Monday, October 18, 2010

Seeing the Forest

When I arrived in Penville, a small agricultural village in the Eastern Caribbean, I was assigned to the Village Council to work in institutional development. The Council's office and computer center occupy the first floor in a two story complex. The second floor houses an arts & craft center. It quickly became apparent that the craft center was extremely under utilized. In a community without many resources, this is an obvious problem. When I inquired further I discovered that the use of the craft center was a point of considerable friction between the Village Council and a community based organization that had been behind the construction of the facility. I was advised to stay out of that particular issue. New to the Village, I was hesitant to get branded a partisan or to become entangled in community conflict. Being me, I couldn't help myself. Little by little I started to make noise. After I had been around for about nine months, I received EC$35,000 to run an educational outreach program. Part of this involved a youth oriented "life-skills" component. The problem was that simultaneously, we were running adult literacy and family health classes, and IT classes. There was no venue for the life-skills sessions. So I started using the Council's key to access the craft center. I failed to seek permission from the CBO and this negligence got me in some hot water, unnecessarily I admit.

The youth sessions went forward and from these sessions emerged an energetic and entrepreneurial youth group. They called themselves the Young Motivators. I have worked closely with the group and have provided encouragement wherever possible. We don't always perceive the impact our actions have on the lives of others. It was extremely rewarding to be thanked by my good friend and leader of the Young Motivators during his secondary school graduation speech. This young man has always been an enthusiastic self-starter and a born leader, and I have watched him mature from a pseudo-troublemaker into a thoroughly positive role model and an active member of his community.

October is independence season in Dominica when heritage is celebrated with a number of competitions in different areas including cultural dance. Penville's children have been dancing for the neighboring village's team for some time. However, this year, with funds from the same grant that had funded those youth sessions a year ago, the Council sponsored Penville's own dance team. Most of the team members were also members of the Young Motivators group. Over that same year, I had continued to make noise about the craft center, and eventually it was opened up for community use. The dance team practiced there and competed in the semi-finals in front of a large crowd.

Somehow, I hadn't seen my role in all this, though looking back it is quite clear. In a large part due to my influence, an under utilized community resource was made available; a group of youth was empowered through life-skills sessions I funded and organized; those same young persons used that resource to participate in a wonderful experience; and that experience was made possible by funds from that same grant I had secured a year ago. I thank the District Development Officer for having helped me to see the forest through the trees.


  1. Way to go bro!! Glad you got to see some of your hard work pay off.

  2. nice work, my friend. it definitely pays off to be in the position of foreigner sometimes, you get to naively ask questions like "hey, why is this that way?" and sometimes people pay attention.

    -michelle h

  3. really cool, austin. i know it's hard to take a step back and look at the big picture. also personally helpful for me to read in my current situation. thanks.