Friday, June 26, 2009

"L'aide n'a jamais aidé personne"

The first workshop of the retreat was a session on the mentality of JFs at different stages of their placement. It described the emotions that most JFs go through and we talked about how to deal with them in order to stay as positive as possible. It was a bit intimidating to hear that in month 2 we will hit our emotional crash point, and we will start to realize that we haven’t put enough effort into our work, but I guess this is a good warning to ensure that we are as prepared for this crash as possible, or that we find ways to prevent it. The JFs mostly all agreed on the mentality of month 1 and it was reassuring to know we’re all pretty much in the same boat mentality-wise with emotions including: overwhelmed-ness, excitement, motivation and frustration.

Next workshop brought us back to Canada and talked about EWB’s endeavor to rearticulate its direction and vision to make sure we’re on the right track. You may not know, but EWB recently burned their mission statement and so we are trying to find a better one to take its place, and stimulate in-depth discussion on where we are headed as an organization. Some people had started to feel a bit disconnected from EWB because of lack of opportunity for communication so this was a good workshop to bring them back into the loop.

Dori hillside

Next session we each presented our placements to the group including our work, lives in our host communities and our communication with Canada. It was really neat to hear what everyone else has been up to and connect back with the team!! Most people are very settled into their host families and host communities, but are still struggling to find their place at work, and develop their impact plan for the summer.

After this we split up into sector groups and prepared our presentations for the long term overseas volunteers for Saturday. WATSAN (water and sanitation), my group, discussed organizational challenges that we have noticed in our partner organizations, the results of these challenges, and what would have to be changed to improve the institutional capacity of our NGOs. Putting these down in writing was very useful as it enabled us to see where we could have impact in supporting our organizations. The different organizational challenges that I see in PACEA-Est are milling around in my head but I want to talk to Christian to find out his opinion before I splash them all over the internet. The details of my improvements for Helvetas follow below and these I’ve already discussed with Christian.

STMB Bus ride back to Ouaga

We headed back to Ouaga on Friday and I was pumped about all of the workshops to come and being able to use my learning once I got back to work in Fada. Saturday was our sector day, and we were thus with the long term overseas volunteers and each presented our placements. The long terms presented their placements as well and it was great to get to hear what they are up to as well. We also presented what we had prepared in terms of organizational challenges and improvements that we could bring to our organizations.

The three main improvements that I saw for Helvetas were

1. Hiring a 2nd coordinator for the PACEA-Est program. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that Christian is the ONLY staff for PACEA-Est and is thus responsible for 3 communes… soon to be 5. What with the program expanding, and the different communes being far apart it will soon be virtually impossible for Christian to run the program alone. I suggested sending a long term overseas volunteer to work with Christian because not only would this provide him with the support needed to run the program, but it would be a great opportunity for the volunteer. They would not simply be an intern in an office, lost in what their role is, but they would be in charge of specific communes and would act as an equal, a collaborator for Christian. They wouldn’t be doing gap filling, but they would rather be taking charge of Water and Sanitation projects in specified communes. This would be a great learning experience for the volunteer, and would also help EWB further explore the idea of working with communes in Burkina Faso, much like the Good Governance sector does in Ghana.

2. Recruiting a Burkinabè volunteer to work in one of the communes. Exploring this idea is part of my placement this summer, and I’m starting to be convinced that this will greatly help Christian, the communes, and the mayoral office. The volunteer would be placed in one of the communes, probably Bogandé because we are most advanced in our work there, and would work both in the mayoral office, and with the Women’s Association and Technical Committee. Because Christian is so busy it is hard for him to visit the communes often, and one of the roles this volunteer would play would be to connect Christian to the field realities in Bogandé. This volunteer would be the inside view of the commune and would have a much better idea of what the commune needed in terms of water and sanitation projects. This volunteer would also work to evaluate the capacity of the communes and would find ways to support and reinforce the capacity of the mayoral office. This would be a continuation of my role, and would thus enable a good exit strategy for me. I am currently working on a proposal for this volunteer and will be talking with the Mayor of Bogandé to find out his views on this.

