Plans and goals are two different things. Following the first four steps of Outreach’s “PHDP,” or “Participatory Human Development Process,” when staff and members of a community first meet, then begin to explore and prioritize issues that the community would like to address, the next three steps in the process demand that participants get out of their seats. Like the second act of a play, after the setting and conflict has been established, it’s time for action.
Dominic (above, pictured in the middle), or “Domi,” as everyone calls him, is one of our most senior field staff members, with a shared history dating back to 1996. His role has expanded greatly since his early days, and he’s now the only country coordinator involved with Outreach who’s responsible for overseeing multiple countries, in this case, DR Congo and Zambia. His responsibilities include training new staff, mentoring existing team members, reviewing and approving reports from different field operations, overseeing the efforts of Human Development Facilitators [HDF], and, when the need arises, translating and interpreting one of the many languages he speaks.
“Officially, I speak French, English, and Swahili, but unofficially, I can count seven or eight African tribal languages that I speak,” says Domi. “Where we are living in Zambia, there are four tribes, and in Congo, they have 243 tribes. If I try to interact with people outside [the tribes with whom I normally work], I’ve got to learn another tribal language. It’s just the way it is.” Here, Domi laughs, as he often does to conclude statements. It comes easily and frequently, warm and open, and the sound of it is much-loved by those with whom he works. When asked about his subconscious’ preferred language in his dreams, he laughs heartily before replying, “Well, I guess it depends on the dream.”
His early attempts to facilitate community development in Kenya were grounded in good intentions, but hardly as informed and effective as they soon would be. “When I started, I had a picture of what to do—an academic picture, from books and school newsletters—but not a real picture of how things work.
“You wonder why the people, if they know the issue, know the problem, why haven’t they solved it yet?” Starting off in a rural community, he was surprised and a little frustrated by progress’ slow pace. “You think you can convince the people with arguments, what’s good for their health—toilets, clean water—but they don’t act, or react, based on that knowledge,” he says. “Why aren’t they following? Yes, they know clean water is good, but they don’t do anything about it.”
As he garnered more experience working in communities, he connected to Outreach and received training in PHDP, which eased his initial difficulties and provided a means by which he could work together more effectively with community members. “Using these techniques and methods, I was able to talk to [community members’] brains as well as their hearts using PHDP techniques, which made work much easier for everyone.”
After working through the initial four steps in PHDP (Integration, Social Investigation, Identifying/ Prioritizing Problems, and Groundwork – click here to read more], the next three steps are Meeting, Role-Play, and Action.
MEET TO PLEASE YOU
The meeting phase involves gathering the members of a given community together to discuss strategies and solutions for issues which have been identified and prioritized in the first phase. “We get an understanding of a problem, get consensus about what we want to do and how we want to do it. Every person facing the problem is affected differently and has his or her own solutions,” says Domi.
“In meetings, we get a common plan, a common strategy, and an idea about how we are going to [go about solving the problem]. Before meetings, everyone has their own ideas about how to solve a particular problem on their own. It’s only at meetings that we take everyone’s ideas and make one solution. Without meetings, the community wouldn’t act together, they’d do separate solutions.”
Those solutions can often involve speaking to government officials about sources of funding or support; something with which a typical member of a rural community doesn’t have much experience. In order to give participants a chance to accrue some risk-free practice, community members are assigned or adopt roles to play out crucial upcoming meetings, and address any rhetorical or conceptual oversights that might otherwise prove ruinous.
Participants are already motivated enough to have made it this far into PHDP, so their initial attempts at role-play can frequently be colored by their enthusiasm. “In role-play, someone goes to [a person pretending to be a government] officer and starts insulting him using words that aren’t good, asking [the officer] why they’re just sitting in their office instead of coming out to see [the community], etc.” Domi laughs. This pointed enthusiasm can extend to both sides of an issue: “Funny story: when we do the role-play, the [community member] assigned to act as an officer or decision-maker always tended to overdo it—making things more difficult than normal for the group, asking hard questions an official wouldn’t ask…” Understandably, proper techniques for effective role-play and their real-world counterparts need to be emphasized.
“Without role-play, peoples’ tactics won’t do any good. During role-play, we fine-tune tactics to allow people to get what they want. They aren’t used to doing [these sorts of things in real life], so we help them find strategies to solve their problems—they can’t blame the government for problems. It helps people to shed prejudices, to drop aggravation, their frustrations, et cetera. Without role-play, the [PHDP] process doesn’t stand. People develop the confidence to say, “We can do it!’”
DEEDS, NOT WORDS
Confidence in place, it’s time to take action. “Nothing moves without action, and action means you can see the results,” says Domi. “If people feel their community has been forgotten [by those who could offer assistance], they won’t get what they need—won’t get a new road, new school, etc.” It doesn’t take much to get people to notice and agree on problems—people are equipped to dislike things in any economic environment—but positive outcomes don’t arise from idle chat. “It’s like propaganda; mental awareness, talk about the issue, and nothing’s happening. It’s almost like we just preach about it. Only when they take action and mobilize can they see results. “
He adds, “These three steps don’t stand alone. Remove one, and the whole process won’t work.”
Domi’s long working relationship with Outreach is so full of hopeful stories that his anecdotes often run into one another, tumultuous beginnings of every variety overlapping and harmonizing with substantial, sustainable successes. But when asked about a community mobilization of which he’s most proud, he recalls one without hesitation.
“During one of my visits to Malawi, I met with a community group who had gathered to meet with government officials, and after three hours, no one from the government had showed up.” He says, looking into the distance. “Frustrated, people in the crowd asked me if I could just get up and speak to them so they wouldn’t feel like they wasted their time coming to the meeting.
“I wasn’t prepared to speak; it wasn’t supposed to be my meeting. I got up and asked people about their general thoughts about the future.
“They said they were making contributions to buy planks to build coffins, so people from the community could have a proper burial when they died. I was really touched; seeing people think not about how they’d live, but how they’d die.
“I started to talk to them about organic farming and how they could grow enough food to feed themselves and sell the rest.
“The people of the community had been lining up in the sun from 8 AM to 3 PM to get enough fertilizer and supplies to grow corn—they’d get 25kg of urea and some Compound D fertilizer, and that was the only way they knew to grow corn, year-in, year-out.
“Only one old lady—over 70—said that she remembered when she was a girl, and food could be grown without fertilizer, because the soil was still fertile and not as sandy when she was younger. Asked what she has noticed since they started using chemical fertilizer, she immediately answered that the soil has become sandy and the harvest was getting smaller and smaller. So I continued facilitating this concept during my stay.”
He continues, “A certain organization I trained them to make compost and how to plant crops, using a Japanese method, I think. When I went back, the entire community had mobilized when I wasn’t around—they believed in what we were doing with HDFs, and the growing techniques were working. They managed to grow corn without fertilizer and did it well.”
“That was a real mobilization that impressed and touched me; going from where people were talking about getting enough planks ready so when people pass away, their families won’t have to struggle to build coffins to growing enough food to feed people without government assistance; from how to bury people to how to feed people.”
Domi’s personal and operational success leading Outreach efforts in Africa is thanks in large part to his ability to envision not just goals, but plans on how to achieve them. His goals for the future? More plans, more goals, and more time helping others make plans to reach their goals: “Going forward, I really want to see many people doing what we are trying to do, committing to the [PHDP] process, training and mentoring. If we go forward trying to do things without it, we are just repeating the work we’ve done before.”