Monday, July 9, 2012

Gisagara gets visited by Where There Be Dragons student group.

Hi everyone! It’s Sarah and Emily, two of Spark’s summer interns with a really unique update on the project in Gisagara.
Spark started working with the Gisagara community one year ago. Claude, the Spark facilitator for this project, worked with community members to help them come up with a project proposal to tackle a self-identified need. After many meetings and discussions, the community decided to focus their project on the issue of poverty. They came up with the idea to grow and sell the cassava as a source of income. This allowed each family to use their money in any way that they chose, as not all families had the same exact problems. For example, one of the major issues among mostly the poorest members of Gisagara is a health problem called chiggers, that results from unsanitary housing conditions and non-cemented floors. The people that were affected by chiggers would be able to use the money to buy mattresses as a solution.
This past Saturday July 7th we visited this community with Sasha, Natasha, and Claude to check in with their progress. Before the project began, there was a history of tension between the Batwa, or the indigenous potters, and the rest of the community. We were amazed by the beautiful story that Nakabonye, a mother in the community, told of how this cassava project helped create a more positive relationship between the two groups. They were able to come together despite their differences to tackle a problem they had in common. Others in the community, including the association President, explained that “It was the first time the group started working together.” 

Along with the Spark team, a group of 13 students (17-20 years old) and instructors from the Where There Be Dragons program came to visit the community. The theme of this particular trip was development, so they were all very eager to learn about the Spark model. After the community meeting, where we got an update on the project, we all had the opportunity to ask questions. 

This eventually led to a provoking discussion about aid and development, where the Where There Be Dragons students asked questions about the Spark model. They asked great questions about the the importance of having the community self-identify a problem and create a solution. Sasha explained how the communities have a much better sense of their needs that may not be obvious to the people trying to help them. As Claude said to the group, Spark MicroGrant “catches the (community’s) ideas,” in order to promote responsibility, sustainability, and leadership for the project. 
The students also delved into the difference between micro-grants and micro-loans. While micro-loans are very beneficial on an individual level, it is also important to look at a community as a whole. Micro-grants tackle structural issues that benefit the whole community, such as providing bathhouses to improve sanitation, a well for clean water, or planting cassava to generate income. 
After the meeting, the potters offered to show us how they make their pots. It was great seeing how effortlessly these beautiful clay pots were created. Eventually, we all started getting our hands dirty with clay. One of the Where There Be Dragons students even worked with a community member to make his own pot. It was great to see everyone having fun and connecting with each other! 

At the end of our visit we joined in with the community as they sent us off with song and dance. This was a great way to end our visit after getting an update on the project, learning from the community, and having a stimulating discussion about aid and development. 

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