Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Digging for Water

Our water project in Bugesera, Rwanda is developing and after a realization that some projects will benefit from experienced advisors, we are collecting advice and a volunteer engineer to help with the project. I'm getting to learn a lot more about the necessary steps and cautionary points in digging a water well!

We're going to have a Rwandan Engineer with experience in well construction, and who is currently working for UNICEF, to help develop the project plans for both the water tank and water well and supervise and support the construction of both. There will be a community member responsible for tracking and reporting progress at each site and a woman supervisor from the community (whose husband is not involved in the project) who will supervisor both sites.

Unfortunately access to clean water is a major problem plaguing many in the developing world. Thankfully there are many people working tirelessly to change this. With more well projects being implemented, people are learning better ways to do it and more people are gaining experiences of how to do it. Water Aid has done a nice job keeping information about water pumps online for open sharing of experiences, planning and technology. The New York Times recently ran a number of posts from a professor of science and technology on access to clean water in Rwanda! Their links are below. I'll post more on our own project when it starts within the next few weeks.

Designs for water pumps

New York Times article

Monday, September 20, 2010

NEW PROJECT - Nano Grants

The question about how a small amount of money – say $20 – can be used most effectively comes into many of our minds as we hear about and see poverty. There have been a number of ways people have tried to go about this, hand out money, hand out items, sponsor a child to go to school, buy a small animal for someone etc. When you are interacting with people who you want to benefit from your donations directly, it makes this process much more transparent and support ends up in the hands of those with the luck to meet a generous person. If you’ve done this before and want to share how you gave money, how it was used and your thoughts on it now, please share them!
What if we could do this from afar with similar effects? We're going to test NanoGrants - a quicker, smaller version of MicroGrants - by offering $50 to $200 to communities who engage in a discussion with us about their situation, problems, solutions and available resources. Similarly to a MicroGrant, the group would have to write a short proposal of how they will use the money and ensure that the group will benefit from it.
Nano-Grants already in the works:
Three men in Karambe are writing a proposal to start a community goat project. They will care for the goats and when they give birth to new goats, they will give it to a community leader who will distribute it to someone who is in high need of an animal.
A group of HIV positive women in Wanteete have organized in hopes to gain better access to ARV’s. Currently they don’t have enough money to pay for them. They are writing a proposal to start a pig project to generate income that they can use to pay for medicine. They are using a mere $50 to kick off the project by buying piglets.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Community update: Wanteete Village, Uganda

I just returned from Kampala where the MicroGrant competition in Wanteete Village is getting heated! Three groups are developing different proposals on how to increase access to pre-primary education for the kids in the village. Aaron said that each group discusses their project throughout the week; even in between meetings building proposals in hopes that their proposal will win. Of course no matter which groups proposal wins, all of their children will stand to benefit. Currently children are walking very far to an overstuffed and under-resourced school. The walk is dangerous. Aaron said that one child disappeared last year on his walk to school. Aaron and the BESO staff have been enthusiastically supporting the women and helping them write proposals – a huge project for a group of women who do not know how to read or write! Proposals have been drafted and handed in, we’ve uploaded them onto the following discussion page:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Appreciating Community Activists

As our first MicroGrant competitions start unfolding in Rwanda and Uganda some themes are coming up about community organization. In Uganda, some women are getting impatient and the massive enthusiasm at the beginning of the competition is waning in the midst of the long process of writing and revising proposals. A good number of women (seen above) are still seeing the project through, consistently coming to meetings and keeping the energy high. These women undoubtedly should gain praise for their dedication to community work. Two primary questions arise from this:
1.    How long should the competition be?
2.    How can we socially support outstanding community activists?
In response to the first question:
The length and process of the competitions (often nine weeks) could pose problems. If a community of women who are subsistence farmers, mothers, small business participants etc, and are gathered for weekly meetings to do extra work for their community, it could take away their time for other projects. What if people are impatient and want things done quickly? Should we reject this notion? How would projects compare if the timetable for designing them were different? Shorter competitions could engage a larger group.
The length does however have bountiful benefits. The experience of working on a project for a long time before seeing the benefits, is quite useful as an experience to reference when the community attempts future projects. Likewise, knowing how to design a project plan and budget is incredibly valuable for any public or private sector endeavor. Holding long competitions where only 2/3 of the original participants actively participate can be useful as a mechanism for knowing who will sustain interest in their project throughout its lifespan – similar to how professors sometimes try to weed out uninterested students by making their classes hard the first few days. If a group of people cannot dedicate themselves to the competition then they may not be able to dedicate themselves to the implementation and sustaining of their projects. If competitions are shorter, it probably means fewer participants will be heard and revisions will be shorter. This could be dangerous for the ultimate quality of a project and opportunity to empower those who are often seen to have a weak voice. In Wanteete, dozens of women still show up for all the meetings persuaded to work by the chance to improve their children’s future. These are the women who should be recognized by the global community for their persistence.
Ultimately I think that having between 5-9 weeks to host a competition and design a project is greatly beneficial. The exception would be if the community already had a project thought through, such as the water project in Bugesera, Rwanda (although even this one is taking about a month to solidify before implementation).
In response to the second question:
For those who enthusiastically work throughout the MicroGrant competition and thereafter for the benefit of the whole community, we should provide them extra social support. Ideally internal support will work, but it is always nice to have other support too. At work or school, your colleagues are great, but a great supervisor can really keep you and the group motivated. Potentially the facilitator can relay messages of support from a global community and advocates who are in great position to publicize their work. Showing positive media and global appreciation of the project can help anyone involved feel encouraged. During the last competition meeting, we could provide a small amount of funding to purchase some snacks and drinks for the group to celebrate their work. Facilitators could also meet with the community every now and then after the project is done and express encouragement.
If you have additional thoughts, please add on!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

