Follow us by email

Saturday, December 18, 2010

UNION Volunteers: Recollections from the Dominican Republic

The memories of past HOPE International Development Agency volunteers do the best job of conveying the experience of volunteering. From time to time over the coming months, we’ll share a few of these experiences.

Below, Dominican Republic 2009’s Keith Esch recounts two of his favourite experiences in Ocoa, the mountainous district where our volunteers have worked alongside poor farming families for over 25 years.

“Everyday, after a long, hard, hot, days work, we’d file back to the two-room school house in which we lived. One by one we’d shower the dirt, cement or paint off our bodies and proceed to devour that night’s dinner. Hard work in that hot heat will put a fierce hunger in you, so when I used the verb devour in the last sentence, I meant it. Seriously, I almost used the verb inhale instead.

At that point in the evening, it would be about 7:00 pm. Our stomachs were satisfied and our minds were satisfied in knowing we did something meaningful and helpful that day. Like clockwork every night, the kids from the neighboring area would come over to the school. We had tennis balls, a soccer ball, a basketball, a guitar, construction paper and markers and we’d all play until dusk. Arroyo Blanco normally only got a couple hours of electricity in a normal day, so when the light bulbs suddenly came on each night, there was always a little excitement in the air. We’d listen to Bachata music, and relaxed by reading or journaling. We’d turn in early each night, content to wake up and do it again the next day. Time went slower there."

Keith shares more of his experience...

"I love riding in the flatbeds of trucks. I absolutely love it. Even in North America, if there is a truck and a low risk of passing a police officer, you don't even need to ask where I'm going to sit. So you can imagine the sheer joy I felt upon arriving in the Dominican Republic, a country where riding in the back of trucks is an openly accepted part of life. A few of us were fortunate enough to ride in the back of the truck on the very first day. Over many hours, we drove from the airport, through the capital of Santo Domingo, into the breathtakingly beautiful interior. The panoramic view’s intensity was magnified by the wind and the sun and I remember feeling pure joy as we raced down the paved -then unpaved- roads. We road in the flatbeds of trucks numerous times throughout our six week stint, but the magical feeling of watching some of the world’s most gorgeous landscapes rush past never got old. It felt like we were flying, only if flying could be done from the comfort of a flatbed of a truck.”

If volunteering overseas is something you or someone you know have ever considered doing, check out the options for 2011.

Friday, December 10, 2010

South Sudan: A Closer Look at Clean Water Training

In South Sudan, we are hard at work with families of refugees who have returned to their former homes after the end of civil war. In the long list of services that must be restored if families are going to live in stable communities, clean water is at the top.

Like with all our work, infrastructure must be accompanied by education. Our colleagues in Sudan are learning to put together wonderful training sessions that ensure that families enjoy every potential benefit that a clean water system can bring to their community.

For a closer look at what these sessions are like, see this list of questions that villagers in a small community called Wiro had for the instructor who asked them what they wanted to learn about:
  • How to increase water access and avoid conflict over water sources.
  • Discussion on sanitation around water sources
  • Hygiene promotion and water source management
  • Learn to mobilize community to create awareness on environmental hygiene
  • Learn and implement water protection strategies
  • Protecting water sources
  • How people and livestock can share water sources and keep water source hygienic
  • Water containers hygiene
  • Maintain water source sanitation
  • River and bore hole water and how to manage the two
  • Discuss value of clean water and how to use river water source
  • How to manage use of water by diverse groups of people and how to reduce conflict over water
  • Create awareness on use of clean water
  • Repair of broken borehole
  • Management of water source and community mobilization
  • Acquire knowledge and tools for repairs
  • How best to use new borehole.
The list is interesting in several ways...

First, it indicates the level of passion and sophisticated interest that people in Wiro feel towards their water system. It reveals how multidimensional clean water is; the questions posed touch on technical, social, environmental, and interpersonal issues.

The questions are good ones—and if they don’t get the answers, you can just begin to imagine what problems might arise. For example, if they aren’t taught to fence the ‘water point’ (where collection occurs) from livestock and the water is contaminated and then abandoned because it still makes them sick, what good would all the concrete, engineering, and labour that went into creating the system be?

When we take knowledge for granted, we do the families we work with a great disservice. HOPE International Development Agency founders like to tell an anecdote about their early efforts to bring clean water to the poorest of the poor that illustrates this point well.

In an Ethiopian village where a new system had just been installed, a HOPE International Development Agency worker offered a man a drink of clean water - the first he would have ever tasted. The man, who by all accounts was a wise and respected member of the community, categorically refused the water. When asked why, the man explained that he didn’t trust what was on offer - it had no colour at all, and he knew that’s not what water should look like.

Any ‘benefit’ has to be understood in order to be truly beneficial. That’s why we commend the hard work our friends in Southern Sudan are doing to increase knowledge among the families working with us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Cancun to Ethiopia: Without the will, there Is no change

Details from the ongoing world climate talks in Cancun paint a picture of a tentative, quite torturous process, in which ‘the negotiations are going to be complex if there is no flexibility by the parties and no political will.’

By mid-December, we will know whether the participants have managed to work a deal out that will have enough parties making enough changes to curb emissions for the conference to have been worthwhile. Climate change is nothing if not a complex problem - difficult to understand, difficult to muster the will to respond to.

Helping the poor to transform their villages into viable communities is also nothing if not complex. As with climate change strategies, there must be sufficient ‘social will’, and everybody needs to participate if it’s going to work. If the results are not clearly understood or clearly valued, then the process is a non-starter.

These are the kind of social complexities that we take into account before we start working with a village or a group of people. It’s not enough to just plunk down a load of money, or a load of concrete, or a load of tools.

There has to be a will among community members to do what it takes, including make sacrifices. For example, in Ethiopia, people who work with us to build water systems for their villages will spend many days of very hard labour for no pay in order to clear the way for pipes.

Everybody must participate equally. When the water system is installed, people have to be willing to work on committees that will maintain the system, people have to pay their fees for repairs, et cetera, and people have to put into practice the health and sanitation training they were given, or else their health gains are nullified.

In every instance, a village will remain poor if the people living there are not truly leading the process. Money alone is no cure, just like a conference alone will not address the problems associated with climate change.

If poverty reduction were simple, it would happen quickly. But as with most wonderful, truly worthy goals, it’s more complicated than that.