Sunday, February 11, 2007

ICA - The Institute of Cultural Affairs, an NGO operating successfully in over 30 countries around the world, dealing with issues of poverty, sustainable development, disease, hunger, micro finance lending and so much more-working in nine countries in Africa focusing on the HIV AIDS issue - the ICA originated in the United States in the 60s, offering workshops and trainings to people and assistance t0 communities with the goal of paving the way to help people make their world a better place.

I'm excited about an ICA agriculatural project: in Isingya, Kenya.
Just one example of how the ICA operates:

Over lunch Friday, with 5 Kenya ICA members in the dusty town of Isingya, half way between the Tanzanian border and Nairobi in the back room of an old hotel on the side of the highway, white metal picnic table, eating bowls of pieces of goat meat, tough, a bit grizzly drenched in a sort of thin soupy gravy, with chunks of potato, slivers of carrot, onion - all of this eaten with ugali: a whipped up and boiled corn flour mix cut up into slices which looked like white bread, broken off in chunks and rolled up in a ball with the right hand and scooped into the meal...we talked about the 3 year agricultural project I had just visited which involved assisting 12 Masai villages in developing a sustainable farming project to grow grains and vegetables enough to feed their community in the years to come.

We'd just come back from 2 of the 12 villages they had been working in over the last 8 months, where ICA, funded by donations from Japan, had successfully completed the building of 6 example farms with about 30 enthusiastic Masai members in each community.

It was a miracle to see! Imagine. Out there in the middle of nowhere on flat parched terrain of scruffy brown grasses and no trees - land which had suffered drought conditions with little rain over the last three years, they had created and grown huge garden plots using a wide variety of of beans, grains: sorgum and cowpeas; corn plants and sunflowers for oil. All growing, strong, green, a patch of hope in this drought filled field....and each one with a huge rectangular hole dug, the size of a deep 20 yard swimming pool, lined in sheets of heavy commercial plastic waiting for the big rains to come, late March, April, to collect a good supply of water to get them through another drought. The grains and corns and vegetables were chosen to be drought resistant, experiments were taken on what variety grew best and where and how long it took to grow. Members of the community had planted a garden on the right side showing how they thought they should plant, and on the left side, ICA experts demonstrated another way of planting, resulting for people to see for themselves, the difference in ways to plant, as well as what to plant.

I asked Masai chairman Kapshi Sonko who stood with great pride in front of the 8 foot high corn he had directed his people to grow, what did he think about what his community had accomplished: he told me he had never farmed before, ever, but so worried was he about the demise in livestock production and food in his community, he said, "he was willing to try anything, to see what these young ICA fellas were talking about."

The project was a huge success. ICA and the six villages they had already worked in celebrated their 8 month victory with a huge Farmer's Field Day, with over 300 people in attendance. Government, corporate, business, agro chemical industrial representative, veternarians and farmers from the community stood in the open field marvelling at the phenomenal produce in full evidence, soon to harvested in a week or so. The Government Argricultural Officers looked a little sheepish, this is what they were supposed to be doing, but how exactly did ICA do this? The Masai people, they said, "were notoriously 'lazy'. How in earth did you get them to work so hard?!!"

So, over lunch I asked them, how did they do this? I wanted to know..What were the steps from beginning to end did they take to make this project such a huge success, and in only a period of 8 months..?

By understanding this, I would better understand the basic philosophy of ICA worldwide, and it turned out, one of which I believe and adhere to completely. So here is my synopsis of what they told me, Mark and John and the others around the table that day at lunch, with such enthusiasm, passion and skill, I hope I can convey this in my layman's terms, to describe their process to you.
Also, so much of my story is about the Masai people because in Tanzania and Kenya where i spent so much of my time working, a good part of the ICA focus has been in the Masai villages, with people living traditionally in spartan and difficult circumstances with much poverty, very little education and few advantages, a community much like so many others stricken with HIV AIDS.

Lots of other NGOs had gone into these villages through the years with handouts and donations, food, machinery, money, all graciously given, but dissipated soon in a short period of time, with little to show for it in the long run. What was it that ICA managed to do to create a sustainable project which will last and will supply ample food and even maybe more important, an enormous sense of pride and self esteem for a job well done.

First of all, need. The Masai, traditionally a nomadic pastoral people, involved predominantly in the care and accumulation of livestock, moving their settlements from one grassy waterhole to the next, enjoying a diet of meat, blood and milk, period. They did not stay long enough in one place to grow maize, grains, they were not an agricultural society. But in recent years, with severe drought causing the death of livestock, hence less money for trading and eating, and now with the onslaught in December 06 of the dreaded Rift Valley Fever, they were open to looking at new means of survival.

