Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Notes on Sustainability

A lot of people have asked me how I ended up here, doing this program. I'm not really sure what drew me to Africa. Maybe, on some subconscious level, I just knew I would like it here. Maybe it just seemed like a place that could use some help. At this point, it doesn't really matter, and, while I can't tell you what brought me to the continent, I can tell you what brought me to this place and this project specifically.

My main concern when looking for an aid program was sustainability and actual helpingness. What happens frequently is that organizations come to a place and provide a service, which is good while they are there. But then, by the time they leave, the community has either become dependent on them or the organization has destroyed the local infrustructure and the community is actually worse off in the end than if the organization had never come at all. Sometimes, the effect is merely neutral. In choosing a project, I wanted to make sure that my time and money would go toward a project that would actually benefit the community.

It took a lot of overwhelming research on the internet, but I found a few organizations that seemed to have the values I was looking for. I sent off some emails and GVI responded with all of the answers I wanted to hear. Their projects all over the world function on the same principles - namely, that the host community knows what they need best and that GVI is not a long-term solution. We come to communities that have identified a need that we can address with volunteers and work with them to solve the issue in a sustainable way. GVI never sends just money or supplies, they support their communities through human volunteers, though the money that we pay does go to support the projects financially.

My project specifically supports 2 child centers that are working to become fully recognized schools. We help the local staff with teaching responsibilities - mainly with English. Right now GVI gives a lot of financial support, but we are working to help each school develop an income-generating project so that, eventually, they will be able to sustain themselves. One school has a greenhouse to grow and sell produce, the other is going to be making shoes. The goal is that, eventually, GVI can pull out and the centers will be able to continue running as fully functional schools. To this end, we do what we can to keep the schools from becoming reliant on us, like giving one-time donations, rather than things that need to be renewed continually. (Chalkboards vs. daily lunch) It's going to take quite awhile before the schools reach any sort of self-reliance, but I really appreciate that all of the work we do is toward that goal. I know that the work we are doing is going to continue to help the community long after I leave.

GVI has several teaching projects in Africa, but I picked this project in Kenya mostly because there was a long-term option. As a teacher, I feel like a few weeks is not enough time to really accomplish very much with a group of students. It's nice to be with them for a long enough time to actually see the growth that a few months makes. Now that I'm here, I am actually really impressed with the way that GVI handles the high turnover of volunteers. They have created a scheme of work that outlines exactly what is to be taught each week of the school year, so that, as volunteers come and go, they can pick up exactly where the last one left off. They also put multiple volunteers in each class and overlap them, so that there rarely is a class with two brand new teachers.

Overall, I am really happy with the work we are doing here. I really feel that we are making a sustainable change in the community, which is what I set out to do. I am looking forward to my coming months here.

No comments: