Okay so as I have been saying for the past 4 blog posts I’m going to really figure out what I am saying about this whole experience and I think that I need to bring it back to the beginning. I need to bring it back to when I was talking about sustainable development and the whole process of development in general and really what the roles of NGOs are.
So we started this whole new approach thing this year and I think that it has been a massive improvement for SAM and has a lot of potential for whatever the future brings for SAM. Of course, since the time that we had our first meeting about the plan, everything has changed and been modified and we have learned so much in the past 3 months, and I am beyond excite to see what happens in the next 3 months.
So let’s talk about how this new approach has helped. It has allowed us to get to know a community better and allowed us to get to know all the people we are working with in a much more personal setting. It has allowed us to find out some underlying problems that communities have that we probably would not find out using the approach that we had used before. It has allowed us to figure out what the real problems are and in what fashion the SAM Project can actually help, if there is actually anything that SAM needs to do.
For example, we assist with setting up nutrition classes and help to provide curriculum. We try our best to figure out what the local and available foods are and build off of that. Unfortunately when we came we came with curriculum already, bases off of another location. Now it was great to have material to build from but unfortunately it just wasn’t applicable for the area we were in. There was no one growing cash crops or oranges in the area and small fish was just too expensive for people in the area. Now we did not discover this until a little later when we got to have conversations with the mothers or when the mothers said to us, well where are we going to find a green pepper?
Or the fact that when we have nutrition classes we just assume that everyone has equal and adequate access to the foods we teach about. But that is not true for a lot of the moms we work with. We met one mom who told us her 5 kids had never tastes an egg before, due to lack of resources. So how can we expect people to use the knowledge that we have given when they don’t have the means to practice this. This is everywhere and I think it’s an important lesson to note. You can have all the education in the world but if you don’t have the resources to use it, what do you do.
It’s really hard not to just pick out the people that are doing well with the program and telling us their biggest problem is not knowing how to use a vegetable. If allows you to think tht everything is fine and dandy and if that is the biggest problem, it is solvable. I had a hard time with this. I really wanted to hold on to the idea that the resources were there we just need to figure out what to do to make sure we can use them properly, and that’s not the case at all and it makes the situation look not as optimistic.
A lot of these problems also go much deeper than having the means to make nutritious meals. The problems we have run into are very much based from socio-economic factors. Things like gender equality. I feel like I have been ignorant about it. I have turned a blind eye to it, thinking that yes everyone recognizes it and people are just use to inequality so they have accepted. And in no way am I saying that this right. Women that we are working with have told us flat out that their husbands do not care if their children eat nutritiously or anything. And it further perpetuates this viscous cycle of poor nutrition and inequality. Let me break it down, there are many contributing factors and it makes this problem of malnutrition bigger than what you see at first glance.
Polygamy is common in the area that we work in. When we were there, there was a wedding for a man to marry his 7th wife. Now, something that happens is that a man will then split the money up amongst the wives. Then that money is used to buy food etc. unfortunately the women still have to run their purchases by their husbands. The men in a lot of families also have control of the “savings” this being the livestock and cattle and what not. They save the livestock to sell when they want to make a big purchase, like a maize grinder. So no money to buy food, no food to make healthy meals.
The next issue access to water. So on top of the inequality that has come from years of gender roles, this year has been particularly difficult for Zambia as the rainy season has just been horrendous and it did not rain enough. The water tables are low and the crops did not get enough rain. Maize, the staple in Zambia, is eaten almost 2 times a day. Most of the time people can make it through the dry season and almost until the next harvest. This year people are worried they will run out in September. The next harvest is March. So what are people going to do…. The government provides some help.
Okay so then having all these things interacting it’s hard to figure out what to focus on. Do you use good nutrition and the betterment of children as a motivation by spreading knowledge. Or do you focus on growing cash crops and teach more sustainable farming techniques that would conserve water. Or what about building more water sources. It’s complicated and can’t be treated lightly. I came in thinking it would be hard but I did not expect it to be this complex.
So what’s next? My good friends and co-workers Leah, Taylor and Jake. Are currently working hard on implementation stuff as me and Payman did a lot of relationship building and meeting of people. It’s exciting. I think SAM is on the way to hiring some local individuals to carry on the project, in which case the SAM project does not have to be there anymore, which is the goal for any development project. In my opinion it would be great if SAM would go to a community to set up jobs that are relevant to the needs of the community. Using interns like the 5 of us to develop and understanding of what is needed and what help a community what’s if any at all. For example a new project could start in another location same way it did this year, then the development of nutrition classes and some sort of Microenterprise. This way an individual can be paid and it can be self sustaining.
Just thoughts and I’ll probably have more later on. This may be my last Zambia post until those thoughts come about. Until next time Zambia, thank you.