Enter ICA, having done a PROJECT ANALYSIS which they discovered a possible need for an agricultural project in this area, and after managing to secure funding from Japanese donators, they conducted a BASIC SURVEY, where they went into the community and had meetings with and consulting Chiefs and community leaders of possible economic, social, and cultural needs of the community. From here they formulated questions which were then presented to the community as a whole in a series of 'strategic planning' meetings.

STRATEGIC PLANNING: with skilled specifically-trained ICA facilitators, here is where the backbone of the ICA philosophy is underlined: basically, to assist people to help themselves, in order for them to take ownership of the projects and to determine theselves the solutions to their 'problems', therefore to be responsible for the outcome of the project. Never to impose their ideas on the people.

How is this done?

This particular team of ICA workers, under the guidance of Project Coordinator Mark Lusweti, and Agriculture expert Githaiga Kirubi from the Kikuyu Tribe began the meetings with a
VISION: asking people to imagine how they would like their community to be, what changes wuold they make? what do they need? in the best world, imagine...let your mind go, and imagine...Well, they came up with a long list of needs, desires, dreams, and at this stage, as with other NGOs who had come into their villages, they expected ICA to hand out and provide them with the means to make their dreams come true: provide food, create schools, roads, etc.
But no...
The facilitator then asks: "what is holding you back from achieving your dreams? What blocks? What is the problem that you can't have what you have said you want so badly?
What are the problems? Money?"
ICA believes where there is a problem there is a solution.
"Money is in itself, not a problem; there is plenty of money in the world, in banks, other people have it. The WAYS of getting money is the problem. "

"So. What can we/YOU do to overcome these problems to get the things you most want?"
At this point it becomes clear that ICA is not here to solve the problems. It is up to participants to come up with ideas and solutions to the problems they have spoken about.
This is the beginning of them taking OWNERSHIP of the problem, and hence the solution.

SYSTEMATIC ACTION: Here participants offer solutions to their problems as the facilitator continues to ask: "How are YOU going to do this?" stressing that these problems need to have solutions created by participants, not ICA people. Hence, once they have decided what they want, the problems and how they can solve them, they realize that they are going to have to make CHANGES in order to make their dreams come true....

Facilitators check with them the feasibility of their solutions, keeping in mind the following points on the SMART chart:
S-specific solutions; M - measurable actions; A - Attainable goals; R - realistic and T - timebound.
They then created a TIMELINE: in increments of 3 years, 1 year, 90 days, etc.

As we wrapped up, we talked about these methods, this it could be used successfully with anyone who wants to make changes in their lives, how each step could be utilized: to visualize a better life, a better future....then to look at the problems and to look for solutions, even when it means making changes, sometimes big changes....taking ownership of our own situations, stop blaming other people, or other circumstances, we can change things and we can make a difference...and yes, it takes RISKING...Julia Cameron calles it Taking the Leap and having the faith, that the net will indeed, be there....Risking. Moving ahead, even when things seem impossible, bleak, too hard...this is what i have seen here so often in Africa...people, with so little and yet with so much...taking that big step, making changes, resiliant...and doing it.

Oh i am so tired of writing right now, but i am so excited and thrilled with what i have seen here, with the incredibly charismatic, hard working and compassionate people i have met here, with the mothers carrying loads on their heads and babies on their backs, and small children covered in poverty, hundreds of people i have been so lucky to meet and to know a little, the community coordinator who cancelled a meeting one morning because her grandaughter had died the night before, the two babies in Zimbabwe suffering with lack of milk, unable to stand up, move...the group of musicians, stone cutters, painters, poets trying to set up an artist coop in that country with 1000% inflation, no economy, no medical supplies, no doctors, the question of how to make a living with their art with no tourists, no one buying; people reaching out to each other, in their own misery extending themselves, on the lookout to helping others, giving what little they have, sharing with their neighbours, being there for each other...i have seen this, always a bright good hello, and understanding, always trying, even breaking out in song together, a giving, a joy, love....

Oh i could go on, and on.....and on....on this my last day in stop me!
Tomorrow, Amsterdam and Merit and Hans and the new Van Gogh exhibition if I can persuade Merit to go...and then Toronto....and yes, i am a little apprehensive of coming back into our western ways, the integration process.... I know for me whatever it is, it will take a long time, reflection, let this be what it will now, more importantly, I want to know about you!

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