SOLID

Hi everyone! In a previous post I mentioned that I was starting a community development group called SOLID and that I would explain the program in a future post. So here we are. SOLID, like almost all Peace Corps program titles, is an acronym. It stands for Sustainable Opportunities for Leaders of Internal Development, and is a program designed to transfer the skills and knowledge of PCVs to members of the local community who are interested in actualizing change in their communities. SOLID aims to empower its members to execute their own development projects without relying on help from NGOs or other donors. Another element of sustainability is derived from the fact that graduated SOLID members are responsible for future SOLID trainings and thereby propagating their new skills to future members. There are for main sections of the SOLID program, which last from three to six months depending on the duration and frequency of meetings. The sections are as follows:

1). Sustainable Community Development

2). Community Assessment and Analysis

3). Project Design, Management & Implementation and Monitoring & Evaluating

4). Professional Skills

After completing the lessons, SOLID trainees take a final examination and receive a certificate if they pass. They are then expected to work together to design and implement projects in their villages, in addition to training a new group of SOLID members.

Because I’ve: 1) never started a club before, 2) never taught a lesson on anything before, and 3) don’t speak Chichewa, starting SOLID was slightly intimidating. Luckily, my counterpart has been wonderfully helpful and motivated. To generate interest for the program, we met with various village chiefs, talked to different community groups, and explained the program to the TA (or “head honcho” of the 40,000 person catchment area that I’m working with). With my counterpart translating, we urged these contacts to circulate information about SOLID and inform curious community members about an upcoming interest meeting.

When the day of the interest meeting came, I was saddened to hear that two funerals were occurring. While that may not sound relevant to the success of the meeting, funerals in Malawi are a HUGE deal. Typically, the whole area around the deceased person’s home will attend the service- which lasts for hours. (I’ll have to devote a separate post on the intricacies of Malawian funerals). Anyway, I believe the occurrence of the funeral detracted from the number of people who showed up, but I’d still consider the meeting a success. I was slightly apprehensive about having an uncontrollably large group, so I was  a bit relieved to see only 21 people.

After explaining the program and fielding questions from attendees, everyone registered and decided on the logistics of the next meeting. One woman’s words were particularly encouraging, affirming the gist of what it means to be a SOLID member. She said, “Those who came today know what it is to be a true volunteer. We all want to improve our communities and are willing to do so on our own, without compensation.” I found her comment to be especially meaningful in a country where most meetings and volunteer opportunities are accompanied by allowances. Last week, for example, I was invited to attend a meeting during which I was given two sodas and 2,000 kwacha. I didn’t accept the money, suggesting that the group use it for something useful but it was hastily divided amongst the group members instead. It was clear that many of the people at the meeting were only present to get reimbursed. Another example stems from a day that I had planned to meet with a local Community-Based Organization (CBO). When I arrived, I learned that an NGO had showed up in the village with fanta and bread and therefore my planned meeting would have to be postponed. For these reasons, hearing that my SOLID group was committed to the program’s goals and uninterested in compensation, I was very happy.

Since the initial interest meeting, we’ve had two lessons, which I think went pretty well! I have actually really enjoyed teaching and find it interesting to be on the opposite side of the classroom for the first time. It’s frustrating to rely on a translator when delivering lessons, and especially during group discussions, but my counterpart has been doing an excellent job. We have been meeting a few days before the lessons to translate important points into Chichewa, which I then transcribe onto posters. I’ve started taking Chichewa lessons here as well, so hopefully I’ll be able to overcome the language barrier and communicate effectively soon!

I’ve probably left out a lot of details about SOLID, but promise to fill in the cracks and provide updates as the program transpires. Here are a few pictures from our recent meetings:

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The women of the group do a community mapping activity during our second meeting.

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A “whiteboard” I made to write down key lesson points in Chichewa. I constructed it by covering an old bean sack in strips of translucent tape. More sustainable and cheaper than using flip chart paper!

IMG_20150604_105056302A shot from the first interest meeting. The lessons are held in a building that is also used as a nursery for young children.

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