Friday, April 15, 2011

The Peace Corps Development Philosophy

I thought you might enjoy learning a little about how Peace Corps is teaching us to do some of our work.

There are three major categories of volunteers here in Belize – Education, Business Organization, and Health (that’s ours). There used to be a fourth – Youth – but work with that group has been incorporated into the other three groups, rather than being separate.

The Peace Corps is unlike many NGOs (Red Cross, UNICF, or WIN – Women’s Issues Network) that focus on one area, and mission groups who choose their project and come in to accomplish a specific task over a finite length of time. Our goal is sustainable development and we approach it using PACA, Participatory Analysis for Community Action. We want to assist community members to select projects where they would like help and feel they will be able to continue on their own.

Here’s how PACA works.  Working with diverse groups - community leaders, working men and women, women who stay at home, business owners, professionals, and representatives from many areas – over a several-month period of time we gather information about the community (or subset, such as a school system or agency). Each separate group such as I mentioned above goes through a series of exercises using PACA tools – community maps, daily schedules, seasonal calendars. There is always a focus on assets and resources, not what they are lacking.

The different groups then share their own versions of each tool with each other. Many times there are surprises for the groups as they see what one group identifies as an important asset or convenience when the other group does not perceive it as such. Using the schedules and calendars insures that there is a good representation at meetings. For instance, if meetings have always been planned for 7:00 on Wednesday evenings, it may be convenient for most of the men, but the women are busy at home finishing clean-up from dinner and taking care of the children. A weekend time would be more convenient for everyone. (The Peace Corps is very gender-sensitive and is constantly trying to improve conditions for women in the countries where we work.)

Using the list of assets and resources, put together with the combined map, schedules and calendar, a needs assessment is performed by representatives from all groups. The group identifies and prioritizes projects, and creates an action plan.

OK, so that is a greatly abbreviated description of the process; there’s much more to it. But you can see that because it is the community members who created the plan through all phases and they take ownership and pride in the project, which in turn promises more likelihood of the success and sustainability of that project.

So where do we come in? When a PCV is assigned to a site, we are paired with a local counterpart. The two together facilitate all phases of what I just described (in the best of all worlds). The PCV understands the process and knows techniques and activities to help pull the potentially diverse groups together. Wow! I thought I knew lots of tricks for training and facilitation. The PC has a huge bag of tricks to insure participation, engagement, and comprehension.

I think it’s a pretty good system. I’ll keep you updated, and fill in more as seems appropriate.

Regarding our training, we now have a number of Pre-Service Training projects:A big report about Camalote, created using the PACA tools and interviews.
  • A vegetable garden for the school (obviously in two months’ time, we’ll barely get things started)
  • A flower garden (iqualmente)
  • A health fair
  • A booklet regarding reaching puberty (one for the boys, one for the girls) to be handed out at the health fair
  • Teach a lesson in Health and Family Life Education to 8th graders
  • Teach a lesson to our fellow trainees
  • A final team presentation of all we’re learning over this 8-weeks in Camalote
  • Write in two different journals
  • A talent show, which is optional, but I’m trying to convince Steve that we should do the tango!

Ice Cream Break!

We are given loads of time for “self-directed learning,” or SDL. We need it. There’s LOTS to be done!

No comments: