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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

MZ village project pictures

This is the village we call "MZ" (Nov 2013)

For 2013 the big project in MZ village was constructing an irrigation pipeline to move water 1/2 a mile from a mountain spring to the middle of the village.  We really got to know the community well by working through plans and challenges in this project.

Below is the site of the check dam that diverts the mountain spring into a small reservoir for funneling to the pipe.  We built this carefully, with spring floods in mind.  Breaking through the rock to make a sure foundation was a huge challenge, but the men were able to a 50cm-30cm foundation, without dynamite.  Progression of this site is seen counter-clockwise from the top-left.  

Below is the other view of the dam and reservoir as it progressed (again top-left, clockwise).  It took two blasts of dynamite to open up space for a small (1.5 meter x 2 meter) reservoir.  The dam diverts water to one side of the valley, down a short canal to the reservoir, which functions as a settling tank before water enters the pipe.

Below is the construction of a suspended valley crossing.  We couldn't afford to lose the elevation in cross the valley, so we reinforced the pipe and hung 42 meters of it like a suspension bridge.  Putting this up in one piece was a nervous day, but we were successful.

Below is some pics of the community members and workhorses of the project.  No one can say that this was our organization's project, because without these men, it would not have happened!

If you want to read some of the narrative stories of this project, just click on the labels "Agriculture" or "Irrigation" below this post or on in the Labels list in the right-side column.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Part II: It’s a jungle out there!

I wrote the other night about the diversity we find in the villages we work in.  My point (whether I reached it or not is unknown) was that we need to recognize the diversity of people that live closely together and not assume that they are all one cuddly community.  Rather we should understand what kind of people they are, and use varied approaches to urge them along in joining the work of becoming a community by definition.  Tonight I am again writing about the diversity of community, but this time it’s from the perspective of the outsider; that is, my own perspective, right here in my neighborhood.

In the time that we have lived in this city, we have experienced a wide spectrum of responses from our neighbors.  We have experienced genuine, humbling hospitality and Good-Samaritan-like kindness from strangers.   In the same time period we have also experienced hate-filled slander, curses, and all-out awful behavior.  It’s been such a wild, up and down spectrum that you cannot anticipate one day to the next which flavor of interaction you will experience.  It truly is a jungle, right outside our door! 

The experience that I describe above has taught me something important about myself.  I have learned that I like to be respected as a human, and when I’m not, it is a heavy burden on my heart and mind.  For example: when I cross paths with a stranger on the sidewalk and he hisses “infidel” in my ear as he passes, I don’t like it.  That word, to them, is the biggest insult they can utter; it is absolutely dehumanizing.  Every time this happens to me it takes at least a few minutes to put it out of my head and go on with my day.  Before I put it out, it threatens to ruin my day and my attitude toward people here for the day.  It is especially polluting because I think to myself, “I’ve done nothing to you and nothing to deserve being dehumanized.  Rather than give me any sort of chance, you immediately cut me down?  I deserve better!”  It has taken, and continues to take, a lot of work to be able to quickly say to myself, “I don’t have to be respected, to be effective at what I was called here for.” 

That short motto has become useful to me, which is good, because I frequently have to repeat it to myself.  It is disappointing to feel as if there has been an avalanche of negative sentiment towards foreigners altogether.  The negative sentiment manifests itself in a dozen different ways, all of which can ruin our days, if we let them. 

BUT, like I said, it’s a jungle out there, and that means you’ll find all sorts of animals out there.  We’re not here to wrestle with the tigers or even try to tame the donkeys, we are here to tend the goats, find the lost sheep, and bind up the brokenhearted.  If we get too scared of the tigers or too fed up with the lousy donkeys, and we stay out of the jungle altogether, then who will help the animals we were sent to help? 

Here’s another thing about jungles, a beautiful thing in fact: Sometimes you’ll even find animals that will take care of you in the jungle.  One of the best mental/emotional/spiritual exercises we started late last year was creating a list of great things that people here have done for us.  I call it the Good Samaritan list.  It always challenges me to be reminded that some people here have been Good Samaritans to us, even while we have come with the intent to be Good Samaritans to them (and so often fail to do so).  In order for someone’s action to make our Good Samaritan list, their action has to be completely empty of expectation of reward.  If we made a list of all the kind things people here have done for us WITH expectation of reward, that would be a LONG list.  Those that have done kindness or mercy without expectation of reward make a much shorter list, but it is a very special list to us.  Here it is:
  • Back in 2008 we were looking for a restaurant by ourselves in a city here that we had never been to.  Darkness fell before we found it, so we started to ask for directions from shopkeepers around us.  One of them looked at us caringly, walked with us to the street, hailed a cab, told him where we wanted to go, and paid the cab driver our fare.  He knew we would never see him again.
  • -       In 2011 a neighbor boy gave our son his favorite rabbit, a beautiful angora long-haired rabbit that was as tame as could be.  A true sacrifice, simply because he saw how my son’s eyes lit when he saw it. 
  • -       This winter we were bumping along in the muddy bazaar and our daughter wiggled out of her stroller straps and fell face first into the mud.  We were right there, but 2 men across the street got to our daughter before we could.  One immediately picked her up, another ran quickly for water to wash her up.  They washed her spotless before gently handing her back to her mother.
  • -       My son and I were doing some shopping in the bazaar and he set his backpack down in one shop.  30 minutes later an exhausted old man finally found us, smiled and put my son’s bag back around his shoulders.  He wouldn’t accept a thing in thanks.
  • -       One of the poorer staff in our office, a watchman, has a wife that is unable to bear children.  Rather than try to get a second wife that can bear children, he opened his heart and adopted the baby of a teen girl that was raped (this kind of adoption is absolutely unheard of here.  He’s the proudest father ever, and while this Good Samaritan act was not done for or to us, it was one of those remarkably genuine things that was done with such quiet humility, so we decided it had to make our list as well!

