Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A glimpse into Practical Action’s work - and my life

As promised in my last blog, after telling you all about certain communities and their problems I would now like to focus on Practical Action’s work. But as I haven’t written much about my life here for a couple of weeks either, I will start off by telling you a bit about my life here.
I have actually been really lucky: I live with a lovely German girl, and I actually could not have wished for a better flat mate. She has already been here for 2 years, and she takes me along everywhere. So I am constantly out and about, meeting people and living the everyday Lima life. I am now also the proud owner of a bright pink bike. 

My pink bike and I, on a sunny Sunday afternoon riding along the Malecón.

A bike in Lima is really the best way to get around. It is flat, and there’s so much traffic that you do not get anywhere by car. Buses are complicated, random – and stuck in traffic too. And there is no other public transport. I have found myself a gym too (actually the same as my flat mate goes to) and go there in the mornings before work. You might think I am crazy. But as working hours are so much more relaxed here, it’s the best time to go. Arriving at work at 9 am I’m still one of the first to get in. Oh and if I stay on longer than 5.30 pm the office is deserted and I say bye to myself J. I have become somewhat of a consultant actually: I have set up team meetings (at first the team wasn’t quite sure why I wanted this, but the first meeting then went on for 3 instead of 1 hour and now I think they see the necessity of talking to each other from time to time J). I advise on any social media activities, infographs, videos, and even held a social media training last Friday – 16 people attended (not even half of them actually do social media). Apart from that I’m writing a Social Media strategy and concept for them – which is quite challenging with over 16 channels to integrate! Oh and this is in Spanish too, of course…

My colleagues and I. Back left my boss Doris (she calls herself Chani)

Anyway, enough about me, now I’d like to tell you something about Practical Action’s work here.
I’ve come to learn that key is really to work very closely with the communities. Each community has its leader (or depending on the size of the community there might be various leaders (sometimes also called directors)). They have small teams of so called “brigadiers”. But the main points of contact for our people here at Practical Action are the leaders. They are often young people, and often females, as most men work. They need to be well known and well connected in the community, and trusted. Every volunteer has to attend a certain amount of workshops, each on different, relevant topics. A workshop is actually quite something to experience, as everybody of course brings their children along, all pile in to the room, happily chatting. The highlight of the workshop (at least for the children) is the part where cold drinks and snacks are distributed.
Practical Action organizes these workshops together with the local municipality and INDECI, which is the national government. Actually all of Practical Action’s work is closely coordinated and arranged with the local and national government. Many of our field visits start or end with a stop at the local municipality or INDECI, to hear how they are getting on with certain topics, to exchange data and talk about future projects.
This is important as nothing can get done here without the help of the government. One thing which Practical Action does is educate the people and teach them how to file a complaint with the government or ask for something to be built. As it’s a highly bureaucratic country, everything has to be done according to a certain process. For example if a community needs a wall to be built, to avoid the river from overflowing, a certain form has to be filled in (by hand and correctly), and this form then has to be brought to the municipality on a specific day at a specific time, and only then will it be acknowledged and (maybe) looked at. If something is approved (which can take years, people tell me) then Practical Action might help with funding, but the money will always be paid directly to the people building the wall, and never to the government.
A lot is about awareness, and about the communities to get things done themselves. They tend to (and that is actually a characteristic I’ve noticed in many Peruvians) sit around grouching and blame all their problems on others (like the government). Instead of standing up for themselves and getting things done. Easy things which can be done like cleaning up the environment or planting trees on the river bank giving more of a protection, the community can do on their own, without big funds. This is where Practical Action comes in too, encouraging them and helping them with their plans.
Not only people blame their problems on others, the government does so too. At a recent Simulacro (simulation of an earth quake) the local government, including the mayor, also attended. After the event had finished the mayor said a couple of words to the community. And his first words were: “We first had to clean up after the previous government, they left a huge mess. And they left us a lot of debt too, this is why we cannot fund as many local projects as we would like to. Now we are ready to start sailing, but it will take time until we can really start work.” I almost laughed out loud. But it really is quite symbolic for Peru. Oh and after this speech he went around and kissed every single person on the cheek (check my video!).

Unfortunately this is quite characteristic for the government in Peru. This is why, in a megacity like Lima, there is virtually no public transport (except mini buses) – no tram, no train, no metro. Although in the last 30 years various projects were started, they were always stopped once the government changed.

As not to prolong this blog too much I'll stop now - but will try to write my next blog again sooner this time :-)

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