Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Evaluating Our Program

Oren has been suffering from Christmasitis this week and even brought out and decorated the tree in the guest room.

Sometimes when I think back to my life prior to living and working here, I marvel at the change in reading material I find I surround myself with.  My inbox is full of embassy and UN updates on security, as well as regional development work. My reading list is now primarily comprised of books on latest development theories and regional history--a far cry from the history of dance in 18th century France.  (Although I did always teach that from the perspective of how political power shaped art institutions in European history.)

Now I am working through a book called "Dead Aid" about the generally negative impact foreign aid has had on development in Africa, and simultaneously reading a book about the influence Chinese investment is having on the subcontinent.  I am looking forward to finishing so I can begin reading "King Leopold's Ghost" about the history of Congo, because that history has played a large roll in creating the dynamics of the Great Lakes region where we work.  I am not an expert on anything, I would say, but I am aware of changes in my capacity to be able to assess what is good and bad programming around here.  This is helpful because much of our job is to see that money provided by MCC is wisely used to have a positive impact that reflects God's character (justice, mercy, hope, love.)

It is actually always surprising to me how much work it takes to see money used in a way to do more good than harm.  

Toss and Jimmy our two Congolese evaluators.
In that light, we have continued to be busy hosting the Evaluation Team that is here to help give us strategic direction for the next 5 years.  I think it is fortunate that all of the 4 evaluators are African, from DRC, Burundi and Rwanda.  They have a deep familiaraity with the context and have been able to get at the real marrow of some of our partners programs.  They have generally been committed to meeting 'benficiaries' of all of our programs and not just the partners.  (The level where Rebecca and I primarily interact is with the partner.)

They have also helped us sort out how to relate to two "Mennonite Churches" in our region.  Those are 2 churches that have registered themselves as such with the Burundian Government but have no connection to the Mennonite World Conference of other Anabaptist organization.  It is tempting to regard those who registered them as simply opportunists wanting to plug into some mzungu money, but the reality is often more complicated than the appearance.

I did my own evaluating this week when I went up to Gitega on Friday and did a follow up of the Great Lakes Peacebuilding Institute.  It is a project we have been funding for about 7 years and it is encouraging to see it beginning to move into self-sufficiency this year as a well respected peace-building program that trains trainers in peacemakers throughout the region.  It is also the only one of its kind that does instruction in French.

Friday was fortunately the only travel day and I went up with a Congolese colleague on Friday morning about 6 am and drove back with him the same afternoon.  It was funny because we were supposed to go up and stay the night Thursday.  I told him I was leaving at 3pm and he said he would get to Buja by noon.  As I suspected that meant 5:15 pm, an hour too late to head up country as driving after dark is not considered safe upcountry.  We stayed the night at our house where we enjoyed talking about regional issues (he helped me understand better the deep animosity Congolese feel toward Rwandese.) and left early the next day to get to Gitega by 8am.

We talked quite a bit on the drive about how MCC could be more involved in Eastern Congo and both agreed that we really need a volunteer living in Bukavu.  (I know MCC Congo is advertising for this position, so if any readers feel a call to serve in this region through MCC, there is a great need for ‘eyes on the ground there’ to accompany with our church and peace partners.)

Rebecca was at home with the kids and took them out to a park with our friend Jeanette (from South Africa) and her daughter Isabel as well as Kirsten and her daughters Emily and Rebecca.  I have included some pictures.  Most playground equipment here would be illegal in the US.  For instance notice the slide that goes down about 50 degrees straight into a hole, there is no deceleration curve at the bottom.  (more like jumping that sliding.)

Other than those events, the week has been fairly consumed with doing logistics for our evaluators and meeting them in the evenings.  It has been good to see things through their eyes.  (We do not participate in the interviews, but do get feedback afterwards.)  They spent the early part of the week in Gitega and at the Hope School and seemed very positive about the work of our partnerships there.

We have also had several Skype meetings with some of our colleagues in the US and Canada regarding new projects.  It is always amazing to me that we can be so separated by distance and yet have a conversation that makes us feel as if we are in the same room.

Saturday was a bit logistically challenging as we had some work responsibilities related to the evaluation team as well as the adult ballet class I am teaching.  I have to say it has been a real pleasure teaching these past 2 weeks especially as I find that there are about a half dozen young NGO workers here who have had some dance experience—2-3 professionally. 

Sunday the evaluation team left for Rwanda and we went to church.  David was beginning to get sick (again) and slept through most of the service (which means I could here the sermon.)

The pastor shared on the parable in Luke about the Shrewd Steward (or manager).  If you haven’t read it for a while it is worth looking at.  One of the more confusing parables, but quite rich if you take time to flesh it out. 

The observation the pastor made that I appreciated was the 3 choices the steward seemed to consider he had as professions;
1) begging
2) scrapping (working, digging)
3) being a steward for someone. 

Since the master was going to fire him, presumably for not doing the last one well, he decides to cut the debt owed by some of the master’s clients to ‘make friends.’  The master commends him on his shrewdness. 

The pastor observed that it does seem that in life the three choices about how we acquire and use our wealth are quite applicable.

1) we can beg, that is live in such a way in which we consider that we are victims and depend on others for our livelihood, not taking responsibility for ourselves.

2) we can work, (the word has the sense of digging or clamboring)--we can believe that we are earning everything for ourselves, and that what we get is ours and clambor unceasingly to get as much as possible for ourselves.

3) We can be stewards:  That is in recognition that what we have we are holding for a master, and that what we do and the way we use our resources should reflect the master’s priorities, as all that we have belongs to  him.  

In the story of the shrewd manager, it is clear that the master is generous in that he compliments the steward for his generosity in cutting debts (self-serving as it was) it reflected the master’s priorities.

Anyway, I enjoyed the reflection and the different ways we might see our own lives as Christians.  Living as stewards rather than beggars (victims) or ‘scrappers’ (clamborers in the rat-race).

We are getting ready for Thanksgiving this week which we will celebrate Friday for logistical reasons.  I tried unsuccesfully to get a turkey.  (I asked Yolanda to get one from the Swahili Quarter in Gitega.) They wanted about $50 for a pretty small one so we will have rotisserie chicken again this year.

Bonus Photo:  Oren working on the car proving the adage that "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."  Definitely true in the NGO world!

1 comment:

Susan said...

I thought "King Leopold's Ghost" was an excellent read!