Saturday, November 26, 2011

Popularity contest

Today we finally put some structure around a question that has floated through our project for the past year: “How do we make it popular?” 

Examples: Soap, toothbrushes, rubber gloves, biosand filters

Of the above examples, soap is perhaps the best.  In our hygiene course we make the point very clear that handwashing after using the latrine and before you eat is pretty much the biggest measure villagers here can take to stay healthy.  We don’t just tell this straight up mind you, this comes after a week or two of participatory games and things that lead the village women themselves to the conclusion that the lack of handwashing is a big problem for them.  Then we bring in soap and water and actually get them to practice a thorough washing, and they get to keep the soap.  Then after the course we visit the local shopkeeper with one of the locals, and together request him to make soap available at a reasonable price, because now people are interested in buying it. 

A few months after the course, we go back to evaluate each of the communities that took the hygiene course.  Our women visit with women in their homes, and men visit with men and the shopkeeper, to see if people have been applying what they learned.  One of the most telling parts of the evaluation is to ask the shopkeeper, “okay, really, have the people been buying soap or not?”  In some places, they have been, and we are extremely encouraged by this.  In other places, they have not, and this is disappointing.  A bar of soap sells for a few pennies, a price that even really poor people are willing to pay, for something that they want. 

This is why we keep coming around to this question, “How do we make it popular?”  What we believe it takes in this culture to make it popular is the following 3 things:

  • ·      The people have to understand what it is, why it’s a good thing, and how to use it.
  • ·      The local shops have to have it available, and for an affordable price.
  • ·      The neighbors have to have it (or at least covet and talk about it).

We take various initiatives on the top 2 points, but still it seems that without that third point being present, it does not spread. 

So what do you think?  Is there more to popularity, and is there more we can do?  

Community Development Annual Plan 2012

 As I wrote earlier, the local leaders and I have just written the annual plan for our Community Development Project.  For those of you that might take an odd interest in the details of what we do, I will write a little summary of what is planned.  Italics are used here because, while we make initial plans to prepare budgets and training that we'll need to act, the actual projects will be largely designed and shaped by the communities we serve.  That said, here goes:

Hygiene courses will continue, and the 4 female facilitators that we hired this past March will step up and lead those more.  We estimate reaching 5,760 women with this course, as the results have been very good.

Biosand Filters will continue to roll out, especially after the water levels decreased and contamination increased during the 2011 drought.  We estimate we’ll distribute 1,000 Biosand Filters in one way or another. 

Latrine work never ends here, but because our sanitation work is more in the way of advocacy and/or social pressure, we estimate we’ll only pay for 50 latrines next year.

Water sources are another ongoing emphasis.  We’ve planned for 22 groundwater projects.  These could be wells that need repair, springs or pools that need protection, or the engineering of a water tank or pipeline project.

Disaster mitigation training is planned for 2012, although that depends on all of us getting some necessary training first!  This is a big part of our drought response program.

Agriculture for women will include plastic tunnels in February, and training in gardens in April.

Agriculture for men will include training in tree pruning, tree nursery grafting, protection against a variety of pests, and orchard set up.

Demonstration chicken farming is new for 2012.  This will be a 3-year project in which all community members are welcome to come for training and do hands-on learning in chicken raising.

A chickens distribution is also planned for widows this spring, as part of our drought response program to the most vulnerable people in the community.

Big greenhouses are moving out to villages in 2012 as well.  Our experiments and training in the greenhouses in school or government departments have been good, now we’ll move some out for communities to gain wider participation in the demonstrations.

An agricultural cooperative is also slated for 2012, and this is new.  We’re still writing the terms on this, but it will likely be that all village members contribute 1/3 of the dues, and our project will contribute the other 2/3 to increase their initial capital for investment.

Government capacity building is also continuing.  This means that we routinely give local government people a call and invite them along to see what we’re doing, and then we train their socks off and advocate for them to do more programs for the poor.

Birth Live Saving Skills course will restart after a few years break.  This course for local midwives (plus any women interested) has an excellent, participatory methodology, and it has really had dynamic results.

Child-2-child health training is another activity we’re trying to restart.  It makes sense, after hearing x number of old locals say, “I never died from not washing my hands after going to the toilet,” to look for a younger audience for health training.

Women’s skills training has been something we have talked a lot about this year, but we’ve had trouble getting this going.  What we really need is to have a market for products made and sold by women.  Until we have that, we’re training women to make things that they probably can’t sell.  Anyone want to come and commit a decade to women’s rights here?

Beyond these plans, there are also things that seem to happen every year, like small bridge buildling, and tree planting on public grounds. 

That pretty well rounds out the annual plan for 2012.  Got any questions?  Yeah, so do I, but go ahead and ask and maybe I can answer.


Today I heard an interesting story, or proverb, if you could call it that.  I’ll translate it to you just as I heard it:

A boy was walking through the bazaar one day and heard a man advertising the sale of a camel for 1 dollar.  The boy went home and excitedly told his dad about this.  To the boy’s surprise, the boy’s father replied, “Ah, that’s too expensive.”  A few weeks later, the boy is walking through the same bazaar and hears that a camel is now selling for 40 dollars.  At home he told his father with disappointment that the price of camels had gone up forty-fold.  The father replied, “That’s a cheap price, go and buy it right away!” 

