Retreat

Last week I had the opportunity to work with Esther Mweso (program leader) and Moses Mpezeni (M&E officer) at the Local Development Support Program (LDSP) retreat. 26 staff attended for a day and a half at Majete Game Reserve. The tyrannies of distance (Esther & Moses work 4hrs from Blantyre), telcos (phone and internet are always tricky) and culture (what exactly is the purpose, a reflection or holiday reward?) made it quite a challenge to put a program together. On the night before  we agreed on a variation of Open Space. We would have two slots where Moses would run ‘team building’ type activities for all, and classic Open Space (without the computers) for the rest. Flexibility though is all.

As is always the case, a wide variety of topics. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprising) a strong emphasis on relationships.

As is always the case, a wide variety of topics. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprising) a strong emphasis on relationships.

I am so pleased to have had the chance to practice ‘opening the space’ on numerous occasions. I made the critical posters the night before and we arrived at the venue exactly at the time it was due to start. I didn’t even know where the minor spaces would be as I started – I just figured there would be trees if nothing else to sit under. Travelling in a different vehicle to Esther meant I did not have time to consult with her on the ‘Theme’ or ‘Givens’ of discussion, so had to take a risk on the Theme being ‘LDSP’ and ‘Givens: What works, what doesn’t, Ideas for the future’. Fortunately this was OK!

Small group discussion on the veranda of one of the accommodation tents.

Small group discussion on the veranda of one of the accommodation tents.

In discussions at the end of Day 1, Esther made the presidential decision to not run the second day of Open Space, but to run a session that picked up on the animals seen in the afternoon of Day 1. I have used photographs of animals for people to use as reflections on their own work or organisations, but this was something else! In groups of three, participants had to relate LDSP to the animals they’d seen the day before. There was of course lots of references to crocodiles and hippos, but the one that grabbed everyone was the driver who made reference to the honey eater bird that had made an incredible amount of noise early in the morning. As he said, ’it doesn’t matter how small you are, it’s possible to have a big impact.’

Making a point at the small group at the main veranda

Making a point at the small group at the lapa

For me, a highlight of the event was the participatory analysis of ‘types of participation’ that Moses ran. It was a bit clunky but participants got the point. Most of the participation done by the organisation was not the kind that staff felt was successful. Another highlight was just seeing these middle class, educated Malawians experience for what was for many of them was the first time, one of their own game reserves. There was considerable amazement that the most expensive accommodation tent had an open bathroom.

In a society where having a real bathroom is a privilege, to pay more for an open air one was of some amazement.

In a society where having a real bathroom is a privilege, not only was an open air one something of a novelty but to pay more was of some amazement.

I haven’t seen the feedback sheets yet. I’m hoping we’ll do a debrief session soon.

One Pager

I’ve decided to progress the larger project, namely to achieve an urban environment that reflects my friend Muchimba’s vision:

Well built houses, calm, not the noise and stress of ‘developed’ cities. People with dignity and good health.

I would classify a large proportion of Blantyre’s built stock as semi-formal. Not illegal, but not constructed within established urban development parameters. Within 2km of the down town area the streetscapes more resemble early photos of C19 European towns and villages than most contemporary conceptions of a city. In essence, the traditional urban development processes have not worked for the non-rich.

I'm always reminded of those early photos of what are now seen as quaint European villages. The essence of something highly desirable is all there.

I’m always reminded of those early photos of what are now seen as quaint European villages. The essence of something highly desirable is all there, but needs some TLC.

Thus I’ve written a (almost) one-pager for a project proposal based on ‘new paradigm’ thinking with a facilitated process to build on residents existing strengths and achieve the desired vision. If interested enough, see the Word document which you are welcome to comment on/change etc.

As well as taking a facilitated approach to development, a component of the proposal is to ensure that there are opportunities for people to earn small amounts of money through casual employment.

The price of cooking oil might be expressed by litre, but by far the majority buy the tine sachets hanging on the door post. Even earning small amounts of money makes a great difference to people earning

The price of cooking oil might be expressed by litre, but by far the majority buy the tiny sachets hanging on the door post. Earning small amounts of money makes a significant difference to peoples quality of life.

