Sunday, December 23, 2012

Honest Reflection

The sky was a illuminated dark blue flecked with silver stars and grey raspy clouds. The wind was a gentle breeze, cooling my hair and surrounding me with the invisible feeling of God.

This is what our training group called an "I can't believe I'm in Kenya" moment.

It would be a moment, never planned, never pined for, and never ever precipitated, where we would pull our heads out from our blinders and realize for a second, how free we were in a land where you can see forever, where the nights are still innocent from the pink haze I remember from the DC twilight, and where there is nothing to idealize, because it's there.

And I think that's where the problem started.

Right now, I have been nursing a "I dislike Kenya" phase. It all stemmed from the fact that "I can't believe I'm not in America". When you are in a different land, you go through the honey moon phase if you're lucky, and think everything is wonderful, and eventually, you stop thinking so because you realize that the only thing you can compare your life here with, is to the good parts of your life back in America.

Rather than wondering about random zebras and giraffes loitering along the Mombasa-Nairobi road, we tended to miss our cheeseburgers, internet, and work mentality.

But isn't that why I escaped in the first place? To get away from the obesity that is arguably plaguing the American spirit? From the addictive additives, the mindless cruising in cyber space, to working in cubicles, I joined the Peace Corps to get away from it, and now I need to get away from that feeling inside my own heart.

I won't disparage the American way here, because every volunteer will tell you how much she or he appreciated the ingenuity and hard work put in on a daily basis from the people of our nation, but I won't disparage Kenya by comparing the country to the land of my birth.

I actually don't enjoy safaris or travelling to see different scopes, I know I shouldn't limit myself by not exploring, but in being true to my own nature, what I do enjoy is breathing and living in the fact that what I do matters.
I eat food that from the soil and does not have high fructose corn syrup, I might not get a lot of it, but even in that struggle I'm learning. I don't have a smart phone and am comforted with the fact that when I speak to someone, they aren't burying their face into facebook for about 30% of the conversation at least. And when I work, it has to do with trying to better the lives of people. I can honestly tell you the number of people I've helped teach water sanitation, educate about HIV, and I can show the scars on my hand from using a shovel, hoe, and machete to clear the dam. It beats anything I've done back at home.

This is my life, and if I go around this land and still think it's not as good as home, than I think I'm losing the point of the fact that
"I'm in Kenya", and I better believe it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Drives Us Further

Self efficacy, imagination, and the agency to act.
I told myself I wouldn't post until the work at Latta Dam was done, failure or success.
I can wow you (maybe) with this

From this

With dirt higher than 7 feet, we accomplished more than any person in Sagalla has done on the dam in more than 30 years. We cleared a dam for irrigation. So that when the rains dry up, we'll have this

But the story, as usual in development, is so much more complicated.

 Since mid September, I worked about 3-5 days a week breaking, shoveling, and removing by bucket dirt with a group of Community Health Workers (CHWs). The work was hard, exhausting (I never had enough water to drink, I can't imagine what it was for the health workers), and dirty. I thought this project would take one month, but instead, it took three.

The idea was for the health workers to clear the dam so that they would have enough water for the rainy season, they would in short, restore the purpose of a dam built more than 50 years ago (which was not maintained because of lack of any technical knowledge).

But the difference between my idea and your idea is that ultimately, we are coming from different directions.

A community health worker is ultimately a volunteer who decides to help the community by being trained in health awareness and outreach. It's a fascinating concept that empowers people who are normally uneducated to help their own community.
It works

 But what doesn't work is when NGOs come in and basically offer free money to the community and more importantly, free ideas.
My counterpart is a brilliant man. He works so hard for the betterment of the community and secured a grant for this land for the CHWs, but the CHWs themselves, because they did not feel the cost of the dam, felt like they couldn't clear the dam without an excavator, without Worldvision to give food for aid. In fact, APHIA Plus (US AID) even paid them 200 shillings every time they came.
But after 2 months, no one came.
Everyone stopped, blaming it on the rain that hardly came and more importantly, that the work was too hard.
In between the work, sometimes 4, 3, or even no one came especially on days where APHIA Plus was holding farming seminars (which included paying participants).
It broke my heart partly.
When you can paid to do work for yourself, why even try?
A part of me wanted the project to fail to feel the consequence of not working hard enough as a group. Because the CHWs stopped coming after they got up to this

 And then I stopped coming, what was the point? Why try if I'm the only one, another outsider giving assistance when no one necessarily asked?
And then Worldvision stepped in, offering free food if villagers work, and all of a sudden, participation went from this
To this

Incentives are wonderful things, but I know for a fact that here, when the incentive is the only picture, the overall purpose, self reliance in irrigation, has lost its full purpose.
However, what type of person would I be when I saw how much work has been done do to another NGO's money that I'd still desire to want the project to fail.
No, as I've learned here, you have to work with what you're given.
And when I feel tired beyond measure
I climb to the top in the rain and thank God for how far I've come
My dad told me the important of self efficacy, of belief in yourself, and I've realized I haven't for such a long time. And now I know I am good enough for this world, not in competition with humanity, but just a part of and willing to be the best I can be. When agents of Development fund people "for their own good", slowly bit by bit, one cannot compete with free resources that they did not strive for. Then truly, one will believe that they need someone else to do it for them.
I now know imagination matters too. The simple process of having a vision beyond the physical reality of barren dry soil and doing something more. My counter part has that vision and that's why this work happened. Though I completely understand what it means to own your own project. When you are just working hard for something but not sure why you are doing it, when it's not your idea or your plan, how much are you moving forward as a person?
And finally, I've said this before, the agency to act. It's one thing to have belief and vision, but if you don't do it, don't take the energy to get up and stand, then what's next? NGOs promote agency through money, money does not buy development, it's not different than dictation and colonization.
I now know in Kenya, that it's important to be okay with the way of life here, I'm not here to fight it, just understand it, and be so grateful that I'm learning.
Thanks Dad. Seriously, I love you