What better way to kick off the year than a few days meeting people and communities on the front line of international development.
I have just spent 3 days travelling though western Kenya (Bungoma, Busia and Kisumu counties). I met people working in improving healthcare, tackling conflict, creating commercially viable access to clean drinking water, helping people register to vote, building county government skills & systems and simplifying border processes to unlock growth – all supported by DFID.
Here are a few things I think I learnt from them:
Quality of organisations working in aid
First up, I was overwhelmed by the quality, commitment and passion of the people we met. While it might sound trite, the level of professionalism, depth of thinking and effort spent trying to improve people’s lives was incredible, from the professional aid worker to the ‘Birth Companion’ responsible for helping pregnant women.
The value of these visits, and not just to me
I learnt masses, as I always do. But what about the people we met? Despite my previous blog on Aid Jamborees and personal hang-ups about taking up people’s time in set piece community meetings, I learnt a different perspective: how valuable these visits can be for communities themselves. There was a level of self-esteem and importance people seemed to get from being able to air their views, show what they are doing and be heard. And beyond the visit itself how we – the visitors – can reinforce the development messages of our partners. I hope we left something behind…
The power of status in development.
That our development programmes can give power and status to people who’ve never had it before and can elevate their thinking and attitudes. For instance, the Community Health Volunteer proudly brandishing her Smart Phone (which she uses to collect vital data on the progress of pregnancy) who tells me that this has raised her status in her community; people in her village respect her and take her more seriously. She is happy she is making a difference.