True capacity building is terribly difficult and, often times, Peace Corps Volunteers feel like they are constantly hitting their heads against a wall. Basically, you're asking people to do things above and beyond their preexisting work and they often don't see the rationale or what benefits might come in working extra hard for a while. Plainly, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And our response to them is that, "just because they can't see the cracks, doesn't mean they don't exist". Try convincing someone to follow you with answers like that! It's TOUGH!
I decided early on in my service that I was going to be steadfast to Peace Corps' approach to development: "helping people develop the capacity to improve their own lives". This meant focusing on the development of people and not things. And it also meant that I wasn't going to do things on my own just because it would be easier (and much faster) that way. I was going to take the long road and do everything step-by-step with the people that I work with to ensure they learned what they were doing. Even if that meant spending hours going over and over and over the same things and taking the time to hand-write instruction manuals for even the simplest of tasks. (Yes, I even put a "ON/OFF" sticker on the power button on the computer and everything moved forward from there...)
I have had relative success in capacity building at my NGO, mostly in terms of systems strengthening. I think that is due, at least in part, to the fact that I have been patient in explaining things to the staff and have demanded they participate in every single thing that I do there. They are learning the skills to do everything from typing to drafting reports to financial management and administration and they are gaining the confidence in themselves to carry out their tasks. (I make a big fuss over them when they remember how to "align right" or enter something into QuickBooks. They laugh and cheer themselves on and feel proud of themselves for their accomplishments. In turn, I believe it also inspires them to keep trying.)
Just this week, there have been a number of huge examples of the success of capacity building at the center. I am like a "proud mom" because I can see how much all of our hard work (theirs and mine) is paying off. So here we go:
The ladies at the NGO successfully put together their very first financial report. This meant going through an entire year's worth of receipts and bank statements, organizing them by category and entering them into the computer, tabulating results, and building charts.
The center had its very first Annual Meeting where the staff presented their very first Annual Report. Although I helped with the report, the ladies presented it on their own and fielded all of the questions from the Executive and General Committees. (We spent days prepping for every possible question and brainstorming solutions. The ladies took the initiative on this end and even worked extra hours to get ready.)
The Administrative Officer at the center installed the ink into our new printer, typed up multiple letters, and printed them off all on her own. I wasn't even present for any of these actions. This may not seem like a huge deal but, less than a year ago, she couldn't even turn on a computer.
They have learned the definition of "promptness" and are using it in their lives. This is no small feat. "African time" is very real and has been a frustration of mine throughout my service. Today, when I told the ladies I would be at the center "around 8am", which in the past would have allowed me to stroll in any time up until 10am, garnered me a phone call at 8:01 because I wasn't there yet and they were ready and waiting to get started on projects.
When I first arrived at the NGO in February 2012, I recognized a need for better communication among the staff. I started bringing the staff together for meetings. It was a time, I explained, to share about projects, successes, and problems; to brainstorm; to discuss policy changes; and so on. I was informed by the Center Coordinator today that she had called for a staff meeting. She apologized because it would be during a time when I was scheduled to be at one of the schools but assured me that she could facilitate it on her own. She then handed me a typed agenda for the meeting. I scanned the agenda and asked her if she felt confident in bringing up and explaining some of the policy changes she was calling for. She said that she was because she understood the reasons for them and was sure that she could tell the staff in such a way that they would understand as well.Whoa! What a week worth of successes! Now that's capacity building gone right! It's such an awesome thing to see your need slowly start to fade away... And it definitely makes it easier looking ahead to leaving. It's a relief and such an amazing feeling to finally feel like they are getting it! :-D