Using a network of local volunteers organized into local based committees (LBCs), we trained them as specialists in one of 5 areas, orphan care, health, water and sanitation, education and agriculture. Each member reports every month on the situation locally in their own specialism. They report on problems and action (taken both by the local community and by the organization itself). Rewards are given monthly to the most effective of our 13 committees (1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes). Members are encouraged to seek solutions for themselves, and to share good practice by having evaluation meetings and visiting other projects. They collect data which is then collated and assists in advising the government on the needs of the area. Volunteers are not paid and receive no allowances or reward (other than the monthly prize) and are encouraged to carry out their roles because it will be their community who benefits.
Assess: Initially we gathered information to produce our database (regularly updated) on number of villages, residents, water sources, numbers of orphans, whether attending school, etc. At their monthly meetings the local based committees discuss what the issues are in the community and compile minutes which are brought to the office by our outreach worker. We can then see which urgent problems need to be addressed immediately, and also look at longer term issues. The process is not purely reactive (i.e. dealing with an outbreak of cholera) but also proactive (we get requests for support with income generating projects so that communities can be more self-sufficient, for vocational training for young people, for assistance from one of the other committees with the building of fuel saving stoves). The chair persons of all the LBCs meet together regularly to share new ideas and discuss common problems.
Plan: Our mission is to see a healthy, educated, self sufficient population in our focus area. Our group’s objective is to support those communities who care for orphans and vulnerable children. Our strategy is to work with and through the community structure, using local knowledge, expertise and experience to inform our projects, focusing on using sustainable, eco-friendly strategies such as making compost fertilizer and water conservation. The community is involved in the planning through the monthly meetings of the local based committees, and all our work is informed by their advice. Committees are consulted about every proposed initiative (such as the introduction of preschools and feeding centres) to ensure that they fully understand their role, and are completely in favour of the project.
Act: The Reforestation project illustrates our general approach. In the first year, tree seedlings were purchased and provided to a small number of schools to plant their own woodlots. The following year the same schools were given tree seeds to plant, and a trainer from the Ministry of Agriculture was engaged to train them in care of the seedlings. At the beginning of the rains we purchased a percentage of these seedlings to give to schools who had not yet been involved, and the original schools were able to use that money on improving things in the school, such as building a teacher’s house or providing materials for the orphans. We try to find really keen communities and work with them, and then when other communities see the success, they ask to be included. We have introduced vegetable gardens, maize gardens, library book box scheme, bicycle ambulances, etc.
Evaluate: We evaluate the project’s success against our three year plan, monitoring progress and adjusting targets regularly. All projects are monitored (for instance looking at the number of trees planted in our area, the care of the woodlot). Where other communities are asking to be included we count this as success because part of our strategy is to encourage people to seek development for themselves. For the secondary scholarship programme, we monitored the number of full orphans and found it too low, so after a discussion with the community about the causes, we put in extra efforts (such as providing school uniform, books, etc., and talking to guardians) to encourage these children to stay in school so that they can participate in secondary education. Our work is also evaluated by the traditional authorities and the District Assembly in our area, who are impressed with the level of co-operation and development.
Sustain: Every initiative starts with training and local involvement, which empowers the local communities to deal with issues themselves, e.g. the Bicycle Ambulance Project. Initial meetings were held to ensure there was a need and willingness to co-operate, a committee was set up and trained in maintenance (including discussing how they will raise money for the repairs) and record keeping, before the ambulance was provided. Members of the local community now know how to build fuel saving stoves, construct composting toilets, make compost fertilizer, etc., and these skills are passed from one to another. Many of our projects are based in schools with students themselves involved in planting and caring for trees and vegetable gardens, etc. so they will go on to use these techniques in their own homes. Members attend Traditional authority Executive Area meetings to ensure that the work is integrated into the local system.
The community is different now because they are really working together. There are new preschools and feeding programmes, orphans and vulnerable children are being cared for much more effectively, committees of people are working together on a variety of projects such as caring for bicycle ambulances, maintenance of boreholes or looking after orphan vegetable gardens. People now know more about their rights and how to go about making their needs known. Schools and communities are working in partnership, because they realize they have a shared objective in bringing up the next generation. People are sharing ideas and expertise, and receptive to new solutions, such as fuel saving stoves and composting toilets. The biggest change has been that people are working together to improve their own community BECAUSE it is their own community and not for monetary reward or allowances.