African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pausing in Attir

Sometimes you need to press pause
to let everything sink in.

                                        Sebastian Vettel

It has been pretty much go, go, go for five days. And now, having arrived at Attir, we stop. After leaving the Land Cruiser, we greet a good number of the men and women of the village under some trees providing welcome shade. In this place we will discuss issues of a level of importance that is hard for us, who have so much, to fathom.

As we drive up, we see two women coming into the village, each carrying one of the ubiquitous 20 liter yellow containers they have filled with water at a stream about 3 miles away.

And we see a water tank sitting on a tower about 10 feet above ground. This must be a good thing.

Everyone seeks shade, whether it be under a tree or the water tank

Habiba addresses the good sized group from the village assembled under two trees whose branches intertwine, providing shade for the meeting. Speaking in Turkana, she is, I think, more or less introducing us and explaining why we are here. As I have said, this is the first visit by GHNI with people from outside of Africa. But Habiba, Wubshet, Martin and Dire, all representing GHNI in Isiolo, have been involved in the preparations for initiating the TCD program for some time now.

Habiba addresses the villagers in their tribal language – Turkana; she translates for us. This picture came from later in the meeting, after we had asked permission to take photos.

As is usual, the men and women congregate in separate groups, the women at or beyond the fringes of the shaded area. Habiba later tells us that the two groups are closer than normal, this in some way influenced by our presence.

Remember that quote I had stumbled upon on the long flight to Nairobi - "It's not about what is best. It's about who gets to decide what is best." Well, it starts here. One of the village leaders is going to tell us about the issues facing the village. Access to sufficient clean water is at the top of the list. No surprise here.

He is speaking for the village, we listen

Then, we hear about the tower...

"It's our statue," he tells us. No water in it. No way provided to get water in it. There are many sides to the story, I suppose, but here is the story from the viewpoint of the village: A group came in to offer aid. Arriving in newer, four-wheeled drive vehicles, they took pictures, made some assessments and apparently decided on providing the tank without a lot of emphasis on partnering with the village. Once it was erected, there was (little or) no additional contact. "We would like to tear it down," we are told.

Water tank in Attir. But, no water.

The challenge is to create a partnership to pursue development that results in measureable improvements in the quality of life that can be sustained without additional outside investment.

In addition to the obvious issue with water, we hear of the need for school facilities. Primary school children must make a dangerous walk to one of two schools in adjacent villages; we are talking about 2 to 3 miles each way. There is an abandoned church building a kilometer or so outside of the village. During the last period of fighting in the area, it was too far away to be used on a regular basis. Now, the village suggests dismantling it and rebuilding the structure nearer the village center. There, it would serve as a school facility. Seems as if this would be a good idea.

Jeff speaks for GHNI, validating the input from the village and addressing concerns that stem from the water tower, not by mentioning that issue at all, but by simply providing simple, direct communication of GHNI's intent and expectations.

Jeff waits to speak to the village, providing a promise and outlining expectations

I do not have a recording and there are only a few lines in my journal about the talk. So, this is the way I heard it:

Jeff explained that GHNI was ready to partner with Attir in a meaningful way. They were ready to provide "small support" to go along with the large amount of hard work that the villagers would put in to the projects. He talked about the plan to provide teaching, mentoring and encouragement, this to help achieve development that would make a long term difference; it would be aimed directly at the important issues we were told about; it would provide the village a chance to plan and carry out meaningful work that was to their long term benefit; it would be sustainable. He also reminded the villagers of the success that other villages in the area had already experienced as a result of to their participation in this same sort of cooperation.

Thanks to the wonderful work by Habiba and the Isiolo team, the village already has working teams assigned to each of the five areas of focus in the TCD program: water, wellness, education, nutrition and income production. Leaders in each area introduced themselves. Each team has 5 members: 2 or 3 men and, correspondingly, 3 or 2 women. So much of the success that will be achieved will come from the talents and commitment of these groups.

In my work with a number of missions and development projects, I have heard that one of the most important things to keep in mind is to not promise something you cannot – or will not – deliver. Jeff stood before the village and promised that GHNI would stand with them for five years. And reminded them that this was a promise with a condition, that they must do their parts. This was a big moment.

It is hard for me to gauge the villagers' feelings. They have said that the trees are tired of hearing a lot of stories. But, there is excitement at the promise. Before we break up, we are each given a Turkana name. Mine is Lokure. I am told it means "thirsty." However, some discussion later leads to an explanation that it is a bit more complex than that – it is meant to convey an ability to go a long way without water. As we are each endowed with our names, there is applause and laughter. There may be a joke or two in all of this, but it is all in the spirit of being accepted and honored.

Our pause in the literal travelling was coming to an end. We would let all of this set in in due time. Now, we set out to explore the village, visit the remote church building and walk to the water source.

Next: Walking Attir

No comments: