By Caleb Mwamisi

Once upon a time, a few women in a rural area in Kenya came together for the sole purpose of untangling themselves and their families from the shackles of vexing poverty. They were lucky that a catholic nun, Anna, who served at their local church agreed to join them. She would proceed to take up critical roles such as directing the projects which included rental houses and a bakery. She would collect the rent, travel to Nairobi to purchase baking flour, among other tasks. The women sat back and confined themselves to other peripheral works.

Development projects are mostly conceived with the greater good of the society in mind. They are necessitated by needs or problems that require solution to ease the conditions of living of a people. Therefore, they are born out a conviction and intention to do good, from the onset. However, the manner in which a projects is planned and executed determines whether it succeeds or it comes a cropper. This has been the rationale of the series of training which members of the AJAN network have been profiting from every few days since June 2020.

The rural women in the opening story, not directly involved in their own project, missed out on critical knowledge and experience and they would pay dearly when their helper left the country for a new responsibility elsewhere. “How can you leave us? You are like our mother” they remarked as she left them”. Their projects failed miserably because they were unable to find affordable flour or even spare parts for a truck used for transport of bread.

Though with good vision, the ladies failed to emancipate themselves, power was not transferred to them in the form of information. Their profit margins thinned out and they had to cede the projects to their local diocese. Anna had failed to introduce them to the source of affordable flour for their bakery and spare parts. They would also undertake poorly coordinated rent collections leading to the exit of frustrated tenants. Clearly, they were not ready for her departure. The trainers, Dominic Syuma and Paschalia Mbutu, employed this example to exemplify the likely pitfalls of development methods which happen to not be meticulously calculated to inspire the receivers to desired action.

“Why do you think the sister did all the work for the women?”, posed Dominic. “The sister had to carry out the tasks for them because they were not in a position to do so”, weighed in Fr Vedaste of Yezu Mwiza. “For one, the nun felt that she was more exposed and she presented herself as such to the group whom in turn withheld rather than reveal their abilities and instead left everything to her.”, said Enos Matangwe Sikoyo, social worker at St. Joseph Development Programme Kangemi in Nairobi. “The people did not imagine that the sister could leave some day. They did not practically get involved or seek induction into the tasks she had been carrying out”, added Fr. Ismael.

“It is about the perception we have of the people that we accompany. It has to be right”, disclosed Dr. Paschalia Mbutu. She proceeded to rationalize the need for organizations or individuals to be careful to not become ‘helpers’, but to create capacity and enable people to solve their own issues as that is what guarantees triumph.

The participants have continued to benefit from new approaches in project implementation. They are learning more on ‘how to’ by having their eyes opened to ‘how not to’. The sessions are interactive and a valuable help during this period.

“People have the potential to handle their challenges”, said Dr. Paschalia. “We should not take over projects, rather we must become enablers to the community. The people are not hopeless. They have resources.”, Dominic capped the engagement. The next training session is scheduled for 24th July 2020.