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Chain Reactions

October 1, 2010

I wrote previously about lack of fuel, here in Mzimba.  Well just after posting that, we got it back, but now it’s gone again. The diesel is at least.  There’s still some petrol.   This time, the impacts have hit a little closer to home.

I’ve been helping out a bit with a Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) program here in Mzimba.  Essentially, in CLTS, extension workers from our office visit villages to ‘trigger’ the realization within rural communities that open defecation (pooping in the bush), is unhealthy and dangerous.   This isn’t done by lecturing, but by a series of demonstrations that are designed to have individuals come to this conclusion on their own.  It includes mapping where people poop, going on a ‘Walk of shame’ to those areas to see/inspect the poop, and demonstrations that show how fecal matter is transferred to water and food.   Once this realization is made, its then up to the communities to develop a plan for becoming ODF (open defecation free) by a date that they select.  It’s up to communities and households to figure out how to construct latrines and manage their waste.  Four natural leaders are selected from each community to lead this transition.   All the natural leaders from an area are brought together to share their action plans and get feedback and support.  Additional follow-ups and support is provided until the community can be certified ODF, but the change itself is lead and carried out by the community.

Yesterday was the Action Plan Presentation meeting day in Mzimba, for natural leaders from 18 villages that have been triggered in the last 3 weeks.   It was planned for two pick-up trucks to do the transportation of all participants in a series of runs to and from the field, but due to lack of diesel, we were down to one.   Realizing that one pick-up to ferry over 70 people to and from the office (round trip about 25km on not ideal roads) was going to take forever, one of my colleagues volunteered his own small transport truck to be used.  He’d just got it fixed, it could hold many more people, it had diesel in it, and it was ready to roll.  Not a small offering on his part by any means, especially not knowing when fuel will return.

Now I wasn’t there, so I’m not exactly sure what happened, but on the last trip of the day, after dropping off one group of leaders in their village, there was some sort of miscommunication between those in the back, and the driver of the truck (another friend and all around great guy).  The truck started to move, and one of the leaders fell out.  He was hurt.  It wasn’t good.

They rushed the injured man to the hospital, and the driver reported the accident to the police.  Thankfully, the man is now in somewhat stable condition from what I can tell.   Unfortunately, my colleagues at work, are not doing so great.  Having just been repaired, the truck was not yet insured.  It was immediately impounded by the police and charges are pending.  Our driver’s license has been taken by the police.  The fines are not cheap.

My colleague thought he was doing a good thing, using his own resources to help strengthen a worthwhile program that’s helping to promote health and sanitation in rural communities.   The outcomes have been less then desirable, to say the least.  Now, I realize that there are a lot of factors that contributed to these events, and lack of fuel is just one.  I could probably list a whole page full of them myself, and I’m sure I’d be missing some.  It’s a little like trying to diagnose the causes of poverty, you just get a mess of inter-related factors and “if-onlys”.  In each case, (poverty and the vehicle accident) a lot of the contributing factors are tied to lack of resources, but there’s also the policy environment, communication and coordination issues, limited infrastructure, and a little bit of just plain bad luck as well.   Would addressing just one of these factors in either case prevent it from happening ever again in the future?  Probably not.   Is it possible to address all of them, all the time?  Nope, don’t think so.  So how do you pick and choose?   You can get overwhelmed by the complexity of it, or you can pick a factor, start doing something about it and move forward from there.  Look at that, poverty and car accidents, maybe they’re linked in more ways than one.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra permalink
    October 1, 2010 3:12 pm

    Hey Alyssa, it’s great to hear from you again. I hope the fuel situation gets better soon! I guess I shouldn’t complain too much about the cost of gas, at least we have fuel–but I’m still going to complain a little bit! 🙂

    I guess it’s true, no good deed goes unpunished. I understand what you’re saying about how to address all the issues and getting overwhelmed. That’s certainly not exclusive to Africa! 🙂 But it’s great that you and your colleagues are doing what you can do to help improve the situation. Good luck, learn lots, and have fun!

  2. Karen Forgrave permalink
    October 1, 2010 8:30 pm

    That’s frustrating indeed! I’m glad that the injured man is more stable…and I hope that your colleague gets some empathy from the police, since he was trying to “do a good deed”!

  3. Pat Dunstan permalink
    October 1, 2010 11:20 pm

    Thinking of you and the great job you are trying diligently to do- can we help out?

    • October 4, 2010 1:41 pm

      Quick update: Everything has worked itself out, the fines are paid, insurance has been bought, most importantly, the man is going to be fine. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and concern! A close call, that opens eyes to just how close we are sometimes to much more serious consequences.

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