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!