Wednesday, 28 November 2012

So What Would You Say, 'Ya Do' Here?

Some of you may be wondering, “So, what would you say ‘ya do’ here?”(Office Space reference!) Well, consider your burning question answered (hopefully)! Our days are far from routine and we never know what to expect on any given day. Generally though, as a Service Center, we try to get out to visit one or two Community Based Organizations (CBOs) every day. Our team has done a great job of introducing us to each of the 7 functioning CBOs that we support. In the initial visit to each of those CBOs, we have been able to visit the feeding point and the school (sometimes the same location), meet some of the care workers, learn a little about each community’s history and its needs, and spend some time with the children. When we see the children, it is a great reminder of the reason why we are here. So many of these kids have had their lives transformed, even saved, because of the very presence of these CBOs and their care workers.

When we are not in the community, we are usually catching up on administrative tasks, going into town for random things, or having meetings with representatives of a CBO that have made the trek to our office. The unpredictability during our week keeps things interesting but, sometimes, when we’re sitting at the office with not much to do, we get a bit stir-crazy and get the itch to be productive and useful! Apparently, we haven’t fully adapted to the African way of doing things, just yet. This is what we still need to get used to about Africa – everything moves at a much slower pace. There never appears to be any sense of urgency. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. This might sound cheesy but it’s not an exaggeration – relationships are urgent. They trump everything else that is going on. Building, maintaining and growing relationships is the top priority for most people here. Even when there are a million things that need to be done, everything will be dropped at the blink of an eye to address a relational issue or when there is someone in need. It’s an interesting contrast to our culture, where relationships are often the first thing to be sacrificed when times get busy (which seems to be all the time).

Over the past few weeks, we have been assisting our Service Center team in preparing the 2013 Three Essential Services (“3ES” – basic food, education and health) budgets and the 2013 training proposal budgets for each one of the CBOs we support. Each 3ES budget forecasts the expected monthly expenses for a CBO for the entire year and ensures that the total projected expenses for the year do not exceed the total support amount from the donor (which is set at 70,000 kwacha, or approximately $14, per child, per month). Included in this budget are things like food, school supplies, school fees (for older children that attend government schools), medical supplies and incentives for teachers and cooks.

Training proposal budgets forecast the expenses for one of the various training programs offered by Hands. These training programs include: (1) Church Leaders Training; (2) Hands Foundation Training; and (3) Connecting with Children Training. Church Leaders Training brings together the various church leaders within the community and challenges them with the biblical mandate to care for orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs). This is part of the fundamental vision of Hands – to see the local church effectively caring for OVCs. Hands Foundation Training is designed to educate care workers with the core values of Hands, namely to serve the poorest of the poor, to take ownership over their own community, and to do so with Christ as the foundation. In order for Hands to partner with, and continue to work alongside, these CBOs, Hands needs to ensure that the CBOs are operating in a way that accords with Hands’ core values. Connecting with Children training educates and trains care workers to walk alongside wounded children and help them uncover those wounds under a healthy, positive, parental relationship. This is extremely important for care workers because, aside from having it empower wounded children, it also empowers many of them to deal with their own personal wounds from the past. With each of these trainings planned for each of our 7 CBOs next year, 2013 is going to be a very busy year for our team!

To help record and organize all of these budgets and proposals, we use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet template. Sweet! (Just for the record, the “Sweet!” represents Diane’s views only, as she is a massive nerd.) Using a computer and a software program like Excel are like second nature to us. Not so sweet for our Service Centre team, though! Working with computers is not something that our team is all that familiar with. As a result, they struggle with even the most basic functions and features of a computer, nevermind a complicated software program like Excel. This is where our experience and education come in handy. For large parts of the past few weeks, we have sat with the Service Center Coordinators, Blessings and Towela, to painstakingly go over each budget item and help them input the information into the spreadsheet. While a seemingly simple job, it has not gone without its challenges. As stated before, our team has incredible hearts and passion for this work, but are somewhat lacking when it comes to administrative/organizational skills. Sometimes, when working through a given issue, it requires us to ask the same question repeatedly or phrased in several different ways before they fully understand the issue. Things that might seem like common sense to us sometimes need to be reasoned out. It could have been easy to whiz over the budgets and essentially copy ones used from previous years but it has proved invaluable to question why certain things are done the way they are because it, in turn, has broadened our team’s understanding of the issues they need to be considering. The good news is that, when we were all done, Blessings mentioned that the amount of time we spent on the budgets would have taken them months to complete on their own!

Although tedious and not so fun to do in a boiling hot office, the exercise was a great opportunity for us to identify areas where we can build capacity into our Service Center team. As was evident during our time working on budgets, critical thinking and reasoning are skills we are hoping to empower our team with. This is not meant to undermine their current abilities or capacity; rather, it is addressing the reality that, as a result of them not having any formal education past high school or any experience in dealing with management tasks, they have not had the opportunity to develop such skills. That being said, we have committed to running computer workshops for our team where we will teach them basic computer skills, typing skills, and train them to use programs like Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel!

