One of my responsibilities with World Concern is to make sure our programs are of the highest quality possible.
Sometimes this means helping our teams figure out the best way to do something. Sometimes it means training people. It surprises me that I really like teaching, but I really do, especially when it makes a difference. And I’m usually as much student as teacher.
Most of the people receiving disaster relief here in Chad are refugees or displaced people from the Darfur crisis. They have had absolutely no education and are not used to thinking in abstract ways, so sometimes it is hard to communicate even when language is not a barrier.
Our latest exercise was to find out people’s priorities beyond tomorrow. On the first day I sat with our key staff and trained them on a technique, and the next day we tried it out for real. We wanted to know what people value most in their communities so we can plan our programs accordingly.
Our first step was to sit down with small groups of only men or only women because women here won’t give their opinions in front of men.
In the US, people are so closed up in their homes that it takes actual scheduling to get a group of Americans together. Here though, my translator and I just wander through the disaster relief camp until we spot or hear a women, plunk down on a mat in some sliver of shade, and start talking. Curious neighbor women soon gather and we have our group.
For this exercise, we started with a simple concrete question, “If you had a salary of $40/month, what would you do with it?” As they listed things, I’d draw simple pictures of it on a big piece of paper, grouping similar thing, as we all laughed at my lack of artistic ability. If they were used to pens I would have let them draw the pictures themselves.
Finally, I draw circles around the groups of pictures to make categories – staple foods, other foods, clothes, kitchen utensils, debt, animals, education, housing… Then I pass out beans, explaining through the translator that each is worth 500 francs (a bit more than $1) and the paper is the market. To give them an idea, I go first, then collect up my beans.
By now, the women are really getting engaged, crowding around on the plastic mat, chattering with each other about what to buy, explaining the game to those who are slower in getting it. Babies are shifted out of laps to get at the paper. Now we’re laughing and teasing each other. Some of the wiser, older women quietly make their points and purchases. Young teen-age mothers are more timid, looking to others for approval of their choices.
One by one, the women naturally take turns, carefully placing their beans on their purchases with the thoughtfulness as if it was a real purchase. Rough, calloused fingers, thickened by years and decades of hard labor fumble and drop beans, quickly snatching them up again. Finally, all the beans are down and we count them. 48 beans for staple food, 20 beans for chickens, and so on. Then we talk about their choices as a group and why they chose what they did.
Now that they understand the game, I ask a harder question, “Make a picture in your head of your home village as you would like it to be. What do you see?” We go through the game with that question, then the final question, “If the war goes on and you are here for another 5-6 years, describe how you would like to see this community here in the camp.”
As they name the things I draw them out. Then again, they vote. Now the stakes are higher. The jokes, joshing and laughter continue, but now there is an element of seriousness.
They know that their answers may influence what programs we plan for disaster relief. This is exactly what we want. They are now a part of determining their own future.
Merry Fitzpatrick is World Concern’s director of technical support.
Read more about her journey to Chad.
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