Building Bridges: Hapa Mpaka Wapi?

From here to where?

Last week, we held our three-day seminar using a tool developed by VSO, Basic Concept for Capacity Development. It outlines an organisational self-assessment and lays out a path to developing capacity using participatory methods. VSO provides funds to organisations who wish to use the tool to strengthen their planning and self-evaluation skills.

For me, that means “get people together and give them time and space to come up with ideas”. It’s exactly what I’ve been needing in my placement. Over and over I’ve heard people’s impressions of what their problems are with no background, no tools and no language skills to get to the bottom of things. One thing is for sure: I am not going to implement a single initiative without hearing it first from the farmers. Gambia showed me the uselessness of enforcing Western project ideas; the country is a mess of failed projects. Working with dairy cows and goats is a good place for me: I want to ruminate fully on everything before I draw conclusions.

I’d been provided with the perfect grassroots-information-gathering tool. We invited group leaders from 21 of the 64 member groups of KAVIPE, along with the five board members to “build bridges” made of ideas for goals, activities and resources.

Having never planned or facilitated my own workshop before, particularly in a new language, I can honestly say I was terrified. I think I had stress dreams for at least three weeks prior. I planned it out minute by minute and ran the entire thing by my fellow Kamachumu volunteers and my KAVIPE coworkers to see if it was within their expectations and norms. Every time they reacted positively, I was surprised and relieved, so that by the day before, all the nerves had melted away and I was ready to be an attentive, enthusiastic facilitator with the help of one of my VSO colleagues and my brand-new local National Volunteer.

It went like a dream. I had a blast all three days. Of course, there were some slow moments, but they were few and we reacted quickly to re-engage the participants. To encourage feedback, we posted flipchart pages with three headings: sipendi, napenda, and napendeleza (I don’t like, I like, and I suggest). I started with examples, such as “I don’t like it when participants sleep in the seminar”. When our time-keeper fell asleep, the men on either side grabbed her, shaking her awake so that she leapt to her feet, staring at her phone, thinking our time was up. Another slow moment was resolved when I, in desperation, simply got everyone to stand up, join us at the front of the room to discuss the issues facing the Community Based Organisations (CBO’s) and KAVIPE. It worked so well that one of our group leaders, a teacher by trade, actually had to plug his ears to block out the din. Everyone was contributing (at once, but I’ll take what I can get!). It goes against the traditional teaching methods in Tanzania, the rote style of be-told-and-repeat-after-me*.

One of the participants, Johnnie Bosco, who just oozes charisma, stood up and told us that his goal as a group leader is to increase the standard of living for his community. He said it with such sincerity it brought tears to my eyes. These are such well-intentioned, hard-working people. I truly believe they will fight their way into a better life, and not selfishly. They will bring everyone up with them.

At the end of the seminar we reviewed the experience and the comments that we got astounded me. Participants wanted us to have similar workshops at a community level, they wanted to construct strategic plans for their groups based on the goals and activities we’d mapped out, they wanted to plan exchange visits to other CBO’s, and they wanted to make sure they fully utilized all the resources we’d identified. It was a successful venture that I expect will pave the way to a productive partnership between KAVIPE and VSO Tanzania.

*Passing through the Primary School yard one morning, I heard the teacher say “Why are you singing?”. The answer, recited as a class: “I am singing because I am happy.” “Again.” “I am singing because I am happy.” “Again, WHY are you singing?” “I am singing because I am happy.”

The effect was somewhat creepy.

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  1. You are going to r.u.m.i.n.a.t.e on it? Nice work Margaret! Oh yay for faciliation tools and techniques, sounds like you exceeded everyone’s expectations, including your own! Love it.

  2. Lisa

     /  February 13, 2012

    Go Margaret Go! You make us all proud, sunshine.


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