Around the World in 108 Days
by Fiona Rose
Development is all about doing things. Doing things better is important and that is why The Salvation Army set aside time and resources to look closely at its community development projects and practices.
|A child with a traditional birthing attendant, Meigu County, China|
|Chinese beneficiaries of the fuel-saving stove programme with their store of firewood|
|The sparse landscape of Meigu County, China|
|A typical village dwelling in Meigu County|
|The evaluation team in China, including (second from right) article author Fiona Rose|
|Children in Tanzania give an HIV/Aids-prevention lesson in song|
|A man from Mirpur, Bangladesh, makes spinning tops thanks to an income-generating loan|
|Looms bought with an income-generating loan in Dhakar, Bangladesh|
Across the world The Salvation Army is engaged in a wide range of development projects. However, it is not always easy to take a step back and look objectively at the things we do on a day by day basis. This is why we hired an external evaluator to take a critical look and provide us with some unbiased answers.
I was given the task of organising the evaluation exercise. The projects to be visited had been selected at random and it was quite a challenge to put together a travel programme that took us to 16 projects in villages, towns and cities across five continents in 108 days.
In China we journeyed by bus through snowy and windy mountains to reach Meigu County. Looking out of the bus window I was surprised at how arid and sparse the landscape was. We passed people walking along the road, on their way to work or perhaps going to buy food or get medical treatment.
They were wrapped up in hats and blankets against the biting cold. There were few buildings along the main road, just the occasional shop, billiard hall or poorly-resourced government clinic.
Small wooden houses were perched high in the hills with wafts of smoke coming out of their chimneys, protecting families from the harsh conditions.
We evaluated a pilot project that was looking at sustainable technologies. The project provided 20 new stoves to families, allowing them to warm their houses and cook their food without using up too much firewood. In this way the project aims to protect the environment by reducing deforestation and the subsequent risk of soil erosion. The project staff explained that it was difficult at first to persuade people to try out these free new technologies.
We climbed up a steep slope to one of the houses to hear from the project beneficiaries how they were getting on with their new stove and whether it was making any difference. By the side of the house was a huge pile of sticks and it seemed they were still using a lot of wood.
However, the mother and son of this three-generation family unit soon put us straight. ‘The firewood we would have used for one meal is now enough for five meals,’ the son told us, so although wood is still required it appears that it is not being used up so quickly.
The benefits of this project are not just environmental. The mother explained that she was not having to spend so much time collecting firewood and had extra time for other important tasks. ‘We were busy before,’ she said. ‘We had to get up very early in the morning. Now we have more time on the farm land.’
Other owners were pleased with their new stoves but had some ideas about how this trial project could be improved. One explained that the chimney was too close to the top of the stove so they could not get their large cooking pot on it. Another man explained that, in his house, the stove’s chimney had been located on the outside wall so the heating benefits from the stove were lost. The project staff listened carefully to their comments and noted them so that future expansion of the pilot project would address these design issues.
It seems that news of the benefits of these new stoves is spreading and other families in the pilot communities are enquiring as to how they can get one. The project implementers, community and government are looking at a possible three-way cost split so there is a shared commitment to this environmentally-friendly piece of household equipment.
To evaluate projects in Tanzania, we rumbled and bumped our way in a low-slung saloon car across the hot and sandy Serengeti. The car was not the most suitable of vehicles but our local driver, Kassim, ensured that we travelled in style with our tinted windows and impressive music system. He stopped regularly to dust down the dashboard, add a squirt of aftershave to the inside of the car and ask passers-by for directions. Kassim did not feel the need to carry a map!
We were in Tanzania to evaluate an HIV/Aids project based in a number of remote villages.
The project uses the existing Salvation Army church network in isolated areas to raise awareness of HIV/Aids issues, training Salvation Army officers and volunteers to engage with the community and work together to identify solutions to HIV/Aids concerns in their localities.
In all the project villages, committees have been set up. Many of the committees have taken it upon themselves to reach out into neighbouring villages and raise awareness in these areas also.
In all the villages, HIV/Aids information and sensitisation has taken place. In one village, the resulting change in community knowledge and behaviour was self-evident. One woman we spoke to told us: ‘Now, whenever you find a group of people you hear them talking about HIV/Aids. Even at household level, parents are talking to their children about HIV/Aids.’ A man from the same village added: ‘Now people are very cautious about doing things that mean they get Aids.’
As part of the sensitisation process, the stigma surrounding people living with Aids has been reduced and community members were identifying ways of supporting them by helping with household tasks such as chopping firewood, cleaning houses and fetching water. Aids orphans have been identified and community members collect money from neighbours to buy uniforms so they can attend school.
In two villages, youth groups encouraged sport and income-generating activities as alternatives to drinking in local bars, which leads to ‘at risk’ behaviour. In another village a Salvation Army officer visited the school once a week and spoke about HIV/Aids. The school choir had learned a number of songs about HIV/Aids prevention and shared these with families and schoolfriends.
These were just two projects we visited on our evaluation journey. This issue of All The World will tell you about other places we visited, the Salvation Army projects we evaluated and the difference they are making to people’s lives around the world.
In all our travels, over 108 days, one thing that impressed me was that, even in the most remote or unlikely locations, we found The Salvation Army at work with communities, meeting needs in God’s name.
Fiona Rose works for the International Projects Office and was a member of the Global Evaluation team
(Editor’s note: Fiona has provided a huge amount of material for this issue. I want to express here my appreciation for her efforts and her absolute dedication to her work)