This is the conclusion of my thoughts for now on the jungle called diverse society.  We are not respected or appreciated by some number of people here, but that’s okay, we still have purpose in being here for those that are still open, still seeing us as humans, and still looking for light. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

It’s a jungle out there!

A little while ago, while being a part of the mediation of a village conflict, one of the village leaders turned to me privately and said, “Engineer sahib, it’s a jungle out there!”  It was one of those statements about which you think, “how am I to understand this?  Are you speaking literally or figuratively, or are you pulling my leg?”  Then he continued, “In a jungle you’ve got deer, and elephant, you’ve got rabbits, and monkeys, you’ve got mouse, you’ve lions and tigers, and you’ve got donkeys!  There’s all kinds out there!”  Then I understood that he was making reference to a community development training delivered by an Australian development guy, Phil, who is a close friend. 

Phil’s introductory training on community included lots of illustrations like this one, and this one stuck with those he told.  In reality, the village leader had not heard the training from Phil because he never went to that village.  This leader could only have learned it second-hand from our local staff.  I was impressed that Phil’s training illustration had been so good that it was remembered and passed on by our local staff and by a community leader!  And the fact was, he was applying the illustration perfectly!

Why did the village leader say to me: It’s a jungle out there?  He said it because at that moment, the whole community, minus 2 guys, were ready to put their shovels in the ground and start digging the ditch for an irrigation project.  The majority of the community had debated and worked out their preferences and opinions regarding irrigation and come to a consensus conclusion that they wanted this spring-fed irrigation pipe scheme project.  It had taken them a long time to get through that period of debate and resolution, and they were ready to put the arguing behind them and get to work.  Unfortunately on that day there were 2 guys who had not yet had their say in the matter and they decided to make their own disagreeing voices heard rather than accept was the majority of the community agreed upon. 

In this situation, these 2 men were the donkeys of the jungle.  Picture a nice, quiet jungle morning where the animals are calmly moving about as they start their day.  All of the sudden 2 donkeys, for reasons known only to donkeys, bolt through the forest, BRAYING wildly, kicking and knocking over anything in their path.  Despite the fact that there were bigger, wiser animals in the jungle on that day, at that moment there was nothing anyone could do to contend with the wild donkeys!  Then once they had run their route, trampled the ground and relieved themselves of all braying, they went back to being a mostly unnoticed animal.

Like my local staff member, and the village elder, I have been thinking a lot about the lesson on the diversity of people in communities.  Communities can be described in general terms according to their cultural characteristics, level of connectedness, ambitions and goals, and other common measures and norms.  However, communities often if not always contain people that are outliers to every norm that the community tries to hold to.  The strong people might work hard on getting these people to conform, but in the end, they’re going to be who they are going to be. 

The main task of a community development facilitator is to relate well to everyone in the community, and to mobilize them toward positive community changes.  That’s a tall order given the diversity of many communities.  It is possible, however, to realize that there are a diversity of tools and facilitation approaches that can be used to interact with different types of individuals. 

There’s more to say about this jungle business… but that’s for another night.

Update Jan 14:  This week I learned that one of the two men that were the “donkeys” toward our irrigation project, has now become a happy proponent of the project and supporter of our work.  Apparently the reason for his change of mind is that the irrigation water has made watering his animals much easier, and in the words of my staff, “The man’s donkey is jumping for joy!”  I love it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The irony of this human condition

I have been thinking about the situation of the culture and the people that we live among.  For a few years now we have observed their lives, heard their stories, and studied how, why and when they make changes or improvements in their lives.  Along the way we have also found some aspects of their culture that have a fierce resistance to change.  Thinking about these in detail, I find these situations to be sad and ironic.  I’ll explain what I mean in three examples that I have seen most clearly in this culture.  Be sure you catch my note at the end as well…

