Saturday, October 8, 2011

Here, take a sip from this fire hose

In a couple weeks I will be the lone foreigner in the Community Development Project here.  Although I have been here over 10 months, the sudden learning curve feels like drinking from a fire hose.  Taking over the responsibilities of 2 very capable teammates is one edge of the challenge, and making new strategies and brining them to life is the other edge.

Before I lead you to believe that something has gone terribly wrong for me to be left in this situation, let me explain how, in a way, this was done on purpose.  We talk a lot about raising the capacity of our local staff, unto the point that they can take management responsibility.  The couple that is now leaving has been with the project since it started 6 years ago.  They poured themselves into this project, especially in leadership development, and now it’s time for them to move on in order for those leaders to continue to step up. 

So, what will I do?

  •         Advise on development strategy, budgeting, and big-picture planning
  •           Give ongoing training and support to the facilitators, equipping them with new tools to address new challenges
  •         Bridge the gender gap between our male and female staff
  •         Be the liaison between the non-English speaking project, and the rest of the world
  •         Mediate tensions between local staff, and intervene in power abuses
  •         Hold the leaders accountable to the original vision of the project and values of the organization
  •         Play policeman and watch for finance fraud
  •         Continue my own side-gig of producing publicity and marketing materials
  •         Tinker with new technologies, to see if there is anything new under the sun (that will actually be sustainable and replicable here)
  •        Teach English to our staff (oh how I hate this- I’m a lousy excuse for an English teacher!  But it is a great way to relate to my staff)

Some of these responsibilities are easier because of the foreigners that started here 6 years ago, and some are made harder.  Local staff are able to completely manage the day-to-day activities, the upkeep of the office, vehicles, and the bulk of administration and finance, and it’s great to hand all that off.  However, the staff are not as open to new ideas for their work with villagers, because they sometimes think they’ve learned it all.  One of the glaring tasks that I’m concerned about is the new strategies that are needed in the next 6-9 months.  Here are some of the matters we are sorting through:

We are considering expanding our working area into a third location.  We currently have 2 teams in 2 locations, and we want to branch out further from the city, but of course the big concern will be security.  We will need a whole new strategy of how we go about our work in less secure areas, and how we mitigate risks.  Essentially it will be figuring out how to keep good relationships with local people powerful enough to get our staff out of a bind.  This will be hard, it weighs heavily on me to send staff out when both they and I know they’re at risk.

The Biosand Filter factory has been going over 1 year, and we’ve distributed more than 900 filters, so we are ready to turn a corner and try to market them rather than give free distributions.  Some of our staff will really resist this change and make my life difficult for a while, so it will take a lot of patience and testing of new ideas to get this change made. 

The way our men’s and women’s teams work together needs to improve.  In most of the work, the women need to lead, and men need to take a more supportive role.  This won’t be popular either, but I believe I can prove it will improve our whole project.

Mediating conflicts and preventing power abuse is going to be a whopper.  About every 4 months, our local project manager and the office administrator reach the end of their patience with one another and start a yelling match.  There’s lots of little jealousies and personal issues that fester and boil over at times, and lately I’ve been receiving text messages that seriously undermine the local project manager, which tells me another subversive plot is taking shape.  I’m thankful for 3 years of experience working here, because I no longer take all these matters to heart, and little by little, God teaches me about grace, and that is good.

Well there’s certainly more, but this gives you a taste of what I’m up to now and how I need your prayers.  When you think of us, do pray for security, but please pray for more than that, because we’re not simply here to be safe, we’re here to promote, exemplify, and initiate change, and that takes a lot- so please hold us up on those regards as well. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The People (teammate picture album)

We have had disappointingly-few opportunities to take pictures of people here in this location.  In the previous mountain location we lived in, everyone asked us to take their picture.  This place is not at all like that; this place is conservative and suspicious.  A foreigner in a bigger organization in our town was seen taking pictures of neighbors over the weekend, and before he knew it guns came out and he was in a serious situation.  It was resolved and no one was hurt thankfully.  So, with that being the flavor of this place, I'm not going to be able to share a lot of firsthand photos.  Lucky for you, I have several thousand photos from the last 6 years of work of our project.  These pictures were taken by teammates over the past years.  I hope you enjoy them, but I will ask you not to copy or use them elsewhere, deal?

This post is titled "The people" for obvious reason.  I want to show you a bit of the uniqueness of the culture of people here.

Parents often put eyeliner on small babies and childrens' eyes.  Some say it is to make them less attractive in order to ward off the evil eye.

Women taking dishes to the nearest water source to wash.

A group of farmers ready to get to work on a project.

Nice hats huh?

A group of women gathered to learn about safe birth practice.

This is the guy my wife calls KAkA in her blog.  He means a lot to us.

Men gathered to receive some relief wheat seed after a drought year.

Men gathered in an agriculture experiment garden.