Working Yourself Out of a Job

I always tell people that aid work is about constantly trying to work yourself out of a job, because that means that the problem has been solved.

As many of you have been asking for more details on what my work entails, I thought I would write a post on what I have been busy with (in addition to fun activities!). Aside from the implementation and monitoring of ongoing projects, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)- what you would think of as humanitarian aid organizations or charity work organizations- are constantly busy with the work of identifying new funding sources and conducting research/applying for funding. Governments and private foundations issue specific guidelines for funding to which NGOs then apply. Sometimes this may seem strange- β€œwhy does the donor get to decide how funding is used for programming when organizations that have been working in a country or in a certain sector for many years probably know best how funding can be utilized?”- it is a good question, as often it is true that the donor doesn’t necessarily know the situation or the needs of the population as intimately. However, these calls for application to funding opportunities creates competition so that only the most well researched, seemingly effective programs will be awarded grants (although there can be other issues associated with the competition that is created that causes NGOs to work against or along side each other versus partnering and pooling resources to create the most effective program for their target populations). As I may have mentioned in the past, the program currently being implemented in Cambodia by the organization I work for focuses on malaria prevention through the education of villagers. The educational activities are conducted through movie screenings preceded by a 30 minute video spot on malaria and prevention techniques and a quiz show, through bed net distribution and impregnation with insecticide, and through the distribution of information to taxi drivers who can work with migrant workers who travel back and forth to the forests. As this malaria prevention program has been ongoing on for a few years now, and has been very effective, there is little work for me in terms of program design and evaluation aside from monitoring and report writing/editing.

As I discussed above, NGOs are constantly having to search and apply for new funding opportunities. This means that a fair amount of my work has been focused on conducting research for program development and writing proposals. A few weeks ago I traveled to Kratie Provice for a week to conduct research for an innovative transport system that the organization designed to link villagers, with a focus on pregnant women accessing antenatal, delivery, and postnatal services, to certified health centers. The system developed will help village chiefs to identify one or two moto drivers in remote villages who will be paid a set amount each month. Villagers will have unlimited access to this transportation and there will be set routes that travel past markets, health centers, and schools. The focus on pregnant women is that women in remote villages often do not attend antenatal and postnatal appointments because they live very far from health centers and the road conditions are very poor. This combination makes for expensive transportation, but often there is altogether no mode of transportation available. Women who begin to experience contractions and go into labor often have to find someone who is available to bring them to a health center, at an affordable price, within a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately many times these women are not able to find transport in time, and have to deliver at home. Luckily it sounds as though more traditional birth attendants are being trained by health centers, but delivering at home away from the necessary supplies in the case of complications can be extremely dangerous.

In Kratie Province I was tasked with the responsibility of taking photographs of the poor road conditions and to somehow capture in pictures the issues that pregnant women in remote villages face. In addition to the photography I interviewed health center staff, village chiefs, women who had previously delivered in health centers or at home, and women who are currently pregnant in order to get a better idea about the issues that these women face. The trip was very successful, and great fun as we had to search out the worst roads in the most remote villages, then once we arrived in the villages we had to inquire about there being any pregnant women around with whom we could talk. The photographs and information were used in a presentation done in Washington, DC, as our proposal had made it through the first selection round (to which there had been over 600 applicants) so along with 76 other applications we had to make a strong case for why our program was needed. 19 of the programs presented at the conference were selected for funding, including ours! Receiving this funding was very exciting as the project has great potential, if it works, to spread to other provinces in the future. Additionally, as I mentioned previously, our only current programming in Cambodia is malaria prevention, whereas we used to do a lot of work on water/hygiene, mother and child health, agriculture, etc. This allows us to again expand into new sectors and to become eligible for even more funding opportunities in the future.

During the week following my research in Kratie we held a workshop for all of our provincial staff and representatives from health departments in the various districts and provinces in which we work (about 44 people in total). I headed back to Kratie to attend the conference and give a short presentation updating everyone on new areas of programming (we recently set up a microcredit project through a local microfinance organization) and potential areas of funding.

This past week I have been busy conducting research, which means meeting with provincial government offices and interviewing villagers, for a sanitation and hygiene proposal. As I said before, funding opportunties are extremely competitive, so I won’t say any more on this potential program for now! πŸ™‚ There are also a few other opportunities that we have been looking into and may apply for.

In between these projects I have been working with the office staff on some administrative organization, personnel issues, conducting meetings, and organizing roundtable discussions in which the staff gather every Friday to discuss a topic in English- to promote English language speaking skills. The one thing that is often interesting when conducting meetings and interviews is that, remember, I am working within a society where I do not understand the language, and they often do not undertand mine. Luckily a program staff member accompanies me and translates, but it is still interesting to lead a discussion and have the entire meeting translated. I especially enjoy when the person I am meeting with speaks to me very directly and I have to focus intently on what sounds like complete nonsense. You also learn to display a certain level of patience when going back and forth between two languages as it takes time, and I am in their country not speaking their language, so ultimately it is on me for not being able to speak Khmer. I have also learned to be patient when speaking with someone who has a poor grasp of English- you can tell when someone is working very hard to formulate in their head a sentence to say or a question to ask; you wouldn’t want to disrupt the thought process!

So there you go, that is what I have been busy doing!

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2 responses

  1. Ayaz

    That is a lot of work you are doing these days, and it sounds more like an adventure rather than work! I never knew how funding for research projects worked until now, and its very interesting. It is a bit strange that governments and private foundations choose what the NGO should focus on cause the NGO might have a better idea of what is needed, but the idea to make different NGOs compete to make the best research proposal for that grant makes sense too.

    Congratulations for being selected for funding for the transport system for pregnant women as well!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:25 am

  2. Cally Arthur

    Congrats on getting funded! I know from experience, that is a major task and often unsuccessful. You’re right. It’s an ongoing part of the job… I love your photos. I’m looking at them with Gran who sends her love–of course. πŸ™‚

    August 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

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