The values that we put such esteem in often escape our grasp.  The specific example I see in this culture is honesty.  Whenever I talk to people here about values, one of the first that they mention is honesty.  Whenever they talk about a person with great moral character, they always mention honesty.  If someone is criticizing another, they will almost always include that the person is “not true,” meaning that they are not honest.  The value of honesty is highly prized here, and because of that it is often ascribed as apart of their religion.  I often hear statements like, “This is my religion, and my religion is honest.”  When a person says this, the hearers are supposed to take the implication that this person is telling the truth.  Children often break it down in more simple turns, when, in the middle of their play on the street one of them will shout out, “by the name of God,” or, “by the name of our holy book!”  That’s all they’ll say, and everyone understands it to mean: believe me, I’m telling the truth!  
With all the value put in honesty, and the frequency with which it is talked about, it is a bit ironic how much dishonesty pervades this culture.  Examples?   
·      Shopkeepers mark a price up 500%, and swear to you in the name of God that they are giving it to you at the price they paid
·      Doctors and pharmacists sell poor hospital patients an entire bag of medicine, which almost always includes an antibiotic and a bag of IV fluid, no matter what the sickness or need is.  (and then the sick person will put the IV needle in and walk around town holding the IV bag up)
·      Police and government officials seek bribes wherever they can get them, sometimes using threat and intimidation, more often using inconvenience to prompt the bribe. 
·      One of the most disturbing to me: it is standard practice for parents of high school students to pay the biggest bribe possible to the proctors of college entrance exams.  Your grade on the entrance exam determines which faculty you can study.  Highest grades go into medicine, next to engineering, next to education and agriculture, and so on.
Yes, they talk an awful lot about the importance and value of honesty, but is escapes them.

The vices we hate most in others are often in us as well.  I’ll use the example of pride here.  It has been said that it takes a proud person to notice the pride in another.  Here, the character of pride is also tainted by the justification of jealousy and injustice.  If a person here is acting proudly it is most often because they have found a way to one-up someone else, usually someone that they were previously jealous of.  Here’s the simplified recipe: jealously leads to feeling justified to do something unjust and awful to someone else, which results in pride.  Classic example: Two men are working in the same office, Tom and Ted.  Tom works harder than Ted and gets a raise sooner.  Ted, angry and jealous, digs up some dirt on Tom that gets him fired.  Ted walks around proudly for years, thinking he has won the war.  Tom bides his time, hating the pride of Ted.  Finally 5 years later Tom has his chance, and joins rank with a stronger leader that fires Ted and anyone related to him, putting their whole tribe in worse poverty.  Tom is now proud as ever.

The community that we wished we had is not made up of people just like us. 
When we dialogue with poor villages about community development, we often hear them make erroneous assumptions about more developed/wealthy/happy/peaceful communities/provinces/countries.  It is astonishing to hear a person say they believe the village down the road or the US of A is more developed because the people there are all good religious people like himself, not invalids like the members of his village.  There’s several things going on in these statements, but here’s what I’m pointing out: a community is not made of people that are exactly alike, community is made of people that put each other before themselves, and work for the common good rather than themselves.  That being the motive, it doesn’t matter as much whether there’s a weird egg in the bunch.  A wise man once told me, “Every person is someone else’s weirdo.”  So of course there is going to be a weird egg in the bunch!  
This notion: “If I could only get people that I like around me and people I don’t like away from me, then I would have a peaceful and prosperous life” – that’s wrong.  We need diversity to be effectively growing and developing.  Unfortunately for the culture here, decades of war have hardened people to notions of diversity.  They would rather maintain and defend the boundaries of the ethnic and clan lines that they know and trust.  In some places the groups are so small and so inbred that they suffer severe rates of congenital birth defects.  Places like these desperately need to stretch their trust to see the benefits of creating wider community.

My note at the end:
What you have read above is a collection of critical statements about the culture we work amongst.  Before you take these as a summary of where we are working, consider the perspectives of people inside and outside of a culture.  In this culture I am an outsider.  It does not matter that I have worked here for a few years and speak the language, I’m still very much an outsider here.  Insiders on the other hand are people that are born and raised and native to a given place.  Our staff, neighbors, and people in the villages we work in are all insiders.  Their perspective is different from mine.  They would agree with some of the statements I have made, but they would give more layers of explanation about the external forces upon their culture and society that have made them how they are.  They are partly right, but I am also partly right. 

Now consider your own culture, where you are an insider.  There are things about your own culture that outsiders would make critical statements about.  Some of those statements would probably surprise you; some you would perhaps agree with, but some you would rebut and provide argument against.  You would be partly right, but outsiders who had spent some time looking into your culture (like we have looked into this culture here) would be partly right as well.  My point (finally) is simply this: It is easy to think we are grand, and other peoples are utterly lost, however, our sanctification is not worked out yet, and there is ugliness in every culture of the humanity.  Let us work out our salvation in fear and trembling. (Philippians 2)