We found this had great outcomes when introduced into a housing estate in Northern NSW (also see Video), and is also demonstrated in a Malawian village such as Kalata. In this village there has been opportunities for residents to make stoves on a casual basis. Not everyone wants or needs to do so, but for those that do it can make considerable difference to dignity and emotional well being.

So all that’s needed now is a donor! Ideas gratefully received.

Over a three year period in Kalata Village, Alini Byson has made approx 2000 stoves.  The income has provided food and clothes for her children, allowed her to finish the porch floor and render the wall. She is extremely proud of her achievements.

Over a three year period in Kalata Village, Alini Byson has made approx 2000 stoves. The income has provided food and clothes for her children, allowed her to finish the porch floor and render the wall. She is extremely proud of her achievements.

 

Safari Lessons

A three day trip to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia confirms (IMO) that sub-Saharan fauna in their natural habitat is one of the top Natural Wonders of the World. I also observed a few things about complex systems in the process.

At the park gate on our first day the ranger advised where there had been lion and leopard sightings. Slightly sceptical of the usefulness of such information we set off in search of leopard. Much to our surprise we saw one! Over the course of the three days we came to realise that most animals stay in much the same place for considerable periods, knowledge that the guides use to show the thousands of tourists the very animals they want to see. It’s only when the conditions change (climate/food availability) that they move to a different location. Complex system observation: For periods there is a sense of stability, however gradually conditions will change until there is a ‘tipping point’ that generates change and a new normal.

There are better photos on the official website, but to see a real leopard in the wild is something else.

There are better photos on the official website, but to see a real leopard in the wild is something else.

We had been in the park for most of a day and not even noticed the myriad tracks across the landscape. Made by Hippo’s who spend their days partially submerged in the water, when they leave in the evening to feed their feet are all soft and mushy. So they stay on the same tracks for comfort. It was only after the tracks had been pointed out that we saw them. Complex system observation: Initially when viewing the system you only get to see the obvious components (like elephants). It takes time to see the detail.

HIppos come out of the water at night to feed. To protect their delicate feet they stay on the same tracks.

HIppos come out of the water at night to feed. To protect their delicate feet they stay on the same tracks.

There are no rhinos. There used to be, but poachers killed the last a few years ago. There is now no mention of them in any park literature. No rhino’s on the tick-off list of animals you’ve seen. No photos, no nothing. Perhaps there were strenuous attempts to combat the poachers, perhaps not. Presumably the eco-system of the park has been irreversibly changed. Complex system observation: Our current reality is the only one. We might say ‘Lest we forget’, but then we make new mistakes: such as now having 50 million refugees in the world.

On a guided night drive, about six tourist 4WD’s converged on a small pride of lions setting off for the hunt. One by one the lions (including a cub) walked through the combined lighting of six spotties, seemingly oblivious to the light, the vehicles, the cameras, the people. Complex system observation: Some things are beyond understanding. Do the lions simply ‘not see’ the intrusion into their space/their universe (the official response)? Are they actually becoming tame? Do they see but don’t care? what the..?

One by one the pride of five lions walked into the light cast by the tourist spot lights.

One by one the pride of five lions walked into the light cast by the tourist spot lights.

Theatre Act 2

Warning: This Blog might offend. Do not read further if unable to accept different cultural practices and realities.

Most rural Malawians live a life that is sometimes described as being ‘One with Nature’. For many in the villages a good household income might be $500/year. Thus for almost all, life is dictated by the seasons, food you can grow, any animals you have and most importantly your relationships with those around you. It is not an environment that stimulates or promotes individual creativity or personal initiative. Unfortunately it also means an average life expectancy of 54, with diarrhoeal diseases being  in the top three causes of death. Whilst resources might be minimal, with the exception of the very poor village people are not completely deficient. However effecting cultural change is not easy, and for the most part only something that occurs by individual personal choice. As with most rural communities Malawian villagers are conservative and reluctant to change long held cultural practices. The Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) program is designed to ‘trigger’ cultural change occurring within a group of people who effectively live ‘One with Nature’. The cultural change in this instance is for the village to become an ‘Open Defication Free’ (ODF) village with one latrine per household.

