Community Development Reality Checks. Humanitarian Work Is Not All Roses.

It’s an unfortunate fact that I’m easily discouraged. But the fortunate truth is I’m stubborn as hell and near impossible to sway in my resolve.” ― (Richelle E. Goodrich)

This is the way it is, and this is exactly what is required of a humanitarian: being as stubborn as hell. The Invisible Humanitarian is no exception. Easily discouraged, but impossible to sway my resolve.

A dozen grandmothers courageously working up a new community garden plot for their second year. Why are they courageous?  Because these dozen women set up a drip irrigated community garden in February 2013, that was to bring some food security to about one hundred people.

They build a beautiful eight foot high grass wall to keep the animals out of the garden, and we began work. Frankly, they had a very slow start, and struggled with the drip irrigation concepts the first month. We visited them three times a week to encourage them and demonstrate how to do the system checks. Let me be honest, there were many moments I wanted to cancel the project with this group. Making 65 km round trips in the bush on a motorcycle, and then working in 45 degree Celsius temperatures or more, my patience was wearing thin after a month.

I had trouble determining if  it was a lack of understanding, genuine stupidity, laziness, lack of interest, or a simple unwillingness to put into practice what I was showing them. In my mind, gravity feed drip irrigation is as simple as it comes.

“Never, never, never give up!” (Winston Churchill)

I had to keep reminding myself that these elderly women have never ever read a book (illiterate) in their life, never had a TV to watch, and the only thing they know is watering with a watering can or a half gourd with a rope handle. Therefore every thing we do, every irrigation part, every demonstration, is something totally new to them.

Frankly, it was exhausting, but we persisted. But there was no lack of audible bitching in the air on the motorcycle trip home, talking with no one but myself. God and I had some serious conversations last year. He gave me as good as I dished out.  But the follow up had to be done, I did it, and it paid off.

With consistent loving followup, the women started to understand drought season gardening and drip irrigation. They were working successfully independent by March 2013, as my work term ended and I returned to Canada.

By April, the women had a bumper harvest of beans just about ready for harvesting. In fact, they picked their first six kilos of beans one day, their first fruits. The rest would ripen over the next few weeks. They knew they would be harvesting buckets full every day, and were excited.

However, that night a huge freak wind and rainstorm blew through in the night, collapsing a small section of their community garden wall. Enough for the nightly wandering cows, goats, and chickens to enter in, and by morning the women returned to nothing left. The animals ate EVERYTHING.

“The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” (Paulo Coehlo. The Alchemist)

The women were devastated. I was too, when I heard the news. They had worked so hard, learned so much, and now this. Africa has little mercy sometimes.

However, the matriarchs knew it was no fault of the MOPD drip methodology. They appreciated how drip irrigation made gardening so easy, using so little water. They saw the power of the free compost tea to help with growth rates, and they also saw how the drips enable the water to penetrate the soil much more deeply than hand watering.

“It is not time for despair, but for repair.” Gary Montecalvo

I sat with them in early November asking, “Do you have the courage to try again? If you choose to do this, I will walk with you.”

So the women had a meeting to discuss among themselves and a week later they informed me of their decision. They decided they would try again, but in a new location, further out of the village and away from animals.

I spend an hour with them on their new site today, and the plot is coming along very nicely. We should be ready to set up the irrigation kits any day now.

I admire their courage. There are so many setbacks for the poor as they try to struggle and claw their way out of subsistence living. I don’t envy them one bit.

What I have little patience with is individuals who just don’t care to do anything to improve their life. I have stories to tell about that someday, too. Some people you want to smack up the side of the head. Being a humanitarian is not all roses.

“When discouraged some people will give up, give in or give out far too early. They blame their problems on difficult situations, unreasonable people or their own inabilities.
When discouraged other people will push back that first impulse to quit, push down their initial fear, push through feelings of helplessness and push ahead. They’re less likely to find something to blame and more likely to find a way through.” (Steve Goodier)

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