Doing Development Differently

This week, we learned how to do development differently.

On the weekend, this involved drinking copious amounts of alcohol and dancing late into the night. We danced barefoot on the beach and in the bars, we danced on counters and we danced in hotel rooms. This barefoot dancing was so whole-hearted that one night I lost my shoes. Thanks to some efficient, kind-hearted beach boys (for those of you who know Gambia, think bumsters but less aggressive), I recovered my favourite flats the following night.

I know what you’re thinking. She goes to volunteer, to help, to lend a hand, and now it turns out she’s partying on the beach. And you’re right, it happens a lot when people work overseas. But coming off over a month in the bush, and spending time with my fellow Canadians on a beautiful beach blessed with Captain Morgan and Serengeti baridi (ba-ree-dee – cold), I think I am past due for a weekend of all-night dance parties.

Luckily, I am not only here to drink but also to learn, like I mentioned, about development. Our Annual Volunteer Conference was held at a convent in Dar es Salaam (they serve beer, along with Jesus). On the day after the conference our Country Director, Jean Van Wetter, put together a seminar with the same title: Doing Development Differently, attended by higher-ups in Tanzania’s development scene. I will start with this quote from the Country Director of UNICEF. She stood up without coming to the podium, put her prepared remarks aside, and spoke about her daughter applying to study development in university. “Oh my God, please don’t do that,” was her response to the idea. Her view is that International Development as we know it will be a dinosaur in the foreseeable future; not something you’d expect to hear with such frankness from a UNICEF director. She asked the audience to envision a Tanzania free of development assistance. The rest of the program also worked to challenge the status quo, namely the director of Foundations for Civil Society, John Ulanga.

His talk ended with a shockingly bare-bones statement about government spending: “look at the big cars our brothers drive.” The representative from the President’s office, sitting in the front row, chose that moment to get up and walk out of the meeting, to which Mr. Ulanga faced up, calling out to him, “I hope I have not upset you; are you walking out?” The man made some excuse about his phone, and Mr. Ulanga’s thank-you slide came up. What a conclusion.

I am actually writing this on a notepad while listening to the facilitator’s commentary, in the workshop itself. Admittedly, I am hungover. Free wine at the Canadian High Commission last night, paid for by your hard-earned tax dollars, led to some double-fisting by we Canadians who are loath to turn down such an opportunity. My hangover is not preventing me from being really surprised and impressed. I registered for this seminar expecting participatory process. The flouf is growing on me, I admit, so give me post-its, small group brainstorming, and yes, god forbid, flipcharts. But that’s not what we saw when we walked in. We saw a head table, a schedule with “remarks by the Permanent Secretary to the President’s Office”, among many others, and block seating for the audience. Doing Development Differently? As Chloe aptly put it; “if you wear dark suits like that, you can never do anything differently.”

I prepared to pinch my wrists to stay awake, and started writing this post to look engaged. Surprise again. Jean has done a very slick job of walking the line, pushing boundaries, because to lull government reps into a sense of security, to bring in an MP from Calgary and a VSO Trustee, a Baroness, to hold proceedings at the British Counsel, whose goal is to “spread the British way of life” – awfully American of them, no? – to do these things, to spring challenging subject matter on them and on us, comments on the sensitivity of his approach. Make it look official and sneak-attack an alternative message. Nice.

A rep from one of the oil and gas companies doing exploration in Mtwara spoke, even taking the microphone to answer straight-up questions from the audience. VSO volunteer doctors spoke about catalysts for change, an opposition MP about government spending, a Tanzanian about why Tanzania has a mentality of waiting for help instead of acting, “we are what our actions indicate”, and the facilitator about a spot banned by the government which asked “if we are so rich in resources, why is this country poor?”. The private sector was brought to the forefront despite Tanzania’s socialist leanings, and the surprisingly engaging DFID rep (surprisingly, because we’ve noticed a lack of liveliness in British speakers this week) finished with “Good development is not done with the heart. It’s done with the head.”

It wasn’t a day out of a Robert Chambers book*, in terms of methodology. All the better, if change is really what they’re after. It was challenging, it was outside the box, it spoke in plain terms to influential people, and it was definitely Different. Oh, and we had tiramisu and ice cream for dessert after lunch.

*Robert Chambers has written a few milestone books on participatory development practices, particularly (but not exclusively) in the field of agriculture. Whose Reality Counts?: Putting the First Last gives a good overview of participatory methodology. Plus, you don’t need to read the whole book… it’s so repetitive that you get the gist of it from a few chapters!

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The Man Who Feeds His Cow Everything

“Here, take this passion fruit. I can’t get the cow to eat it.”

Many of my days are spent traveling around Kamachumu Division, tagging along with one of the KAVIPE board members while we check up on the loaned dairy cows. We set out on a pikipiki (motorbike), or on foot, and trek through the most confusing networks of tiny roads, among the banana trees. Today, I went to Bulembo (boo-lay-m-bo) with Steven.

We saw more cows this morning than we do most days. We saw both the best and the worst I’ve seen so far. The worst was a family with two cows, who had complained they weren’t getting pregnant. This is a common complaint, although I can rarely figure out whether or not the cows have actually been bred. Usually, when I ask that question, we get pulled into a rant about how badly the farmers need access to AI (artificial insemination). But that is a debate for another day.

These two unpregnant cows were pacing franticly in their rickety pens, causing liquid manure to fly everywhere. Meanwhile, a few feet away, a woman and two children were within flying-shit-flecks reach, hulling beans! I got splattered standing next to them. Both pens had empty feed troughs, whose wooden bottoms were falling out, and no feed was produced even when we asked. Suffice it to say that both cows were extremely skinny. As to my question, had they been bred, I really hope they hadn’t wasted their money taking them to a bull, since generally in order for conception to occur, the animal must be fed. In this case, we advised to clean the pens, add bedding, fix the troughs and FEED THE COWS! We will return and check within the next two weeks that the issues have been addressed. To blame? Lack of education on proper care, lack of money, lack of time… but the first is the major issue, that I hope to help change.

I contrast now with the last farmer we visited. He had clearly been waiting for us (word travels quickly when visitors are around!) and when we pulled up he leapt, as only an old man can, from his porch and started to show us all the different feedstuffs his cow was eating: grass, bean hulls, avocado leaves, a green avocado (I doubt she’ll eat it, but he said she does…?!), young corn plants, and a coarse grass I’ve seen before. To top it off? Fresh, clean water and 5 inches of dry grass as bedding. I told the old man I wanted to bring him in to train the other farmers. It’s not really fair to compare this retired man with all the other families we saw this morning, but it’s also difficult to avoid. In some ways, I guess it’s the same anywhere: some people are passionate about cows and some aren’t. Difference is, at home, the people who aren’t passionate about cows can afford to buy milk from the grocery store, and don’t keep cows. Maybe having children to care for and no help also decreases your passion, about anything.

I was glad to finish the day smiling, however, when the old man ran into the house and emerged with a single passion fruit in his outstretched hand. I’m used to receiving gifts, but this one was more of a cast-off: “I have many, many,” he said, gesturing to the gardens surrounding the house, “but I just can’t get the cow to eat them! So here, I guess I can spare this one for you.”

Oh yes, and please let me know if you’ve heard that avocados are poisonous to cows.