Thus following the hygiene promotion activities (see previous post) and a lunch of soft drink and bread, this second demonstration of the triggering process for the Group Village Headmen moved outside. Whilst the guys had been talking about hygiene inside, Fiona had asked some of the children where those in the village defecate.

Bread, fish & faeces.

Bread, fish & faeces.

The triggering process itself starts with lighting a small fire to cook a local delicacy, common in the markets; in this case some small fish. These are then laid out close to some faeces recently collected from the surrounding bush. With a facilitated discussion about hygiene and flies the fish are then offered to the participants.

Fist offered to the most senior person in the group, the TA (Traditional Authority), she was not keen to eat the proffered snack.

First offered to the most senior person in the group, in this case the TA (Traditional Authority), she was not keen to eat the proffered snack.

After the ‘triggering’ event, the field facilitators look for the ‘natural leaders’. Natural leaders are those who suggest that the village change cultural habits, and that they should start building latrines. No finance or other incentives are provided, however one of the field facilitators suggested that a catalogue of different solutions available would be useful. It makes me think that a variation on the poster process might be appropriate.  I’m also left thinking how this concept might be used for changing other long held but ultimately dangerous cultural practices. What about the dangers of hierarchical bureaucracies?

 

Theatre 1

There is considerable evidence 1 that improved WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygene) services correlate to improved health. Clean water is one component, the others are sanitation systems and hygiene practice. Whilst donors are attracted to providing assistance because of the direct linkages between outputs and desirable outcomes (+ve change in the broader system), a significant issue is sustainability. For unfortunately, providing nice new latrines and clean water is no guarantee that they are used or maintained. As is increasingly becoming understood, sustainability is a function of ‘ownership’ in decisions made. On a recent visit to a village about 2.5hrs from the nearest sealed road I witnessed the ‘triggering’ component of the Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) program.

The one I witnessed was not a normal village event, but second of two organised specifically for the Group Village Head men of about 30 target villages. This was to  generate support for the process to be carried out in their communities. I had read about the CLTS process a few years back, and was excited to have the opportunity to experience it in real life. What really struck me was both the highly professional manner in which the team (Tigwirizane, Fiona and Michael) conducted the session, and also just how theatrical an event it was. I particularly noticed how the team had changed the order of the sessions (hygiene first, followed by latrine building) to respond to the timing of the event, and also how Tigwirizane first warned up the crowd by asking how they had become Village Headmen and what they thought their duties were with regard to village development. After the warm up, Michael from the Ministry of Health took over.

Michael started with a short, interactive talk (all in Chichewa, so I’m not sure of the content, maybe hygiene or nutrition), and then produced the egg:

Michael produces a hard boiled egg. I'm not exactly sure what he says about it, but possibly something about it's nutritional value.

Michael produces a hard boiled egg. I’m not exactly sure what he says about it, but possibly something about it’s nutritional value.

He asks the Group Village Headman at the end of the semi circle to peel the egg. The lady watching is the Traditional Authority (TA).

He asks the Group Village Headman at the end of the semi circle to peel the egg. The lady watching is the Traditional Authority (TA).

 

The egg is passed around the group.

Experiencing the peeled egg as it is passed around the group.

The invitation. 'Now who would like to eat this highly nutritious boiled egg? What, none of you, why not? What's your problem?'

The invitation. ‘Now who would like to eat this highly nutritious boiled egg? What, none of you, why not? What’s your problem?’

Perhaps not in the same league, but as a theatrical/experiential event I was reminded of our bush fire simulation back in Australia where the aim was to engage the community to think about complex issues with a view to promoting individual action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB2DF10pxwM

1) Esrey 1985,1991; Fewtrell 2005; Clasen et al. 2009,2010, Waddington 2009; Norman et al. 2010