Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Declaration of Independence

Dear Libertarian friends and sympathizers,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I want to point out that the phrasing “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has certain logical implications. It does not say “liberty to live and pursue happiness,” but rather lists these three rights in an “and” clause. In other words, to secure liberty alone is not sufficient for this clause to obtain. A people’s possession of liberty does not satisfy its claim to those unalienable rights to which “governments are instituted among men” to secure.

Life and the pursuit of happiness, together with liberty, are to be secured by the people’s governmet. We should not ask for government to remove its hands from those institutions that are critical to securing life and the pursuit of happiness, which men have never shown themselves capable of securing independently. Public schools and public health are our birthrights as citizens of the United States of America.

Please advise.

Loans and Communalist Cultures

It's an exciting time here in Dominica. Carnival season is flooding the rum shots with drinking behavior that is even more vigorous that normal. It is actually fun to see the shyest and most reclusive villagers feel uninhibited enough to come out and celebrate with the rest of the crowd. It is a time that unearned and undeserved feelings of shame are cast aside.

Calypso music is another hallmark of the season and it's spectacular. My favorite song includes the lyrics "internet children like instant coffee, they want it now, they want it now, they don't want to work for it." Hilarious. Calypso is basically the singing of social commentary traditional Caribbean beat. The words don't necessarily have to rhyme and often don't. It is like delivering a speech but singing the words. Here's an example .

Things are clicking for me. This family literacy outreach project is taking . I feel completely integrated into the community and it is going to be hard to leave a place I can almost call home. My personal relationships with people in Penville still lack a certain depth, but then most of my friendships in college revolved around organized enjoyment of alcohol. There wasn't all that much depth there either, though conversation certainly came easier.

Last night I heard an intro to a song on the radio coming from rum shop by the basketball "court" (a rim and board nailed to a lamp post). "Sir, you are late on your mortgage payment." "Yes, I'm sorry! I'll make the payment! I'll make the payment!" "Okay, sir. Be sure that you do." "So you're not going to take the house?" "No, sir." "Oh thank you, thank you! What can I do for you? I'll kill a goat for you! Thank you so much!" This was meant to be humorous but the following thought was evoked. In communalist cultures where sharing is normal and resources are shared and repayment is informal, people are especially susceptible to predatory lending. It is not in their nature to take someone's house because s/he has not yet repaid his/er debt. They would of course be expected to and the community would informally condemn tardiness. It is like the enforcement of traffic laws in India. If you hit someone, you might be able to bribe your way out of police action, but you might also be ripped from your car and beaten to death by an angry mob. I'm not defending this sort of justice or arguing that it is more efficient, I'm saying that cultural norms of informal sharing, borrowing, lending, are vulnerable to predatory lending, which is a despicable practice even in America. Poor communities are forced to share resources. Cars are "rented" to friends with no security deposit. The norms that evolve around these practices make it harder for some people to anticipate that they will be severely punished for defaulting or failing to make timely payments. Exploiting this sort of community and cultural level generosity seems wrong.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Entrepreneurs in Dominica Celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week

Here is a short video on Waitukubuli Entrepreneurs Lévé!'s (WEL) first annual Emerging Entrepreneur & Business Mentor Retreat at Jungle Bay Resort & Spa. WEL is an NGO that supports emerging entrepreneurs in Dominica, which I helped to develop. I also helped to design and coordinate the retreat featured in this video, which was I produced with my friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Allegra Asplundh-Smith. Hope you enjoy.

A year ago

The following is a lengthly report on my experience writing a grant, securing funding, and the coordinating and implementing a 6-week educational outreach program in Penville. I wrote it some time last year and just found it today.

