agency in community development

Previous entry: a first glimpse: zonke

13 May 2008

South Africa is much the same and different as many African countries that I have visited. Same in the sense of the smell of burning oil and gasoline, shipping containers as buildings, the red dirt, the friendly people, passenger vans as taxis, crazy driving, dogs for security, chickens and goats roaming everywhere, and the seemingly common practice of taking things as they come. The differences and nuances come in the country’s history – white minority oppressive rule. White people are not unheard of in this area of Africa and South Africa specifically – uncommon, but not unseen. You get a sense that you are always being watched, but in a different way than what may be experienced in other African countries without such a history. It is more of a, “why are you here” look instead of the, “oh! You are white.” The history of white oppression and the current issue of white organizations taking away from the communities makes the dynamic similar in skepticism, but different in why.

Today there was a meeting of the parents and guardians of the children at the center. I was not surprised to see that the majority of the guardians in attendance were women. The meeting was excellent in that it is incorporating the families and parents with the work of the center, since everyone is working towards the same goal – the children’s future. ‘China’ and another man [Mr. Ndaba] came today – they both work for the Library system and are self-proclaimed educators. For the success of the center it is also vital for the teachers to be interested and involved in the activities of the center. Parents, guardians, librarians, educators, teachers – the center requires a community coalition invested in the children’s future if it is to be a success as well as a strong positive for the future of the community.

In a sense community development has been hindered by the negation of education. Bantu education Acts left the black majority behind and now its effects perpetuate into inadequate schools in remote informal settlements and townships.

We had a tour of Zonkizizwe. There are 2 clinics for the 6 zones of Zonkizizwe Proper. Health services are free, provided by the government and are much used by the residents. I hope to be able to closer look at the health impacts of development and education in Zonke. It seems a pressing issue for many families and children is nutrition [malnutrition] and access to food. I have not yet been able to tell the extent of HIV/AIDS in Zonke, but that will be essential to understanding health and development in South Africa.

As much of what I have seen in African communities there is an incredible potential and energy to make change and improve for the future. The key is now facilitate that for those communities to actualize it themselves. “It takes a village to raise a child” – this idea really seems to be at the root of the African heritage and essential to future understandings of development in Africa. (This is a large generalization, but the basic idea of family structures and how that plays out is important all across Africa when working in development).

Back to the meeting: it was a great way to get community feedback and evaluate progress, programs, and potentially identify actions for the future that can be implemented. The issue I see in coming in the near future is employment. We can only do so much to supplement education, we cannot run schools. When students don’t pass the test for university there needs to be something in place to give them the skills to get trained and employed. My thinking now cuts to the idea of green-collar jobs/ green jobs/ green economy in the US to fight poverty, promote conservation, and cut crime and unemployment. A similar model must be able to work here. We hope to also start a book club in conjunction with the libraries and maybe the schools – this will be important to fostering and sustaining the coalition of teachers/ educators.

29 August 2008 Reflections:

The guardian meeting helps to build a community coalition that is dedicated to one another. People in the community who may have been facing issues alone can now come together and see that there are others also facing the same issues. The meeting also makes a family of those benefiting from the center. This also serves as an evaluation of the center’s activities where guardians can say what is working, what isn’t, or give suggestions of things they need. What is really important as part of these meetings is that the suggestions of the children and youth served by the center are used for everything. Their ideas, suggestions, and needs are utilized in decision making since it is their center – no one else owns it. As a very related issue, the center is starting a Young Intern program to train youth at the center to become the next staff members. So those who directly benefit from the center will soon become the next staff who will be able to give suggestions straight from experience.

are the MDGs credible?

The ‘bright idea’ of the West very often comes under scrutiny from the rest of the world. In Tanzania the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are seen as the ‘hidden agenda’ of the West that is impossible for African countries to achieve. Many see South Africa’s ability to achieve the MDGs as an obvious reference to the Western powers’ foreign policy towards ‘developing states.’ Is it because South Africa is most Western and developed that it has achieved so much?

The MDGs can certainly be seen as worrisome, however I would not go so far to state that they are a tool for Western powers to control African countries or ‘underdeveloped’ countries. The ‘developed’ and Western powers do hold the power in the UN, but I know a good number of people who work for the UN and are dedicated to reducing poverty and providing access to the necessities that all people need to survive. I am not a proponent of big plans, such as the MDGs. As I have come to understand and know by way of William Easterly – big plans do not work, big plans do not succeed and there is a large cynical backlash when the big plans fail.

Many professionals say that the MDGs are unachieveable by African countries but the institutions say otherwise and claims that African countries are actually achieveing the goals. The UN newsletter on Africa, African Renewal, has facts and figures from the 2005 MDG report that outline how Africa is doing at achieveing the MDGs. Many of the goals are very far off track from the actual goal, but in the area of access to a clean water source and primary school education there is improvement.

Since the 1960s numerous, ambitious development goals have been set for the world to achieve. Every time that goals are set their deadlines for achievement are passed and new goals are drafted. Most recently we reached the new millennium and the most ambitious goals were set.

They are the most broadly supported, comprehensive, and specific reduction objectives the world has ever established. (UN Millennium Project)

The deadline is fast approaching and achievement is far off for many ‘developing’ countries. The first ‘decades of development’ (1960, 1970, 1980, 1990) focused on economic growth. Beginning in the 1990s, development started to focus on the need to create “macroeconomic stability, strong institutions and governance, enforce the rule of law, control corruption, and provide greater social justice.” From those aspects, the new MDGs reflected the emerging role of human rights in the international community, focusing on the economic, social and cultural rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (rights to food, education, health care, and decent standard of living). Throughout the ‘decades of development,’ conferences upon conferences, meetings and more meetings were held to build the best plan for development in our world. Yet as this happened goals failed, new goals were created, and millions lost their lives. This is where I will end with a very important quote:

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” – John Kenneth Galbraith