(The story-teller stops at this point and waits for one of the listeners to state the point that everyone in this culture understands: When a person doesn’t have any money, everything is expensive.)

Now that I’ve told you one story that you may or may not completely understand, let me go further by telling a horrible joke that I’ve heard a few times:

Mullah Nasruddin was sitting in his 10th story apartment one summer day when he heard someone shouting from the ground level of the center stairwell.  He leaned an ear into the hallway and heard, “Ahmad Jan, I’ve returned from your home on the river, and the news is terrible!  Your daughter has eloped with a Pakistani!”

Mullah Nasruddin immediately reacted to this news, realizing that his family name and honor was now ruined.  He was so struck by this tragedy that he immediately decided to end his family’s dishonor, and he jumped off his balcony.

But while he was falling, he began to think…

When he passed the 7th story balcony he asked himself, “Whose name did that man call out?”

When he passed the 5th story balcony he also realized that he did not have a house on the river.

When he passed the 2nd story balcony he stated aloud, “Wait, I don’t even have a daughter!”

A horrible joke indeed, but when people tell it there is a teaching point included.  The point is that this society needs to think about how quickly they leap to passionate, if not violent, conclusions that have irreversible consequences.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

The land (borrow pictures)

A while back I posted some pictures of people from this land, and noted that they were not my pictures, but those from my colleagues, taken during years when picture-taking was not such a dangerous business in our part of the country.  From that same library of pictures I've found some nice pictures of the land to share with you.

This is a fancy shelter for a melon guard.  Melons are pretty serious business here.

The rolling hills around our city, unlike any place I've seen before.

One of my favorite pictures of friends on their commute.

This is the greenest village graveyard I've seen.

Men sifting grain after harvest.

Some villages have very little water.  One like this is a very hard place to live.

The shortcut between valleys.

The beautiful thing about this province is that some years it rains, and when it does, the dry hills actually grow something!

An update from the project office

 We’re back from holiday and I have had to work hard to catch up on things around the project office.  Now we are the only family here and I’m the only foreigner in the community development project, so life has to move at a faster pace just to keep up with all that needs to be taken care of.  I actually feel encouraged with the way things are going.  My role with the project is much more defined, and that should help me avoid getting discouraged like I was prone to in the spring and summer.  I am now the “Programme advisor,” which essentially means I’m responsible for building capacity in our local staff so that they can do their jobs, while keeping the projects in line with the purpose of our organization.  I like that I do not have to do a lot of day-to-day management, and am not responsible for all those decisions that managers hear grumbling about.  It’s a new challenge to work so closely with our local leaders to do reports, proposals, and budgets.  Somehow we need to come up with fluid and logical documents in English, but to get there I have to be extremely patient and sip a lot of tea while we debate in repetitively cyclical circles and argue in 3 languages.

This week’s big task is submitting our 2012 project plans and budgets to our donor organizations.  I’m pleased with the progress so far.  To keep the process going, I have to think about the simplest way to introduce each task to the guys, and then come up with the right questions to draw out their thoughts and keep them on topic (ha).  Then I sit at my computer and quickly type notes in whatever language comes out first, and come back to clean them up later.  I’m really pleased that there have not been any big disagreements, even when discussing the budgeting of a lot of money. 

I will write soon with a description of the project plans for 2012, because I think some of you might be interested to hear them.  With the rest of my time tonight, I thought I would mention a couple nice discussions I had with local staff today.

This morning our youngest staff, who was married last year and has a new baby, was admitting to the other men that his wife is upset with him.  He said this was because he has been working long days, and when he gets home he has to study for the courses he is taking as well.  His wife has bluntly asked him, “where’s the benefit for me in this marriage?”  The men all turned to me and asked me what he should do, so I told him exactly what I thought.  I told him that when he goes home, he needs to put everything aside and take 10 minutes, and look in his wife’s eyes, and talk to her.  Ask about her day, and tell her about his, and keep eye contact the whole 10 minutes.  Further, he needs to pay her 2 compliments in that 10-minute talk.  And if she asks him why he is being so strange, he has to tell her it is because he loves her.  The reactions from the guys were mixed, clearly some of them thought this was a stretch for the male of this culture, but others signaled they agreed with me.  I will let you know if I find out how this went for our guys.

The last story for tonight is about two guys on the project, who took notice of a desperate family, and took action in response.  They were in a village monitoring some agriculture projects, when they came across a family living in a house that looked inhabitable.  They took some time to visit with the man of the house, who was ashamed he did not even have a cushion for them to sit on.  One of the most telling signs of poverty was also evident: there was nothing covering the windows mud openings in the house; no glass, no curtains, not even plastic to slow the cold wind.  Now, this sounds like the type of person our project should be helping, but we have strict rules about handouts, because they become so problematic.  Their hands a bit tied, both of my staff took this man’s situation to heart, and both responded personally.  One of my staff invited this man to come to his house the next day and work for him in his yard.  The next day came and the man happily went to work.  My other staffer stopped by with a whole load of clothes for this poor man to take home with him. 

This latter story is a big encouragement for me.  There are many days when I worry that our investment in this project and this staff is not going to produce the fruit that we hope for: transformed people.  Then stories like this come out of nowhere and remind me that the Spirit is roaming this place looking for hearts that have heard truth and are softened by it.