The exercise of preparing and completing budgets for each CBO also allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of how CBOs operate and, specifically, how they are funded. We initially assumed that money raised from donors around the world was pooled and then distributed by Hands to each community. What we now realize is that Hands seeks out donors from the international community to partner together with and support a specific CBO. In most cases, the donor is a church or charitable foundation from one of the countries that Hands has an international office in (Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Australia). If you remember back to one of our earliest blog posts about the structure and vision of Hands, this accords with Hands’ vision to unite the international church with the local church to effectively equip them to care for OVCs. The relationship between the donor and the supported CBO can form in a number of ways, from individuals or teams coming to Africa and feeling compelled to support a certain community they visited, to Hands matching donors with needy communities. An ongoing relationship is then developed between the specific donor and the CBO. Teams are often sent from the donor for weeks at a time to visit the CBO, meet the care workers and children, understand the community’s conditions and needs, and evaluate how their donated funds are being utilized. It is a great way to make it personal for the donor and a great opportunity for the community to meet the people responsible for its aid!

As written above, it costs roughly $14 per month to support one child. By mid-2013, we will have one CBO supporting 50 children, five CBOs supporting 100 children and one CBO supporting 150 children. That’s 700 children in Kitwe alone that are now known by name, deeply cared for and offered hope for a new future. The average cost of supporting one CBO (100 children) for an entire year? Approximately $16,800. Please take a second to sit back and put that figure into perspective. When the two of us were working in corporate Calgary, we probably spent half that amount in any given year at Holt Renfrew or on a vacation! This is something that has deeply challenged us over the last little while, especially when we look back on how frivolously we spent money before. Does this mean that every dollar we earn should be donated in aid to orphans? That would be fantastic but that’s not what we are saying. Rather, we now see and understand what a relatively small amount of our resources can do for the lives of so many children here. We realize that you’ve probably seen enough infomercials about how a dollar a day can save the life of a child or something along those lines. We largely ignore this reality because we are wary of scams or that a disproportionate amount of the donated money goes to “administrative fees”, etc. Having been a part of the Service Center now for one month, and having visited each of the CBOs that we support, we cannot emphasize enough how incredibly valuable these donated resources are for the lives of these children.

Not only are the lives of children immensely blessed by these resources, but they make a significant impact on the lives of the care workers as well. As mentioned before, care workers are not paid or compensated for the work they do. Cooks and teachers receive small monthly incentives due to the amount of time that is required for each job but, other than that, these care workers do what they do simply because their hearts compel them to. As a result, Hands and the donors have encouraged care workers to allocate a small percentage of the CBO’s budget (roughly 5-10%) to put towards an Income Generating Activity (IGA). These IGAs are meant to be an encouragement and a blessing for the care workers. Rather than simply providing them with a small monetary incentive once or twice a year that would be quickly spent, an IGA empowers the care workers to own, manage and operate a business. It also provides a realistic opportunity for the CBO to work towards becoming self-sufficient, which coincides with one of Hands’ core values of local community ownership. Most IGAs are currently in their infant stages but, ideally, a well-functioning IGA would no longer need the support of a donor. Furthermore, should an IGA become quite profitable, the goal is to use the profits to set up micro-financing opportunities for the care workers to start up their own personal business! Examples of IGAs that are currently operating or will start up in the next year are: chicken rearing, goat rearing, garden/farming, charcoal selling and hammer mills (to grind up maize into mielie meal).

Since being here in Kitwe, we have learned of some incredible stories of how certain communities came to be supported. In one instance, a couple from the United States that volunteered with Hands for a number of years returned home and shared their hearts for Africa. As a result, their extended family on one side came together and committed to caring for and supporting an entire community. Apparently, the other side of the family may be committing to do the same in the near future!

Another inspiring story we've heard of is about a couple from Germany who, after serving with Hands in Zambia on a long-term posting, returned home and started a charity called the Peppercorn Foundation. The Peppercorn Foundation now supports three fully functioning CBOs (300 children) in the Kitwe area!

These are but just two examples of people that have come, seen, experienced, and had their hearts forever changed. All it took was for one or two individuals to be deeply impacted and now an entire community of children and care workers is supported. An entire community now has hope. As we contemplate what lies ahead beyond our time in Africa, this has been a real inspiration to us. Not everyone is called to be a missionary. Not everyone is called to Africa. But we firmly believe that we are all called to do something. Could this be an opportunity for us, together with you, to make a real impact? Perhaps. While this might be far off in the future, it’s something definitely worth thinking about.

1 comment:

  1. The quicker answer would've been, "We've got people skills. We're good with people!". Jokes aside, it's great to see you fostering growth in the Service Center's organizational and capacity skills through Excel training. So asian of you guys to start with the budget. Shoulda stuck with accounting B-man. Hoping that the printers there don't have the PC Load Letter error like they do at Initech!