On a Saturday afternoon, my next door neighbor and the Chairman of the Penville Village Council called me to attend a 3 o’clock meeting with some fella from the nearby town of Portsmouth to talk about some skills training based project opportunity. The fella showed up at around 6:30. During the wait, the Chairman, his cousin/fellow councilor and I chatted about what sort of training programs we might want to see take place in the village. William McLawrence, as the fella was named, walked us through what needed to be done to submit a grant application. The application was 43 pages long. I noticed it in my email at some point and after briefly looking over the first few pages decided there was no way I was going through 41 more, much less try to decipher all that red-tape mumbo jumbo and come out sane on the other end. McLawrence made it really simple. “Just fill out the basic framework for a proposal (following page length requirements), make up a budget off the top of your head, and we’re good! The only trick is, we need it tomorrow!” So after the meeting, around 8pm, I went down to my house and plugged away for a few hours. Drawing on five years of college experience, I easily burned both ends of that proverbial candle and finished the 14 page application by Sunday at noon. I promptly hitched to Portsmouth to meet Mr. McLawrence. Upon meeting him at 2 for our 1 o’clock appointment, he said “Hey! We’re going to Roseau.” On a Sunday? (buses don’t run on Sundays – you should see the capital: ghost town)We got a ride that cost me $40 (Bill had no cash). We visited the home of a Ms. Henry, who reviewed my application, suggested a few small changes. After a harrowing journey back up to Penville at 8:00pm (did I mention it was Sunday?), I submitted the thing that night, After that I never worried about finding a ride again. If you need to get somewhere, you can get there.

The following weeks proceeded in a similar fashion. I was informed that my application was well received and the funds were forth coming. All I had to do was scurry back and forth between Roseau and Penville jumping through hoop after hoop of invoice requirements and other such documentation procurement, all with 24-48 hour deadlines attached. At the contract signing ceremony, it turned out my application received a score of 92 out of a possible 100. Out of 35 other applications, the next highest scored an 84.

The ensuing program was a comprehensive educational program, offering 6-week courses in ICT, financial management, English enhancement, parenting skills, and youth life-skills. I worked together with 27 community members to coordinate and implement the program. This was the most rewarding experience of it all: I built relationships with highly capable community members who had never before been involved in such community outreach. 40 participants attended at least two classes a week, some more than 4, for six weeks. There were several hiccups, not the least of which surrounding national elections. Overall, the program was a huge success, very popular, and built a great deal of enthusiasm among those involved.

A youth group emerged from the youth skills training program. They held a show during carnival in which they performed a number of skits and songs, to the absolute amazement of all who were lucky enough to attend. They have raised over $400 for their group through a number of well-planned fundraising efforts. They have been involved in some community service efforts, participating in the liturgy at the Catholic Church service, to which they donated a portion of the funds they raised. I continue to work with them, holding sessions on self-expression and other topics, and getting them involved in community service efforts, such as an after school reading program at the primary school.

The team of teachers and nurses that planned and coordinated the initial six-week program remains committed to continuing our efforts in adult education, and we have begun to build a relationship with the central government’s department of adult education. Our closing ceremony has received significant airtime on the national news, and enthusiasm remains high.

The implementation of this project involved hours of door-to-door household visits on my part all over the village. Because of the deadlines involved in this project, the initial process of proposal writing did not follow the appropriate procedures of participatory community needs assessment. However, having established connections and communication with the larger community, we are now in a position to proceed in compliance with more sustainability-oriented methods. A successful postmortem evaluation was conducted, participant responses were discussed, and future plans have incorporated these responses.

My own experience and capacity as a community organizer, or animator, is greatly improved. My relationship with my community is stronger than ever and I am now involved in numerous projects that are proceeding at a slower but more appropriate and effective pace. I have restored a measure of the capital of trust that had deteriorated between the Peace Corps and the village of Penville, after two disappointing experiences with Volunteers.

It has become very clear that two years is simply the blink of an eye in the ongoing struggle for development. Human resource development remains a hard sell amidst the predominant “bricks and mortar” conception. However, as the one-year mark approaches, I am in a vastly superior position to fulfill my primary assignment as an institutional developer. I am enthusiastic and optimistic about the remainder of my service.