3. Written reports from the mayor, women’s association and technical committee. Although there are plenty of reports written by Christian, and the consultants who performed the various studies in the PACEA-Est’s partner communes, I have yet to see a report written by the mayor’s office, women’s association or technical committee. In a question session with Christian I asked him what kind of feedback and reporting comes from the mayor, women’s association and technical committee (the committee who overseas water and sanitation projects in the community) and he said that all feedback was oral. “If the women’s association has a problem they tell me and we fix it” – Christian. Maybe it is because of the society I grew up in, but for me this doesn’t quite cut it. I am sure there are many problems or observations that don’t get back to Christian, and this makes it hard for him to run the best program that he can. It is hard for him to see the progress of the project when the only feedback he is getting is from the mayor saying “Yup, things are going pretty well” and the women saying “We have seen a decrease in the amount of garbage in the commune”. I would like to see some written reports from the 3 organizational bodies in Bogandé (and in the other communes) so that Christian can better evaluate the progress of the projects, can better support the women’s association and technical committee, and can get a better idea of the field realities in the communes.
I have taken it upon me to try and work on all 3 of these improvements and see where I can have an impact. I think that improvements in any of these 3 areas will make the program much more efficient, more connected to the on the ground work, and enable the program to expand to help more communes.

The next day started off with me, Nushka and Boris going for an intense jog and then me teaching them some good ab exercises. I hadn’t felt so energized since I arrived at the retreat; it was a great way to start the day.

We then had a workshop which taught us how to understand our influencing styles, and how to work with different influencing styles. The workshop talked about how our behavioral style indicates our preferred method of communication. Every person has their own preference, which means we need to be flexible in the way we try to communicate (and work) with others. To influence others it is important to understand how others prefer to communicate. We also looked into our own behavioral styles. It was a great workshop, but I wasn’t so sure that I fit into the restrictive box of “expresser” that I was categorized into. Next we partook in a workshop that is going on across Canada and in all overseas programs to try and redefine EWBs vision and values. Having some time for individual reflection was very welcome, and also reconnecting with EWB felt great. We then created a video of what EWB means to us!!

quite the nice place to have an afternoon debate

The last workshop of the retreat was 2 separate simultaneous debates. I partook in the debate entitled “L’aide n’a jamais aidé personne”. This debate was exciting and inspired a lot of reflection and really helped me put my work here in to perspective. The one side was very adamant that aid breaks the natural cycle of development of a country, and that we are taking away a country’s autonomy by coming in to “help” them. We touched on the experience of one of the JFs who said that in her community that she’s working in, when a pump breaks the community waits around for another NGO to come and repair it since they are so used to having NGOs come through their village. If there had never been an NGO in this village would the village have repaired the pump themselves? That was the debate. We also touched on the inferiority complex that many Africans have towards westerners (in our experiences). They have this idea that “White people always have the solution” and so again they wait around for ‘our’ help. This is definitely not the result we want our aid to have. We discussed the fact that aid should be a slow and unforced process. Instead of pushing too much as we often do in development, we have to let Africa develop at its own pace. Development doesn’t happen overnight, it takes generations, and westerners with their go getter attitudes don’t always seem to understand this. We then broke up aid into 2 different types: budgetary aid/ implementation, and coaching/ evolution. We all agreed that the latter was the better option, which made it hard for us to see why we had been pushing for 0.7% with EWB over the past couple of years. What we really need to be advocating for is BETTER aid, not MORE aid. Finally we talked about people’s and government’s ownership of their development as being a priority for us. We want them to putting their all into their country’s development, and if we can find a way that we can help without getting in their way than that is awesome. It was hard after this intense debate to then think about going back to our placements when we were unsure if what we were doing was right, but that’s what we are here to discover.

Now I’m back at work and unfortunately colleague-less. Christian is on a business trip to Switzerland and so I have been working on planning my longer stay in Bogandé, detailing my proposal for a Burkinabè volunteer, practicing Gulmanché, and holding down the fort at PACEA-Est... no big deal, being in charge of a whole NGO or anything :)

I would love some feedback on the aid debate, or any of the other workshops!!!
Have a great week all!!


  1. Hey love....back in the loop again, updated on all of your recent posts.....i think this debate is ongoing with NGOS...I don't anticipate it would ever go away, so the most important thing is to continue to have the conversation in order to continue being mindful about your purpose and how best to offer support. NGOs must run into problems when they stop acknowledging that these issues exist. Also, I like how you have come up with a plan wrt your specific purpose with Helvetas. These 3 things will give you some structure for the rest of your time there, beneficial for you, the organization, and the communities. I miss you!!!!! I'm so enjoying reading your posts. A perfect read during my breaks at work. Lots of love.......

  2. Really great ideas. I like every example. Just might have to try these...
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