MicroGrants Blooming

It has now been over a month and a half since project Bloom was launched and soon there will be six MicroGrant competitions underway in Rwanda and Uganda, each touching an under-resourced community! With lots of activity here, we are looking for volunteers to become MicroGrant Advocates, who remotely work to support MicroGrant competitions. It’s a great way to support efficient, effective development.

Advocates are paired with the MicroGrant community of their choice and work remotely to support and promote their competition. Advocate responsibilities include: helping to raise the money for the community project; reviewing and commenting on proposals written by community members; advertising and promoting the grantee’s heroic work in the press. No prior work experience is needed—only enthusiastic compassion! In addition to helping a community in need solve its own problems you will learn about a pressing issue for those living in extreme poverty, and get a ground-level view of how they can be addressed.

The time commitment is approximately 2 hours per week for at least two months. Students can build class projects around MicroGrants. Although Advocates may have the chance to review grant submissions and discuss projects with experts in the field; Spark MicroGrants is really about
enabling the community to define their own problem, design their own project
and carry out the work for it.

If you’re interested, visit:

Here are some of the competitions already underway:

Community: Karambe Village
Problem: Access to clean water
The village has submitted their proposal for a well and water storage tank! The group is excited and volunteering their own labor to build the structures and maintain them thereafter.

Community: Wanteete Village
Problem: Pre-primary education
A group of women are meeting every week to develop proposals for a pre-primary school. Join the discussion on their project:

Community: Butare, Rwanda
Problem: Yet to be decided
An association of women in Butare, Rwanda have united after they were divided by the genocide. Wives of genocide perpetrators and widows of men killed have been congregating to discuss and improve their quality of life. A MicroGrant is giving them the opportunity to implement one of their projects!

MicroGrants has the potential to expand very quickly if a global community chooses to support it. NGO leaders and anyone involved with under-resourced communities can use it to allow the community to address a pressing social problem. Students involved in clubs like the Unity and Reconciliation club in Rwanda, that are aimed to support community development, can use MicroGrants to help their home villages or other organizations that they aim to support. Local governments can organize competitions for groups and villages that are rarely reached by aid. The governement in Ruhango, Rwanda has shown a great deal of enthusiasm for the method of development yet needs financial support for competitions. Many communities that have not been given the opportunity to play an active role in their own development are given the chance to implement a project to help their communities through MicroGrants.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Widows of genocide and wives of its perpetrators come together

Butare, a city populated with tens of thousands of students attending Rwanda’s National University, is also home to an association of women made up of widows of the genocide and wives of genocide perpetrators. The Unity and Reconciliation club at the National University works with the group of over 1,700 women to support their community. Members of the association come together for lectures from people who have good ideas to share, such as how to make soap- now one of their community products. They also come together when a problem arises, so they can discuss possible solutions and get each other’s advice on it. This strong communal mentality is not rooted in a lifetime of community living as in other regions of the world. For these women it is in the last fifteen years that they transformed from a group that detested each other, whose husbands were killing each other, killing their friends and children and forcing them to flee their homes. The resonance of the genocide is ever present, especially in families where husbands, sons and daughters are gone, orphans compromise new children and where ‘home’ is a new small plot of land. In the midst of this, these women have created a community and remarkably chosen positivity and unity to guide it.
Most of the women grow vegetables and starches on their land, which helps to feed them and their children. Some have tried to start small businesses with micro-loans but they often run into problems paying them back. One woman explained that when they have to pay school fees for their kids and buy food, they don’t have enough and they take from their business and the loan. Aid should be focused on resourcing women like these. Moses, the President of the Unity and Reconciliation club at the National University visits the women often and advises them on projects. Even before we discussed holding a MicroGrant competition for the women, he brought up the problem that aid groups usually go into communities and tell them what to do. He explained that this happened in another community and the project was not successful. Moses is going to help facilitate a MicroGrant competition for $3000 to allow the women to implement and try one of their projects. The women rejoiced when they heard and again applauded when they heard it was a grant and not a loan. The sense of community and community action embedded in the association very much aligns with MicroGrants, which supports community projects. The meeting I attended with them ended in a dance and celebratory song, leaving positivity flowing through the group.