Participants in the August 22 workshop
Day 107 in Ocotal/Mozonte
11 September 2012
This is a vacation week in the institute, so I am taking the opportuntity of some downtime to catch up and take a moment to look back and share the variety of activities that have been taking place in the last 21 days in the institute. Partly because there has been a myriad of activities. And partly because I feel I am in my groove...at least this groove for this moment.
August 22, 2012 Citizen's Rights of Access to Public Information I | Three of us drive up to Quilali to launch a new program designed to empower a group of community and youth leaders to leverage legislation that allows them to ask for information from local authorities (be it education, health, municipality, etc).
Not quite ready...but willing
We are working in the meeting room of the town hall again, and we have a wide range of ages, from a few months (children in tow), through pre-teens, teens and on through middle age. SInce the funder expects the inclusion of children, those 12 and up are invited to participate. If adapting to different learning styles wasn't already a challenge enough, designing for an age-range of some 40 years only "enhances the opportunity", to coin a euphemism.
OCD (organization-compulsive disorder)
I know I am back in my groove, when I get the opportunity to add to the design of the program. Some of it worked - some of it not - but the biggest telltale sign of my presence was in the prep. Those who know me will immediately recognize my organization-compulsive disorder in the picture to the left!
A couple of the young leaders
August 23/24, 2012 Diploma in Social Entrepreneurship | Module I of a 10-module program targeting young communitry leaders. We are trying something new - introducing a didactic model to provide the participants with a road map for this extended learning engagement and the various diverse and invited facilitators a framework within which to position their modules.
It's a beginning - not as simple as it might be...but a start
The first module deals with an overview of the course and a workshop to help the participants connect heart, mind and body with their own leadership potential so that they can begin to develop a vision for themselves. We also introduce a reflection and integration exercise (to be repeated at the end of each module - an idea I stole from Duke University's executive education programs) and an evaluation (also to be repeated at the end of each module - holding us accountable for the quality of the learning experience as well as developing their evaluation skills).
I couldn't find the Baccarat crystal, so I substituted...
August 23/24, 2012 One for the Team! | Not for the faint of heart...I decide to tackle making an English trifle...for 16 people at the institute to welcome a volunteer from Spain (not that there is anything culturally irrelevant about making a British dessert for a Spaniard on his first day in Nicaragua - hell no!)
And not that the project was without challenges. No custard powder. What to use? Vanilla pudding with more milk than the recipe calls for, or make a custard from scratch. My Mum would turn in her grave if she knew I had opened a box of instant pudding. I make it from scratch: egg yolks, more cream than milk, sugar and something they call vanilla essence. Final product: a little pale but not without a certain richness that would send my cholesterol numbers through the roof if I wasn't balancing this with a diet of rice and beans. I buy the cake from a local bakery (a discussion and a half - she does not understand why I don't want any filling or topping or decoration!) And then the soft fruits...none to be had, just cans of fruit cocktail - a luxury all the same here, where the most common fruits are pineapple and bananas. Oh and then the sherry. Not a cat in hell's chance! So I venture to substitute a sweet cooking wine. Bad idea! So I move on to a raspberry sauce. Equally bad idea - a clear liquid that tasted of nail polish remover and smelt like something much more insidious. So I settle on a sloppy cherry jelly. Ah...the joys of substitution!
August 28, 2012 Grass Roots OD Consulting | I am not an OD (Organizational Development) expert, though I have dabbled on the fringes of this fascinating subject. However, this workshop (the first over a few months) is to help an Indigenous Elders Advisory Board ("Consejo de Ancianos") in ways that was clearly an "OD intervention".
The resolution of indigenous land disputes and the transfer of land rights is overseen by this board of elders, who are the only people who really knew what land was whose before the revolution of the 80s. This board advises the local municipality and plays a mediating role in disputes.
This group of community leaders is divided into two camps. One group aligned with an ex-president of the board who is running for political office and is therefore more closely aligned with the municipal big wigs, and the other (the "elders") which is more closely aligned to historical rights and the history of the area.
So we pull out some old left-brained OD chestnuts (e.g. what activities to stop-start-continue) and combined them with more right-brained, experiential activities (e.g. a sociometric exercise using a ball of wool and visual metaphors of their vision of success for the board.) It was a start.
The sessions can be demanding...
