Monday, March 8, 2010

Projects, projects...

Hi everyone,

Again, it’s been a while! If you’ve been reading, you know by now that I don’t have regular internet access, but truthfully, that’s not the only reason I don’t update. I haven’t had the best work progress, projects have fallen apart, and I’ve been discouraged – those are aspects of life here that I prefer not to share with people back home. That said, I’ll try to give an update on what’s been happening here since I last wrote.

The biggest project I’d been working on since last year was a home latrine construction. I had put together an ad hoc group of families in the village without any home latrine, since there are no active associations here to partner with. There were a lot of headaches getting people to cooperate, though. First –someone from the community should have been assisting with every step – funding, grant writing, budgeting, etc. However, since none of the women are literate, I was doing this all myself. More importantly, there needs to be a 25% community contribution, and getting that was like pulling teeth. I suggested that they contribute the labor as a group, and help one another with the construction, which was met with a resounding, “each will work for his own house”. Which, ultimately, made the project un-fundable. In the end, I wrote the grant, assembled the group, and defined all the terms, and ordered them to help one another. I wasn’t thrilled about how it happened, but at least we’d get it done. Unfortunately, by the time we got all this worked out in February, it was too late to apply for a grant. I’d finish my service before the project was completed. We were refused funding.

The worst repercussion of that failure, though, was that now people from the community are blaming me for making promises and not following through. Even though 1) no one proposed the idea until November (and in fact told me in 2008 that it was unnecessary when I brought it up), and 2) argued and bickered for over a month about who had to do what, delaying signing of agreements. I had explained that it was late, and we might not be able to do it at that point, but I guess that message didn’t get across.

On a more positive note, my other project – the midwife training – is fully funded and scheduled to happen two weeks from now. THANK YOU to everyone who donated online to make this possible! For this project, my counterpart (the nurse) was involved from day one. I’m working with another volunteer in the region, so the entire burden of planning is not entirely on my shoulders. And more importantly, it was designed NOT just to bring outside materials or funding into the community, but to develop local resources for the future.

Here’s a rundown. The infant and maternal mortality rate in my village is very high. There are a lot of factors at work here, from nutrition to unsanitary birthing conditions. Most of these could be remedied by good health advice for pregnant women, checkups at the local free clinic, and birthing in hospitals, which is now also free. Women, however, trust tradition – the midwives and home birthing. So it seems that modern and traditional medicines are at odds. With our project, we train midwives on how to advise traditional midwives on checkups, nutrition, clinic birthing, family planning, and STDs. We try to expand their roles from merely being present at a birth, to being a local health resource and a liaison between the community and the clinic. The clinic nurse is not a local – he or she may speak a different dialect and be from another part of the country. Usually, he or she will stay only 2 years then transfer to a better location in a city. So it is crucial to have a group of women with a vested interest in women’s health who are a permanent part of the community.

Reflecting on these failures and successes with my projects has taught me a few things. First and foremost, partnerships with capable and influential community members are the key. Not only should sustainable development happen in cooperation with a community partner, but that partner needs to actually be ABLE to fill that role. I made the mistake of choosing to work with a brand new women’s association. I thought this was a good idea to help them build confidence and learn how to conduct projects. However, I overestimated their abilities. They need more basic training before they can attempt projects, even with help. They need literacy and leadership skills. The people I chose to work with weren’t able to do what I needed them to do; I chose them out of idealism, not capability.

The other important thing I’ve learned is that capacity building projects are far better than infrastructure building projects in terms of development. The latter is definitely more gratifying – to be able to see the fruit of your labor in a physical structure has to feel great, whereas teaching people to teach others is abstract and immeasurable. But there are a host of problems with infrastructure, too. For one, corruption. Once money is involved in a poor town, everyone is trying to get their slice of the pie. For another, it increases dependence on outside sources. It undermines local groups who should be putting resources back into the community. Worse, there seems to be a mentality of “we are poor, therefore we deserve your help”. It actually discourages people from trying to do community development themselves.

So, with those lessons learned and only a few months to go, I’m redirecting all my energy away from projects and am going to focus entirely on teaching. I don’t have a forum to do this in my village – I am still awaiting approval from the Ministry to work in the schools (from last YEAR), and when I’ve tried to do lessons in my home, no one comes. So, I’m moving into a nearby town to hopefully teach women’s exercise classes and tooth brushing to kids at community centers. I’ll also be participating in a week-long English camp at the end of this month, and helping organize a regional health bike for April. Then in May – I’m done!

Enough about work! Most of you probably don’t know, but Morocco has had some terrible weather lately. The winds were so bad one night that a volunteer friend of mine had his windows of his house blown out! Down here in the south, there is still flooding. Bridges connecting isolated communities to the main road have been washed out or are still under water. Fortunately, our bridge is still in tact, but I have no idea how people from those other villages have been getting food or supplies for the last two weeks.

That’s the main news from here – I’ll try to update again later to let you know how the midwife training, classes, bike trek and camp all turn out! Thanks to everyone for your support – with letters, phone calls, words of encouragement, donations to my project, or just caring enough to read this whole long post – love to you all.


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