This post was written by Mothers’ Union Project Officers in Kenya, James Senjura (Laikipia) and Sarah Lansanyane (Samburu), and Africa Program Advisor for Anglican Overseas Aid, Phillip Walker.
At the heart of The Road Less Travelled’s (TRLT) community development work in Kenya are the Maasai and Samburu nomadic pastoralists. The project uses a strength-based approach, which is based on the understanding that each community has its own skills and assets, and often unrealised potential, which can assist them in identifying and achieving solutions to the challenges they face. While certain activities require specialist facilitation and access to external expertise, the aim is for all members of a community to become central in making the decisions that affect their lives. This puts them in a position to drive their own development agenda.
In Kenya, the communities TRLT works with have some history of engagement with aid organisations and consequently hold expectations of financial handouts to solve ‘problems’. Previous interventions have mostly, not completely, been based upon an outside agency providing resources and expertise, with the community making a counterpart contribution, usually labor. Any project committee formation has been non-inclusive and short-term; that is, lasting only until the project is completed. Often the existing (predominantly male) power structures have filled the role of a project committee.
For The Road Less Travelled, the formation of inclusive Community Development Committees (CDCs) is a cornerstone of the project. This represents a significant change process in itself for these communities, as for the first time they have an inclusive developmental structure to voice their issues.
Before the CDCs were formed, the TRLT Project Officers visited each community, obtaining permission from authorities and traditional leaders to proceed. They held meetings to discuss the project and its aims, along with the role and function of the committee, and the criteria for its formation. This process culminated in a community wide meeting where the CDC was elected.
At least 40 per cent of the CDC must be women; however this is an inadequate measure, given that cultural norms often result in women remaining silent and deferring to males for key decisions. To combat this, the project team has been working patiently to strengthen the confidence and ability of elected women to take active leading roles, as well as promoting women who already have the confidence to challenge male authority. Literacy training has helped women overcome the constraints that prevent them from being actively engaged when minutes are taken or written materials distributed.
CDCs are assisted to hold quarterly ‘Dialogue Days’ where they report back to the community on the work they have been doing to obtain endorsement or amendment, and plan activities for the forthcoming quarter. CDCs are also supported to hold annual community meetings where progress-to-date can be reflected upon, and members are re-elected or changed, with the concept of 50 per cent equal gender representation promoted.
Following the initial election, one of the first tasks was to use the strength-based methodology to break the old development paradigm thinking and shift to concepts of community self-reliance (without falling into the trap of promoting self-isolation). CDCs were taken through a simplified ‘appreciative inquiry’ process, to articulate a vision for the community and an action plan to achieve it. They took part in assets and resource mapping to identify not only the physical attributes, but also the skills, institutional linkages, and other less-obvious capacities that exist within each community. During one of these meetings, a (male) community member commented “Maasai ikomalimingiiko mbuzi, kondoo, ng’ombe, punda … ” This translates as “Maasai have a lot of wealth, they have goats, sheep, cattle, donkeys … ”
This comment captured the realisation that the community has its own assets and need not be reliant on outside intervention. It is an example of the project making use of the strength-based approach, so that resources can be identified and harnessed, and utilised in such a way that benefits the community in other areas, such as mother and child health. One fascinating participatory tool that was used here was to ask gender segregated groups to create 24-hour timelines of their working days. This proved to be a powerful form of analysis for people (both men and women) to recognise the heavy workload that women carry.
Typically, initial action plans developed by CDCs were over-optimistic and required a reiterative process to make the plans practical. The committees then identified an initial activity that met an expressed need, fell within project parameters, and was achievable by the CDC and community. Identified projects to date have been water schemes, food gardens, early childhood development and/or literacy projects.
The value of this approach is that TRLT can facilitate and support the CDC to implement a relatively straightforward development activity – resulting in increased CDC confidence, and strong bonds between the CDC/community and the project team. This has led to a collective willingness to tackle together some of the more challenging aspects of the comprehensive maternal and child health project.
The approach to project activities is also designed to lead to sustainability, as CDCs are trained to be able to replicate tasks independently. On a water project, for example, CDC members are assisted to directly engage with government departments to obtain the necessary approvals, and then skilled artisans train local people in construction techniques.
In Kenya, the Morupusi CDC is an example of the success of community empowerment models, having self-initiated a sanitation construction and hygiene promotion campaign, which is being carried out by its Community Health Workers (CHWs). It is worth noting that other organisations in the area who train CHWs pay an honorarium of 2,000 Kenya shillings (about $25 AUD) per month, which will cease when their project funding concludes. In contrast, TRLT seeks out committed volunteers and, instead of a salary, finds a place for them in community gardens or income generation activities. Only time will tell which approach proves to be more sustainable.
An intended consequence from CDC formation is strengthened working relationships between a community with government and other stakeholders so that service provision is adjusted to meet the community’s needs. This engagement was initially led by TRLT project staff, who assisted the CDCs to hold stakeholder forums together with government representatives.
After just a few CDC meetings in Laikipia, the communities were able to identify stakeholders and organise meetings in their respective Group Ranches with the view of sharing their future action plans and having their development agenda at hand. This is something they had not previously done, and is indicative of a growing self-belief and capability of spearheading development in their areas. These forums have been enthusiastically taken up by the government; they provide stakeholders with the opportunity share information and workloads, build lasting relationships, and potentially open up other avenues of funding to CDCs.
Sustainability is beginning to take root, with project initiatives and impact likely to endure beyond the lifespan of the project. CDC training and facilitation has led to a strengthened capacity of committees to vision, plan and manage development activities into the future. Last month, a three-day annual reflection and planning forum was held in Laikipia, Kenya, with 46 representatives (23 men and 23 women) from the eight CDCs. The planning process demonstrated the growing knowledge and authority of the CDC members. Their plans for the forthcoming twelve months were realistically achievable, yet also increasing in complexity.
For example, plans included advocacy to government for construction of clinics, and provision of health personnel. Closely linked to functional capacity of these committees is their ability to interact with and harness the support of key government departments. Two senior Ministry of Health (MoH) personnel were invited to facilitate the planning forum. In this role they gained a better understanding of, and implicitly endorsed, the community plans, while ensuring any decisions made were in alignment with government policies.
The ultimate goal is to eventually have the CDC managing relations, including advocacy, directly with government, and also to be engaging with and managing all development interventions within their community. In this sense the CDC, as representative of the community, becomes the service delivery partner of government. For the TRLT project, the ultimate measure of success will be that the CDC is credited with substantive improvement in the health and wellbeing of women and children, and the associated benefits for their whole community.