“Sometimes, it’s like we’re just looking for problems. People get confused.”
Every experience is a learning experience. Be it a new piece of insight or a confirmation of previous beliefs, one never needs to walk away from something feeling poorer for it. From the right vantage point, there’s no such thing as looking backwards or forwards, only the perspective to see what’s next.
As covered in our first two articles in this series, “Phase One: Phase Juan” and “Acting Out with Domi,” Outreach’s PHD (Participatory Human Development) process has nine steps: Integration, Social Investigation, Problem Identification, Groundworking, Public Meetings, Role Playing, Mobilization/ Action, Evaluation, and Reflection. These beats create a tempo that keep solutions marching forward, leaving a path for others to follow towards success.
The final third of this process is arguably the most important, though it takes place after the laborious process of bringing people together and the physical and logistical challenges involved in making and meeting goals. Though the moments that follow are quiet, there’s no time to rest.
“The steps of evaluation and reflection are the most important,” says Luz Dania, an HDF (Human Development Facilitator) who has worked with Outreach’s Nicaraguan arm, Alcance Nicaragua (AN), in some capacity since early 2006.
“If a group or community does not evaluate, they may not realize the strengths and weaknesses of their actions. The evaluation gives people the energy to continue; it is the step that allows people to realize that they can achieve for themselves what they intend, and to support each other. It is the step that gives them the enthusiasm to continue.”
To Everything, Learn, Learn, Learn
Luz Dania (pronounced “Loos-Danya”) is a studious, serious woman who listens intently and takes things very seriously, right until her face blooms with an easy laugh into a beautiful, warm smile. “In reflection, people realize their own growth,” she continues. “Implementing the step of reflection, people realize that they are not the same people [as they were before PHDP]; that they are learning something new, and learning from each other. [They can] share their feelings with their neighbors, and be more open, instead of being too be shy to speak in front of others.”
Evaluation brings the community together to consider a given project’s highlights and low points, and to determine if the goals set forth at the project’s outset have been met. Participants can revise their processes for the issues they hope to address next. Together, their observations and experiences can coalesce into a shared understanding of how to best serve their community in their respective roles, and a shared sense of a job well done for all they have accomplished so far.
The ability to frame the experience of a community coming together to identify and resolve the issues they face as more than just an objective-oriented process is crucial to establishing a pattern and a process for field partners to equip themselves to resolve further issues they face without looking first for outside assistance. Accomplishing a goal is fantastic, but without reflecting on the specifics in order to plan for further successful efforts, a single accomplishment can remain singular.
“It’s not just the process, it’s that the people have to be involved. It’s the most difficult part of our work,” she says.
Turning in the Same Circle
When asked for an example of the steps of evaluation and reflection from her work, Luz Dania is quick to offer one: A woman named Adelayda Suarez, who struggled for more than a decade with the annual collapse of her home’s latrine during Nicaragua’s rainy season.
“During those years, she had to build a new traditional latrine annually. During an evaluation and reflection session, she shared [the observation that without] evaluation and reflection, people are always turning in the same circle,” says Luz Dania. “[Adelayda] knew her traditional latrine was always going to have the same problems it had the year before, but she did not look for other, sturdier materials or options. Because of the lack of evaluation, she did not take the risk to try a new approach. It was through her involvement with the group and its focus on evaluation, reflection, and working together that they sought an alternative solution.” Adelayda would go on to work as AN’s treasurer for the group of facilitators working on the construction and implementation of latrines, putting her experience to work.
Reflection is more than just a minor-key variation on Evaluation, it’s a chance for participants to contrast life before and after PHDP, and interrogate their own feelings honestly. A given project might be completed successfully, but if no positive lessons are found in participants’ experiences, it’s time to start over from a new direction. This isn’t defeat, it’s a clearer path to true success.
Luz Dania, like her coworkers Juan and Mario, can’t help but retrofit PHDP to their personal lives. “I implement Evaluation and Reflection with my daughter Dania Sofia every day,” she says. “When I get home from work, the first thing I ask is, ‘How was school? How did you solve problems today? What was the easiest part— your strengths? Which was the most difficult— your weaknesses? How did you overcome your weaknesses?’ I ask her to reflect on what she learned that day. [Her father] sometimes says I’m crazy, but who better than a child to implement the process of PHDP?”
The potential and opportunity for women and girls to succeed is a focus for Luz Dania. “I believe that the development of a community is only possible when all members of a family are integrated into the decision-making. The man is not the only voice of the family; women and children must also be protagonists of their own development.”
“When I go into a community, it’s easier to make connections with women, to speak with them instead of the men. Women are more open. When I speak with men, it’s a little more difficult for them to accept my input as a woman, but once they’ve accepted me, it’s actually easy to [convince men] to do the work. [In our country,] women have home, children, work, and meetings. Men can do the work, and will be there, ready.”
Her biggest dream for her work? “[To] have a women’s youth group. Empower them now, and in the future, these women will be super powerful. It’s nice to have girls to empower. I’d love to see them be powerful when they become women.”
Having endured a few rounds of interviews for this article to evaluate her own time with Outreach, Luz Dania naturally proceeds to reflect on what her work means to her. “Working with Outreach allows me to be less selfish, to share, to give joy, to dream, and to [avoid] depression. [One of my community partners] once told me that there was no time for depression, because [I should use the time I have] to work daily towards pursuing dreams.”
She continues, “There is a [quote from] Khalil Gibran that says, ‘And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life, and in the magnificence of life, and their coffer is never empty.’ The people in the community with whom we work are a reflection of that phrase, they give the best they can from the little they have.”