Sunday, September 27, 2009

Limits and Abilities

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.
Teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
--Lao Tzu

Don't we all know that quote? Teach a man to fish. Help him, help himself. In the development world, that's the moto. Let's avoid the tragedies as outlined in Michael Maren's Road to Hell. No gifts. No handouts... at least not without sincere local contribution. Development work means building human capacities and transferring needed skills. Think: sustainability. That's the litmus test for any project. Sustainability. Sustainability. Sustainability. How can this be "sustainable"?

Over the past year, such college theory has come to life. Good intentions only go so far. Sometimes, good intentions are no good at all. Living in the community I work means Moroccan counterparts constantly test my boundaries. I found myself reitterating my limits agan and again. I wouldn't change a thing. Because within my limits, lies my contribution as a PCV. Here's a little about what I mean:

Money Matters. I frequently run errands in a nearby town. I need to. I live by myself. If I don't, no one else will do it for me. Consequently, the Association officers often depend on me to pick up raw materials. However, they don't always hand me the cash beforehand. Do I smile and say, no worries it's on me? NO! If they are serious business women, they need to understand costs and expenses. The treasurer records all purchases I've made on their behalf. She clearly documents everything on a page entitled "Bank Touria." And from time to time, she pays me and clears their balance sheet. Granted I'm shielding them for a certain amount of risk. However, I am not funding their product production. I'm advancing credit. Now that my language skills have improved, we can talk about microcredit. There are various lenders in Morocco, particularly to women's groups. We'll see if that's the next step they want.

My current rent situation falls on similar lines. Back in May, my landlord (and next door neighbor) asked me for 3,000 dhs. She just finished building the hammem. The worker was coming later in the week and she was short money. (Don't ask me why she didn't figure the math earlier. I don't know.) I sat down with her and explained my terms. Each month's rent is 600 dhs (approx. $77.55). Giving her 3,000 dhs means advancing her five months rents. However, that stands seperate from my share of electricity and water (we share a meter). She understood and signed off five months on my rent receipt. No problem. October is rounding its corner and my loan has been paid back in full. I cannot give out gifts. But I can teach people about microcredit.

Childcare Project. As expressed early in my service, the women want to finish the nedi roof and provide childcare services and preschool for the village. This means applying for grants, which means creating a project plan and writing a budget. I've held workshops on certain aspects of the grant proposal. Back in May we started talking about the budget. They handed me a rough start. I gave them specific feedback on changing the budget structure. But I never got a revised draft. Do they not care? Or do they not understand?

Through various conversations, finishing the nedi roof remained a top priority. Therefore, I created a blank budget for them to fill in. I told them October is the deadline. I can give them a structure to follow. I'm not going to run around, get price quotes, negotiate with a foreman, etc. If these ladies went this, they'll hunt and organize this information. And if this is truly important, they'll finance 25 percent.

It's not even October and officers have filled-in almost everything. More importantly, they tracted local funding sources and gathered community contribution. We still need to rework the details of this budget and go over the calculations. That I can work with them. I'm simply proud they've done the heavy lifting themselves. Wonderful!

Training the Trainers. My favorite and most rewarding work has been in product development. The Association needed to rethink their line of products. This past year, we focused on developing a line of crocheted assessories. I used a "training the trainers" model when playing with product development. Training the trainers is the popular model workshops. It inherently has a capacity building compenent. Development agents teach a skill, instill new knowledge and motivation to local leaders who, in turn, pass it on. I work with a handful of women, namely those who are more motivated and have a higher skill level. We experiment together. Once we've perfected our idea, they teach the rest. I do this for a number of reasons: 1) It's easier for me. I can work closely with a couple of ladies. Together, we can toy around with various ideas. 2) They can better explain and teach the rest than I ever can. Sure my language has improved, but I'm not on par with a native speaker. No way! 3) I can work on different product ideas simultaneously. Over the summer, two women worked with me on three different ideas. Sweet! 4) It cuts down on experiment costs. I'll post product photos soon!

Letting them make mistakes. Part of learning is making mistakes. In April, the officers negotiated business relationship with a local eco-tourism enterprise. They brought sample products over. The buyer was so impressed, she took everything. She even commissioned four tablecloth and napkin sets. This particular tablecloth and napkin set design required intricate and time consuming needlework. Furthermore, only five women know how to do it. Needless to say, the officers underestimated the time necessary to buy the raw materials and finish the handiwork. In fact, the ladies themselves had no idea. They never had such an order. They never counted. The officers were solely responsible to renegotiate each deadline. Only recently, have I sat down with them and asked, "What really happenned? And what can we learn?" Now they know. Now they really know.

Marche Maroc. "Teaching them to fish" has also meant being comfortable with their decisions. As I've mentioned previously, Peace Corps along with USAID, American Language Center, University Al Akhawayn and the Maroc Artisanat organized a Craft Fair in Fes. There's a day of workshops, two day craft fair and concert for 60 Moroccan artisans. I first presented this information to my counterpart back in June. Sounds great! They said they'd love to go. I reconfirmed the details late August. The president told me she was doubtful- we don't have enough stock. The summer passed and not all ladies made their quota. I laid out my reasons why we need to go. Then I ran around town, telling everyone about the craft fair and ordering them to produce.

That was early September. I checked in, individually, with Association officers throughout September. Each time they expressed doubt. Each time I spelled out reasons this opportunity is too good to pass up- transportation/lodging/table/couscous lunch paid for, workshops, product quality consultations, University Al Akhawayn's Fair Trade website idea, networking, product testing, etc. Each time I made them to say yes. Technically, I got "not no-s." Whatever. Good enough. I can keep pushing. "Not no-s" means there's a possibility.

Ramadan came and went. As did l'aid and its week of preparations. Now it's almost time to go. Who can come? There's two places. Aicha, the president, said she'd ask everyone if they could go. Great. I went ahead and talked to each of them beforehand. Everyone gave me a reason why another should go. Everyone said they'd wait to see what Aicha says. Aicha never went around town. Furthermore, she post-poned our officer meeting from Saturday, to Sunday, to tomorrow. I visited her house today. I need a commitment or a final rejection. They've decided not to participate. Can I bring some products with me? Absolutely not. 1) They need to take ownership of this business. 2) They need to do through the nuances of marketing and selling. 3) Most craft fair expenses have been covered for their benefit. 4) PCVs are not allowed to sell products to the public, anyways.

They're not going. That's it. They need to be comfortable with that decision. I need to be comfortable with that choice. As I jokingly said to Amina, "If I could kick all of you to the exhibition, I would." That power doesn't lie within me. I cannot tell you how badly I'd love to fill-in-the-blanks on their behalf. But I have limits. If I stepped outside those bounds, I wouldn't be teaching them to fish. Damnit.

1 comment:

B said...

Sure sounds as if you're doing great things. I'm in awe of all you're doing. How is it we don't ever see each other?