Unfolding a five-year plan

There have been times when we worried that the individual level needs are too urgent, that our methodical efforts to identify promising community level strategies would take too long.  We have worked with occasional assurances that community residents appreciate our efforts to understand from their perspectives.  We were struck by how quickly residents endorsed our plans to work with smaller groups that we identified through social network analysis; encouraged by the fact that these groups quickly formed “cabinets” of officers; that they met in our absence.

We are back now, building on the research done by small research teams last summer and in January.  We meet in turn with the focus groups to talk about our specific suggestions for how to take on the persistent health concerns that were identified in the community meeting last March.  We are especially heartened to find all members of Group One present and engaged.  We have worried from the beginning that this group includes the most marginalized households in the community, and that they will be reticent to the point of losing out in community efforts.  Previous research has revealed that they are the least likely to get information that is distributed in the community; the least likely to attend community meetings.

We have noticed the building of trust relationships with us and with each other.  With each contact, they have become more forthcoming, more willing to talk, to smile.  We have brought a diagram to illustrate project possibilities and how they are interrelated.  The diagram attempts to suggest the possibility of solving problems of full latrines by a process that produces “humanure” for gardens, which in turn could help to improve nutrition.  They are amused and a little embarrassed by the discussion, but they see quickly the efficiency and promise of the possibilities.

We will continue, on occasion, to doubt our progress, to worry that we have not been sufficiently careful, that we have not understood, that we are missing important facts, relationships, or events and that our shortcomings will be the undoing of our best efforts.  We meet with a focus group that is the polar opposite of Group One.  This one includes several CPCs (mayoral appointments; people who still struggle with daily existence, but who have more resources, by far, than those in Group One), and they seem to be saying that they are organized.  They seem to suggest that if we’ll just give them the resources that they can solve the problems.  In some ways this perspective is persuasive, but our earlier research makes clear that the resources would not be used in ways that would result in optimal benefit across the community.  Moreover, the continuing discussion makes clear that they value us for more than tangible “stuff.”  They are interested in the ideas we bring, including a new technology for human waste disposal, solar ovens, a strategy for improving access to water throughout the community.