August 29, 2012 Monthy Meeting with Sponsored Students | The institute sponsors students at secondary, technical college and university level, providing much-needed funds for their transportation, books and fees. Faculty from the institute meet with the students regularly to see how things are going, maintain a connection, follow-up on the community work projects and add to their arsenal of leadership skills as community leaders. Though generally younger, there are some mature students.
We use a video of successful women community leaders as a structured, self-reflection exercise to help the students identify leadership qualities relevant to their culture and community and to spark their imagination about what their leadership style might look like
August 31, 2012 Video Testimonial of Sponsored Student | As part of a bigger initiative to raise money for much-needed student scholarships, we are creating a series of short testimonial videos of recicpients or deserving students. Bessy is a delightful student who is a perfect candidate to begin this initiative.
There is a strong focus on the environment and every student plants a tree as a metaphor for the connection between their leadership and environmental stewardship. You can see the finished product (in Spanish and with English subtitles at this link: Bessy Cisneros.)
...well it made sense to me when I drew it...
In the spirit of "horizontal learning" (the institute's methodlogies are significantly influenced by Freire), the facilitator and I modeled the finished visual metaphors with our own drawings - fortunately demonstrating and reinforcing the range of possible approaches (and artistic capabilities).
There is more later in this blog about the sponsorship program.
Opening slide of my presentation
September 3, 2012 Working with the Faculty Team | I am to meet with the faculty team each month for 1-2 days to add to their arsenal of facilitation and training skills. In Spanish! This was the first session and it was my opportunity to do two things: brainstorm a student sponsorship program I am co developing with them and to share my vision for the footprint I want to leave here at the institute during the next 6-18 months (i.e. as long as the work interests me and they will have me.)
I found a great quotation from Khalil Gibran that I used to open my presentation:
"To work with love is like contructing a house with care, as if your loved one was going to live in that house."
It sums up the footprint I'd like to leave behind. We spent about 5 hours brainstorming how to develop a student sponsorship program (a much-needed program to replace some $20k that will not be available in the future when a major donation is used-up.) And the rest reviewing my vision:
The last I see as a real struggle in development work, based on my very limited exposure here in Nicaragua.
A happy donkey and a happier owner
September 5, 2012 Meeting with the Commission of Las Segovias | I have been voluntold into the local "Commission of Las Segovias" - an organization run mostly by wealthier Ocotal residents to promote the area, the culture and increase awareness of the region's rich heritage. You may remember my blog entry about "boxers or briefs". The donkey on the left was one of the honorees of this "Parade of the Donkeys".
We are planning a fund-raiser in Managua on October. I will be travelling to Buenos Aires to earn some money to pay for my adventure here in Ocotal, sadly. They will be enjoying an evening of traditionl music, dance, poetry and culture from Las Segovias. The goal? To raise awareness about the area. To reconnect people who have left the area for the big city, Managua. And to raise money to buy Christmas presents and a meal for poor children and prisoners. I will be designing the exhibition of photography that tells the history of the area. They, unwittingly, are going to let me loose with their photography archive that goes back eons - something they may yet come to regret when a "gringo" tries to interpret the history of the area that was the breeding ground for the rebel forces in the Sadinista-Contras war of the 80s.
August 23/24, 2012 Diploma in Social Entrepreneurship | Module II brings in a Professor in Sociology from a university in Managua to put their study of social entrepreneurship into a context as seen through the lenses of community, municipality and nation. We used the model to position the second session in the overall learning journey and the reflection and integration exercise introduced in Module I to continue the through line and tie the learning back to the central themes of gender, generation, cultural integration and risk-taking.
We also evaluated the module to make sure we hit the mark with the participants, as part of a larger program-evaluation initiative that is tied into helping the faculty team balance the needs of funders with the needs of the participants and community. I anticipate the evaluations to dip in numeric score over time, as we develop a critical eye in the participants and shift them from "happy recipients of yet another training" (and the obligatory meal and breaks) to citizens who are capable, willing and effective at evaluating the work of others. Lofty goals to be sure, but think of it as the little toe in the footprint I am hoping to leave behind!
THe flow for a central exercise - that more or less worked...
September 7, 2012 Citizen's Rights of Access to Public Information II | The continuation of this program was both a challenge and a success. Challenging because of the range of ages contained within group. And a success because we continue to make small improvements in discipline, focus and engagement as we try out alternative training techniques.
One participant we couldn't get through to...however hard we tried...
Not bad for 21 days of work...
I sold house, car and most of my furniture to move to the small town of Ocotal in Las Segovias on the Honduras/ Nicaragua border.