Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's all about the little things. Or so I tell myself

  “Turn a bit more this way,” my co-worker advised Friday as he arranged a couple of us for a photo while we gathered for a goodbye cappuccino. “I want to make sure the light is behind me.”
    Music to my ears, my Copan friend. As I bid farewell to Honduras after more than two years of trying to help my workmates get the hang of good communications, I don’t want to just hear that they’ll miss me. I want to hear that they won’t forget all the things we’ve been working on this whole time.
    Better photos was a biggie. All the funders want their projects well-documented through photos, but my workmates are renowned for taking atrociously bad photos. So hearing Edy talking about repositioning himself to get a better photo – well, I feel really good about that, what with all the talks and training around photos during which I was never sure whether any of them were very into it.
    We did a lot of work around Facebook, too.  I think it could be an incredible tool for small development organizations in terms of sharing knowledge and information about their projects, and Facebook’s extroverted nature is a good match for Hondurans, most of whom who are exceedingly extroverted.
    I guess we’ll have to see whether any of that training sticks, though. While I’ve tried to keep the regions’ Facebook pages lively, there’s not much evidence to this point that anyone is going to pick such things up after I’m gone. But hey, hope springs eternal.
    Looking back on things, I really had no idea when we started in February 2012 what I and the Comision de Accion Social Menonita might accomplish by the end of our time together. There were times in the first year when I thought it was all going to be hopeless. But something started to click around the nine-month mark. I began letting go of my expectations, and they began thinking that maybe I could actually be helpful.     And away we went.
    The goal of Cuso International’s work is largely around building capacity – in other words, help people develop some new ways of doing things that they can continue doing after the volunteer goes home. Sounds good, but what I’ve found when it comes to communications – in Honduras and in Canada – is that it’s not just a task of teaching eager people how to tell their stories better, it’s about convincing them that they should even be interested in that.
    So any capacity-building work thus involves a good deal of salesmanship in the early stages, at least when the subject is communications. In fact I’ve had to remain a salesperson right through these two years, grabbing every chance to jump into a conversation with some cheery advice about turning a particular moment or bit of news into a communications opportunity. But in the end we got a lot done, from videos and web sites to easy-to-use guides on growing better cocoa, not to mention about a million photos.
    As I’ve discovered about development work, there comes a time when you look at the little thing you’re trying to do in the midst of profound, complex problems like widespread poverty, staggering levels of violence and murder, a completely inadequate education system and babies dying for want of basic, cheap medical care, and you think, Really? Getting these guys to post photos on Facebook more often is going to change the future for this beleaguered country?
    But on my better days I see that you can’t change the big stuff without changing the small stuff first. If CASM can talk more effectively about the work it does, it can attract more funding, which in turn creates projects but also jobs, something that Honduras needs most to start to turn things around. If CASM can document its work in videos, it can demonstrate conditions in its communities – the impossible roads, the lack of infrastructure, the challenges in getting goods to market - that might lead to more realistic interventions by funders rather than quite so much pie-in-the-sky projects that don’t take into account the reality of life here.
    If NGOs were to share the findings of their projects more widely, other NGOs could replicate the successes and avoid the failures, and together they could strengthen the social fabric and build economic networks rather than just do the same survival-based projects over and over again in isolation. (As one funder acquaintance noted, “We can’t just keep on doing beans and corn.”)
    But while I’d be happy to claim a tiny speck of credit for perhaps improving organizational communications in Honduras, one thing I became more convinced of the longer I was here was that it will take a lot more than cheery development work to turn things around here. This place needs an uprising. Were it up to me, I’d be fomenting revolution.
    There’s a lot of money at the top in Honduras, but most of it never makes it down to where it counts. It’s nice that the international community is here with all our dreams of helping Hondurans be less poor, but at what point do wealthy Hondurans and the government start assuming more responsibility for that? And what’s it going to take to get all the mistreated and neglected people down below to start making more noise about all of that?
    When the revolution does come, it’s nice to think that at least a few more of them now know to turn their backs to the sun when documenting it all in photos. When they’re ready to foment, I hope they call me – I've got all kinds of communications tips on that front.

1 comment:

e.a.f. said...

Your question regarding when the wealthy Hondorans will start doing their bit for their own country, is a good one. It is also a question which needs to be asked in Canada. If some had their way, from the way they discuss Canadian companies needs to make profits, we too would be living like so many do in Honduras.

I've enjoyed reading your blog while you have been away. Its been insightful. What will happen with the children at the orphanage?