Approaches In Development Part II: Fishing Lessons
category: Newspaper Articles

So we went to the Pharons-Tribune online archives to publish them here exactly as they appeared in the paper, and strangely we could only find two articles of the four I’ve been told were published. The last article also appeared under a different title. Originally it was called Approaches in Development Part I: The Downside of Giving. That is why this one is titled Approaches in Development Part II. I wonder if they retitled this one?

Approaches in Development Part II: Fishing Lessons

by Emily Richardson Fanjoy

Guest Columnist

Last month I spoke about different approaches to development, explaining how giving thoughtlessly to people in need can actually do more harm than good. My idea was not to discourage people from giving, but to encourage them to examine how and what they’re giving in order to make their contributions count. Although I ended on a bleak note, I did promise to present an alternative to paternalistic handouts. Here it is, folks: the idea of sustainability or “fishing lessons”.

To be frank, the word “sustainability” annoys me these days. It’s everywhere: sustainable farming, sustainable architecture, sustainable living. It’s right up there with the term “green” for being overused and not fully understood. What is “sustainability,” really? At its root, it means that things can be maintained indefinitely without wasting resources. In development work, sustainability seeks to provide aid until the receivers can do it themselves. Let’s look at an example.

My husband and I are community health workers. Among other things, we give health talks at the monthly gathering of local midwives. These women, many of whom are illiterate, have no formal technical training. They learned to be midwives as apprentices to other midwives, relying on superstitions and their own past experiences in attending births rather than any sort of medical science. In our municipio (county), we have more mothers die in childbirth than anywhere else in Guatemala, and our infant mortality rate is not far behind. To combat this, the local branch of the Ministry of Health started the monthly gatherings to give the midwives more training and medical knowledge to help them better attend births. After the local doctor covers technical subject like where to cut the umbilical cord, we talk to them about what germs are and how they cause illness. That helps them understand why they should wash their hands with soap and water, trim their fingernails, and remove their rings before delivering a baby.

While talking with the doctor after a seminar, he mentioned that part of the problem was that these women do not have a reliable set of tools they can sterilize in boiling water and re-use. He asked us if it would be possible to find donations from the United States to get these midwives the tools they need to do a good job. We immediately began to look up resources for such a project, and came across Zonta International. They are an international women’s organization of business professionals, much like Lions or Rotary, with the explicit purposes of improving women’s lives around the world. Last year a chapter in Florida assembled 5000 basic, disposable kits for Guatemalan midwives, so we contacted the woman in charge to see if there were any kits left.

The project chairperson lamented that nearly 4000 kits were donated last year, but the club later found out that many of the kits never reached the midwives. Somehow in transit they fell into the wrong hands, and were disassembled and sold for parts. The good news? There were still 1000 kits being stored in a Zonta member’s garage in Florida.

Last week I talked about the dangers of giving without a thorough evaluation of the process. Zonta was giving a very practical resource, but they did not assess whether the women receiving the kits knew how to use the tools included, or find a feasible way to distribute them. I know 13 other Peace Corps Volunteers in different parts of Guatemala working directly with their local midwives who would be happy to help distribute the remaining kits and provide follow-up training and evaluation. These two conditions fit together perfectly, and by teaming up with Peace Corps volunteers who are already working in midwife education, Zonta can now be sure that their kits will reach the women who need them, and those women will know how to use and maintain the tools indefinitely.

In addition, the tools will not be handouts. To receive the kits, the midwives must attend a training course and pay a small fee. Every cent of the money they pay will go to cover the costs of future midwifery events, sustaining the project. The women see the small cost as an investment in their profession, and will take more care to maintain equipment they had to pay for. Everyone wins: we supply the midwives with better equipment to complement the training, and Zonta knows for certain that after a year of setback their efforts to improve the lives of women in Guatemala are realized.

This is just one example of a more sustainable approach to development aid. The process is slow, involving lots of education and follow up. It also requires donors to evaluate ineffective aspects of their work and change accordingly. But most importantly, I want you at home to realize that there is a better way to give. Whether you donate as a family, a church, or a charity group, take the time to evaluate the who, what, and how of your charity work. In many cases, teaming up with aid organizations that have people on the ground where the aid is headed is a good way to do it. Always be vigilant in order to keep your efforts from going to waste. I have seen firsthand both good and bad development, and its effects on the people who receive it. Good development can and will improve the lives of people in need, if they are willing to work for their own betterment. Change doesn’t happen with one giant wave of a wand, but we can do a lot with a fishing pole, patience, and persistence.

Emily Richardson Fanjoy is a 2002 graduate of Logansport High School and a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Guatemala. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the Peace Corps.

Posted by: emily