Grassroots Participation: Understanding the Value

By Angela Remus
Angela, third from the right, participating in a group activity at our retreat.
A recurring theme of our meetings over the last few weeks has been the importance of collaboration: Our partnership is such that every project and initiative undertaken is developed in cooperation with the people living in Pampachica.

As a new member of GlobeMed I was incredibly impressed that such a significant emphasis was placed on this collaboration and that it is such an integral and well-understood part of our work: All too often, even professional organization don’t recognize the necessity of local participation in development projects, something I experienced firsthand over the summer in a small village in Malawi.

There, several projects proved unsuccessful, arguably because of the lack of local participation. A gasoline-powered generator for a system of power lines was installed by the Cansofo World Mission (an NGO) and the Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (a department of the government) and ran intermittently in the evenings for three years (2001-2004) before being abandoned completely. A solar-powered water pump was installed at the health Center in 2009 by the Christian Health Association of Malawi (an NGO) and worked for nine months before breaking, and has not been used since. A windmill built to provide electricity to the local grade school was never used because the parts were taken by community members for other uses.

In interviews with eight locals, I heard their explanations for why the projects failed and their suggestions for ways projects could prove successful. First, there was no local ownership over the projects brought to them by “outsiders” and there were no provisions for the longevity of these projects—both are problems we avoid through close cooperation with Kallpa!

One man from another community described his successful irrigation scheme, which he started and was later able to expand with funding from a Danish NGO. When asked why his project was successful, he responded “Here, we had the idea to do it. This is our program. They (people in other communities) can’t do it because they were told [what to do].”

In Pampachica, the projects are the people’s own and are planned to last. We should be so proud of the insight and understanding that our organization has of the type of participation that creates sustainable and effective development and public health projects: There are too few organizations that recognize how imperative the element of local participation is, and I’m so thrilled to be a member of a group that does!

1 comment:

  1. So awesome to hear about your firsthand experience in Malawi! It's definitely a reminder that we have to work together with our partner to improve their community. Otherwise, like you said, improvements would not be sustainable because they would be just our ideas and efforts, and not theirs.