Friday, August 9, 2013

Trash-clogged Drainage Ditch in Batey 7--A time for community development

Would you ever think that a trash-clogged drainage ditch would be an opportunity for development? If you said, "Yes" you are way ahead of Jenny and me (Mark) in the field of community development.

Here is how it happened.

Jenny is working with the Dominican Evangelical Church (IED, for the initials in Spanish) as a Community Health consultant. Jenny still thinks this is a bit odd, because she has had no professional training in community health and development. However, her last job in Nicaragua before beginning to serve in Haiti and now in the DR with the Presbyterian Church (USA), she was doing a lot of things in the field of reproductive health that relate intimately, so to speak, with community health. Also, Jenny is good at "reviewing the literature." That is, she looks for relevant reading material and pulls ideas out that make sense to her context. And Jenny is good at learning on the job.

So about a year ago, Jenny and I took what she had learned (and shared with me) about CHE (Community Health Evangelism) and we presented it to folks in Batey 7, together with Dr. Soraya and Santa, the director and pharmacist, respectively, of the IED clinic in Batey 7, Good Samaritan Health Clinic. CHE is a Christ-centered model for integrated community health and development.We got a good response at the first meetings, so we had a second meeting. Then another. Then, with help from our PC(USA) colleague, Jo Ella Holman, we were able to get in touch with Flor de Leon and her husband, Hiran, who are CHE trainers. Flor and Hiran and an associate came and did a seminar with folks from Batey 7. And the response was good.

The next step was training for Jenny and Dr Soraya and Santa and me in Santiago, about 5 hours away from Barahona. That happened this past April. One of the things we learned about during our four days of training with Flor and Hiran was the idea of "Seed Projects." For me, a "seed project" would be something about teaching folks how to save seeds. Not exactly. In this context, it is a small project that can be done quickly, requires no outside resources (or very minimal) and has a high probability of success. The initiators of seed projects should be the members of the Community Development Committee. This committee is the central unit in the CHE strategy. Made up of recognized community leaders who are chosen by the people of the particular community, it is the group responsible for determining the core issues that are keeping their community down as well as developing the program to address those core issues.

In the case of Batey 7, the folks Jenny and Santa and Dr. Soraya and I had been meeting with formed themselves into this Community Development Committee. After we cambe back from our training in Santiago,  we began to apply what we had learned about identifying problems and analyzing their root causes with this committee, but we also knew that we needed to help the committee move into some kind of  specific action that addressed the issues about which they were talking.

So that's the history and finally, here are some pictures to help show you where we came from to get to today, when the Community Development Committee of Batey initiated their first seed project.

This is not CHE related. This is Jenny's new lab table for the small medical lab she is helping develop at the clinic. This table has an interesting story. It took us literally one whole day, from about 9 AM to 4 PM to get the furniture maker to finish it and hand it over.

This is a problem tree, helping committee members to take a broader look at the problems they identified during a previous meeting. The problem is trash in the drainage ditch. Causes members identified include lack of understanding on the part of community members, lack of consistent trash pickup, no trash cans and the fact that the ditch is very near the homes and so is convenient for dumping trash. The "fruits" of the problem include diseases, which is aggravated by the fact that children play around the ditch. The trash also causes bad smells and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. As diseases increase, children are affected and therefore do poorly in school and finally, because children do poorly in school, the community can't progress. What is not mentioned directly here is that whenever it rains heavily, the ditch overflows and floods the latrines, then carrying all of the raw sewage out into the community.

To understand this story better, it may be helpful to read the first two blog entries about land issues with which folks in Batey 7 deal Also helpful to know at this point is that the land  on which Batey 7 is located is very flat and very near sea level, so these drainage ditches are the only way to keep water out of the community and the ditches are the only way to keep the soil drained enough that sugar cane can grow well. The drainage ditch in question is maintained, or should be maintained by the sugar refinery company that produces sugar cane all around the batey.

Mayra, the clinic's auxiliary nurse, explaining the work her group did in analyzing another issue in the community, malnutrition.

 As part of this analysis, the committee was asked to turn the problem around. That is they were asked to state the problem as if it were solved. In this case, no more trash clogging the drainage ditch. How to get there? Put trash cans in the community, make sure the trash truck comes on a regular basis, talk with the people by the ditch about the importance of not throwing trash there, make the ditch farther away so people would have to walk farther. Fruits of eliminating the trash clogging problem--no bad odors, fewer mosquitoes, fewer diseases, children do better in school, the community progresses.

After several more meetings the committee decided to try a two-step approach, as their first "seed project." The first step they decided to work on was a survey in the community to find out which proposed solution to the trash/ditch problem people like the most. Jenny, with Santa's input, helped develop the survey, then the committee reviewed and approved it.

Here is the first page, general information about the person responding.

Here is the final, listing the four possible solutions. The idea was that each household would select one as their preferred option.

About fifteen youth arrived between 7:30 and 8:30 this morning to help with the survey. Here, the group divided up the community in a Google Earth photo, sending each person to a particular sector to do about 15 surveys. These youth have done previous surveys for other organizations in the area and have some decent experience. Specifically, it was Sean, a Peace Corps Volunteer, who helped organize this particularly group to share their skills with the committee.

Here are the divisions the leader of the group made. Mark helped survey twelve homes in the far lower right corner section. The clinic compound is in the upper right hand area. The baseball field is the open area in the upper right hand corner and is one of the first places that gets flooded when the drainage ditch overflows.

Yanirda and Noel, two youth leaders, helping to tabulate the results at the end of the morning. A total of 244 households were surveyed, with 178 women responding and 68 men. The option for solving the ditch problem selected most often was number one, filling in the current ditch and re-digging it farther away from the homes. The ditch belongs and is the responsibility of the sugar company.

Santo Carvajal (far right) reviewing the results. Santo was one of the members of the Community Development Committee who remained present the whole day to follow along with the process.

Surveyors sharing food and drink after the work was done.

Esperanza (far left) serves drinks to the youth. Esperanza is one of the Community Development Committee members who helped prepare the food for the youth.

What is the second of the committee's two-step program? They will take the results of the survey and put together a petition that they will take back to the community and ask members to sign. Once they have that, the plan is to send a commission to negotiate with the heads of the sugar company and pressure them to resolve the problem, since the ditch is on their land and it is their ditch.

What does all of this have to do with community development? This is an issue that sets nearly every one in Batey 7 on fire. Every meeting that Jenny and I have led since this issue became the central focus has been dynamic, energetic and energizing. Without really knowing what we were doing, we started something important to people. That is pretty cool, especially since my first take on it was, "What a dull problem! This isn't that important." Ha! If the next step, the petition and the commission succeed, it will demonstrate to the committee and the people of the batey that they have the power to recognize problems and to make real changes. And that is exactly what our work is about.

What can you do to be part of this? Pray for the committee as it writes the petition, asking that they (and Jenny and Mark) might be inspired by the Holy Spirit to find words that will reach the hearts of the people of Batey 7 and, especially, the hearts of the directors of the sugar company. And, as you are moved, support Jenny's work by providing funds that can help us to continue to receive and provide more training with CHE.

Thank you for checking us out. God's blessings on you.