All the theory of development doesn’t equip you for the theory amnesia that strikes in the field. At first it’s the travel peculiarities that distract you from what’s ahead. Looking left instead of right as the Trolebús takes your nose off. A few deep gasps of the high altitude air isn’t quite enough to catch your breath. The beautiful sensory overload keeps you keenly observant but easily distracted from why we are here.
The many aid organisations that come to ‘help’ regenerate after the earthquake seem confused in why they are here too. Tents emblazoned with large repeated logos signify the scale of assistance and promote the good will being dished out from abroad by UNICEF, Oxfam and the Catholic Church. USAID’s tagline hammers home that the fortune is thanks to “the people of America”. It’s a worry because everything we’ve studied so far suggests that success can’t be measured in tents and tarps and that development only succeeds when the community is able to take ownership of the projects and carry them into the future. Reinforcing the hopelessness felt by dislocated communities in the hope of pleasing donors with a few glory shots of dollars spent seems short sighted.
After spending a day on a village working bee we were able to see effective aid versus opportunistic interference. A beautifully designed communal building open to the air sits at the centre of the village providing shade from the brutal sun and is equipt with kitchen, tables and chairs. It allows children to play, women to meet during the day and public meetings, essential for collective efforts needed to rebuild. Next to this communal building sits a dry composting toilet that is, and looks, evidently experimental. The exploded pipes oozing with its contents speak of the misguided intention of miracle solutions dropped from above. The project bypasses the user and now the community bypasses it, with effluent having nowhere to go but the street.
We spent a day labouring with the villagers who are building a new toilet and shower block which felt good. But if nothing else I hope we don’t leave behind anything that weakens further an already fragile community. Good intention is most certainly not enough. RK