Suzanne and Earl de Berge
Founders of Seeds for a Future
This post is a continuation of Seeds for a Future Part 2: Understanding communities and traditions.
“Our goal is to provide the community with a 'sustainable' program.”
This may be the most overused and least accurate phrase we hear nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) utter in Guatemala. There are examples all over the country of programs that simply sputtered and died after the NGO left town: there are empty medical clinics, non-functioning water works, empty private schools, farmers raising tons of luscious strawberries but with no means to get them to market, and food/nutrition programs for which little is known about whether the training provided is continued after the NGO leaves or even if it had an lasting impact on the participants. Maybe they did some good while they were working with a community, but when the organizations left, the communities or groups they helped were unable to “sustain” the program because they were not taught exactly how to sustain it.
Before raising the hopes of any community, one of the first things an NGO should ask itself is: After we leave, what will remain in the community, and is it something they want and can sustain?
If the NGO’s work is project oriented (for example, assembling and installing 25 new clean wood burning stoves in the homes of poor people and nothing more) then the answer is simple: “we paid for and installed 25 new stoves for needy families.” But if the NGO’s goal is to create a sustainable new stove program that can be run by local people, create jobs and grow, the NGO will need to include training and teachers that can go beyond building stoves ... such things as marketing, work force and business management, accounting, banking, securing lines of credit, contracts, meeting government regulations, and so on. This is not so daunting as it sounds, for there are many excellent university based programs in Guatemala where business professors consult on the side or have practicum programs where advanced degree students are required to do projects in communities that need to learn their skills.