The last year has had many ups, and a few downs. And let me tell you sometimes a down spirals out of control and feels like a major failure. Sometimes you just have to let that go. Are my feelings hurt? Hell yes, I gave up two years of my life and put it on hold to come help make life a little better in a culture that is not my own. The last two weeks have been very rough. Why you wonder? Well maybe it is a cultural thing, or maybe it is just in my community but when things start to move forward almost always someone is angry over the chosen action plans.
Let us start at the beginning. When I first got to my site, I had a CASI to complete (Community And Sector Inventory). This is where/how I find out what my community has, who is in the community and what they actually need/desire/want. I base most of my work on what the community tells me. Originally I held meetings on Monday nights and very few people showed up. My supervisor wanted this to form into a community group. I pulled rank on him and said you cannot register this as a group or treat it as a group without the census of the group! At some point there was an influx of crime in the community and the meetings got seriously big due to the police attending the meetings. At this point the group decided to become a group. They banded together got signs with the police phone numbers posted all over the community, road signs were made and roads were named (that did not have names), a few community clean-up events happened and a grant was accepted for the building of two trash skips (dumpsters essentially). Wow this group is really moving things forward. They had agreed upon a constitution and they voted in an executive. Things have been moving along for several months, until the group went to register and a problem presented itself. The registrar stated that they would not/could not register a second group in the same geographical area that an already existing group is that can claim to land. The Farm Group that I am assigned to has that legal right for all of the area, according to the registrar. There is also a matter of a court case that does not directly involve a the farm group but someone collecting money for land under the guise they represented the farm group. (This is a major fraud case and a senior police woman and the previous SDC Parish manager were both arrested and face charges) (SDC=Social Development Committee)
The group was disappointed and then my supervisor did something that I advised him not to do. He suggested that for future funding we could umbrella under the Farm Group, which was steamrolled in a most negative manner. This created a huge dissention within the group. The idea of the group was to help unify the different segments of the community so it was not longer the Scheme and the original community or the farmland. There was much anger and I had to leave the meeting for safety reasons. I heard later that my supervisor made a decision to umbrella under the farm group and that concerned me as it was going to divide the group. I talked to some members and found that was not the case. The next week on a WhatsApp group chat my supervisor kept making the Farm Group look amazing, stating all the things they had done, which I am quite certain were more my supervisor than the actual group. I pause here to say that the Farm Group does have a small handful of dedicated people who work together and try hard to improve things on the farmland, but a few people cannot carry the entire load. This activity on the WhatsApp aggravated several people who then accused him of some political mischief or agenda. I finally had to remove myself from the executive WhatsApp group because it became rather negative and I felt I did not need to be involved.
The last meeting we had there was a great amount of anger and accusations. I decided that for the summer I would start a read-a-thon, a youth environmental club and another group member decided to host a family game night teaching parents and kids games that would help them improve their students numeracy and literacy abilities. These programs were presented to the community group as what was going on this summer. The group asked some questions about how things were going to happen, which since I just came up with the ideas, had not been ironed out. One of the executives got angry over the other WhatApp group and accused my supervisor of forcing a decision on the group. They felt that they were not consulted and that my supervisor decided for the entire group that they would support the programs. This was all presented at the meeting that this person and my supervisor did not attend. I responded with he only presented them and I was doing them anyway. The group can support the initiatives or not, I really just needed something to do this summer. She then went on to tell me that they were great ideas but I went about it the wrong way. Uhmmm, what the hell? I do not understand why she thought that it was not presented in the correct manner? I simply wanted the group to be aware of the programs I had decided to focus on over the summer so I had something to work on. The summer programs are to create an Environmental Youth Club which I had intended on rolling into the school program this fall, sadly none of the kids participating are in the Three Hills Primary School. There is also a reading competition, which I again wanted to roll into an ongoing school program and get the school kids to connect to the library to enter the Island-wide competition next April. Expanding the school garden is also on my summer to do list. And finally not even something that is my idea or that I am orchestrating is the family learning game nights. I just support the idea of helping parents learn fun ways to help their children with some of their learning struggles. I can only see positives in these programs but culturally maybe I am missing something. I am now being informed that people were not aware of the programs, which is incredible to me since they have been announced in 5 different mediums.
This last week there was an emergency meeting called and the entire executive but the two people, who are were not there and have been the hardest to understand working with, resigned. It seems the group wants to start over and re-elect an executive and try to re-register as a non-profit group. In all this the negativity on the WhatsApp is still going on. To top it all off some of the road signs have been maliciously torn down. One of the signs for the summer programs announcement was also ripped down. This is heartbreaking. I called Richard and told him I was ready to come home. I really wanted to give up. If the community does not want me to do anything, than why am I here? This is what it looks like to feel like a failure.
Lucky for my service and state of mind, I have the best partner around. He listened to me and then stated this is not like you. You need some time to just calm down. Do not make any rash decisions you will regret later. I told him the only thing that is keeping me here is the school garden and the adult literacy. These two projects show a great amount of pride and support. The summer programs, although sparsely attended, are showing some amazing results. We are seeing kids stay up late into the night reading books to get credit on the read-a-thon, we are seeing kids participating in the environment club and learning words like substrate, sterilization and drought resistance. We see children understanding basic scientific concepts, which is truly amazing. We are seeing community member and farmers working together to expanding the school gardens. We are also seeing men who could not read, starting to read and showing improved self-esteem. These are my wins. These are things I take great pride in.
My losses are those times that my feelings are really bruised and a few things that are destroyed possibly on purpose for unknown reasons. I know change is hard, but what blows my mind is the change is not asking for a behavior change other than to just work together. Why is it that people do not participate but when a decision is made they get upset about what is happening and how they were not involved in the decision? It is not like we hold the meetings in a private and require membership to attend. We invite anyone and everyone to attend. This constant destruction of things so that only you are benefitted is known as “bad mind” here. I am trying to understand what is being asked of me? What can I do to assist in creating a more united community? I do not design projects unless the community is backing it, but currently I am moving away from this idea, because too many times I get a resounding positive to move forward and then there is some serious backlash.
There are many good people who simply remain silent here and silence is essentially agreement with the prevailing voices. The thing I dislike the most about my service is that I am becoming very cynical and harboring hurt feelings. I do not like this about myself, which reflects back onto my perception of the community at large. My supervisor keeps telling me of his conspiracy theories and I guess those ideas have taken root in my heart because I am having issues trying to see positivity in the mired negativity. This is my own personal burden and it is no one else’s fault but my own. I thought I was stronger, but it appears I am not as strong as I thought I was. I wonder is it the same for all service? Does PC service tear you down to the bone just to see how much you can take? I cannot imagine life is easy anywhere where you are an outsider to a culture and I thought I was prepared for it, but it seems I was not.
My focus for the rest of my time here will be the children and the adult literacy and not community development. There was so much more potential for community development here, but I am exhausted and I can no longer bear another 3 hour meeting of brutal verbal abuse and accusations. I am stepping back now. I am untethering my feelings from community development and refocusing on those successes I do have. Children, adult literacy, and school gardens. For me to think that two years is enough time to accomplish any more than this is a reality check in progress. Those things are enough, they have to be, otherwise I can only see myself as a failure. And that is the hardest pill to swallow.