Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Evaluation Time

We are being evaluated.

A Frenchwoman my own age joined us in Minova ten days ago, at the mission's invitation, to examine the impact of the last two years of our project's banana wilt interventions. My team members have spent the past week in the field, conducting focus groups with banana wilt committees, seed distribution beneficiaires and plain-old community members, trying to get a sense of the strong and weak points of our project's strategy.

The conclusions thus far are on the discouraging side. It seems that any gains we've made are far outweighed by the constraints we face. Despite two years of fairly strident awareness-raising efforts, most villagers remain reluctant to put in the hard physical labor required to get rid of their infected banana plants, an essential step in ridding the region of the disease. NGOs are a mixed blessing here in the Kivus; while they bring much-needed resources to an area virtually devoid of tangible government, they also seem to stifle individual initiative and community spirit. Why take the trouble to uproot your infected banana plantation for the good of your children and your community if there is an international NGO nearby who might pay you to do it? While the committees that we put into place have managed to produce a significant number of healthy banana shoots, there's little reason to hope that those shoots will help rebuild local livelihoods over the long term. Wilt-infected plantations still dominate the landscape here, and as long as they remain, any as-yet uninfected shoots are at serious risk of contamination.

The project as conceived certainly has flaws, but the biggest barrier to real progress seems to me the very feeble position of the state. The national agricultural service is the logical actor to intervene when crop disease strikes, but even the higher-ranking Congolese ag employees that I've met suffer from insultingly low and/or nonexistent pay and few resources at their disposal that would actually permit them to do their jobs, such as a means of transport with which to get out into the field. I don't know that what we're trying to do is feasible, given the current political environment. It's perhaps another example of good-intentioned development doomed to failure for lack of long-term, realistic, careful planning.

Perhaps inspired by this bout of introspection, I decided yesterday to create my own evaluation of sorts. We ordered a batch of banana wilt t-shirts for this project. They're on the glaringly ugly side, in my humble opinion, but being new and blindingly white, they're the envy of the entire base. Everyone - the drivers, the storekeeper, the night watchmen - wants a t-shirt.

Hence the evaluation. As I see it, anyone who sports one of our t-shirts in public should have a decent sense of what banana wilt is and how to fight it, as well as how we as an organization have chosen to approach it. And so I wrote up a quick quiz. Want a t-shirt? Answer these questions, correctly, without copying off of your friend's paper, and one shall be yours: Name one difference between the symptoms of fusariose and those of banana wilt. When and where did banana wilt first appear in the world? List three means of preventing the spread of banana wilt. And so on.

The logistics manager presented me with a typed-up answer sheet this morning, and even threw a question back at me. The night watchmen last night huddled together around a flashlight-illuminated banana wilt brochure, searching for the responses. I almost gave them a t-shirt on the grounds of their enthusiasm alone.

And that's the thing. It's hard to be totally discouraged when you're surrounded by such marvelous people, who are clearly getting more out of this project than simply healthy banana shoots or a monthly paycheck. My staff have devoted the bulk of the last two years into this effort, building personal relationships with hundreds of villagers, many of them quite a ways from their spouses and children. They have learned, and shared, an enormous amount of information about how to combat the disease, and, in a larger sense, how to work towards something bigger than themselves.

I am certainly not condoning careless humanitarian interventions. I guess I'm just recognizing that every project involves people, and I am lucky enough to work with a genuinely humane group of people. No matter how flawed, I can't believe that our project has been all for naught.

1 comment:

  1. Very resourceful! Did the NGO have these t-shirts made up? Would love to see a photo of someone, or a group of people, proudly wearing one. Or even you!
    Seriously, I'm sure that all this work & effort by you & your staff will have a beneficial effect of some kind.


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