problematic it has been to maintain during flood season.  I asked the old men in the room what travelers and traders did with the dirt road (before it was paved) when it was damaged by a flood.  Would they hire excavators and bulldozers to clear 20-meter-deep mudslides off the previous path?  No way!  They would find a new route up and over the material that the flood brought down, and continue on their way!  I then challenged them: was the asphalt road really serving them, or had it in fact become very costly and problematic to maintain?  Was keeping the asphalt road clear really solving the problem, or was the damage of the road only a symptom of the problem of the deforested hills? 

Several times in the past 2 years we have tried to mobilize this community to reforest the hillside above their village.  We have tried a variety of participatory tools to engage them on this subject, but nothing has really worked.  They feel the problem of flooding from the hillside during the rainy season when their homes are getting wet, but their only solution ideas involve cement, not trees.  Now, however, I hope that we have a new hook to grab hold of.  The big leader told us that his village will not have a future unless something is done about the flooding.  We agree.  So what should be done?  His suggestion is an excavator and a stone and cement wall.  We have seen lots of these walls washed right into the river in the “bigger than expected” floods that this province is notorious for producing.  What we are going to counter-offer to him and his community is the concept of developing the entire catchment above the village into terraces and trees.  It would take time, and lots of effort, and plenty of maintenance and repair until it became mature and strong.  The positive, however, is that this is exactly opposite of cement structures; cement and other manmade structures weaken over time, tree roots only get deeper and stronger.  

The idea of reforesting the upper hill of this village will encounter resistance, because that hill has already been mapped and numbered for housing development.  We have known this and been concerned about this for a year, and finally we have an idea of how to counter this problem.  We are going to approach the elders of the 3 older, neighboring villages that send many migrant family members to build new homes in this newer village.  Those older villages have a vested interest in this newer, growing village, because it functions as an overflow for their families and villages.  We will approach them with the concern shared by the village council leader and us: that there is no future if flood risks are not mitigated.  We plan to host them in a well organized meeting and present them with as many facts, figures, and possibilities that we can come up with.  We will urge them to review their housing development map and decide which areas must be given instead for catchments, foresting, and drainage.  They will have to reduce the number of plots they planned, but that will allow a future for the number that do fit.  We will essentially be telling them that the best flood control is not constructed and cement hard, rather it is living, growing, and responsibly acting to plan for and prevent flooding. 

At the moment these are the grand plans.  It will take massive effort to pull off this change in this village.  If we accomplish it though, I think it will be the biggest community development project I have been a part of. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

MZ irrigation pictures update

Yesterday I was in MZ village and grabbed a few updated pictures of the irrigation project.  I had not been there for over a month, so it was exciting to finally see how things wrapped up before the snow came (which has now melted), and how the community were feeling about the completion of the pipeline.

This is the completed check dam and ditch that feeds the settling reservoir.  It looks real good.

Here's the reservoir with it's lid on.  The first air vent is also pictures (brown pipe beyond the reservoir standing 1 meter tall).  There are four air vents that make sure the up-and-down pipe has the best gravity water flow possible.

Here's the view from down the valley.  The white gate in the ditch is a small measure to protect the reservoir from flooding.

Below is the suspended valley crossing.  The suspended pipe is 42 meters long!

Two men from the village with my staff member who is most technically-inclined (and technically-daring!  He's willing to try anything, so I am usually raining him in with safety considerations, i.e. wear a mask when you weld, only do dynamiting when the work crew retires for the day, use a safety cable when winching the bridge into place, etc.)

The foundations that the suspension cables went over were not perfectly true, but they are doing the trick.

Here is air vent #3, which cycles through blowing air and water until the pipe is completely full from beginning to end.  It takes about 18 hours for the 800 meter pipe to completely fill and flow well after a shut-off and repair.

This is the end of the pipe for now.  The community is eager to build a reservoir at this location in the spring.  The best flow we have had so far is 2.6 liter per second from this 2-inch pipe.  We are hoping to improve the venting or intake in order to get the full 4 liters per second that we planned for.  I wish I knew more about hydrology!

I had tea with the 104-year-old (or so he claims) elder of the village, and was pleased to hear him say, "I've lived here all my life and there has never been water here before.  Now look at the water flow, and look at the new potential for growth here."  Here is one of his grandsons collecting water for his mother to wash clothes and dishes with.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

AQ village project pictures

This is the village we call "AQ" (May 2013)

In 2013 the big project in AQ village was a well for drinking water.  If you would like to read the full story behind this project, just click the label "Wells", which you will find in two places: 1- just below this post, and 2- in the list of Labels on the top of the righthand side column.

KT village project pictures

This is the village we call "KT" (May 2013)

Here are some pictures from the 2013 work in KT village.  One of the strengths of our project is training and capacity building.  We have a variety of training topics prepared, but we do not start or even offer them until the community realizes in problem analysis that they would benefit from some form of learning.  Below are pictures of men's and women's hygiene health training.

Below are pictures of latrine construction.  KT village was the big success for latrines, because of all the extra work that this community put into them.  I decided not to show pictures of the insides of their latrines!

And here are some of the new latrine owners.

If you are interested in reading more about the latrines project in KT, click here