Posts Tagged ‘community development’

“Be Patient With Yourself”

February 16, 2009

This month I want to share with you not about the investment that I am working in but about myself and my personal experience in the first few months of the Fellowship.

Before flying to India I was part of many conversations in which the common theme was that in order to really make a positive social impact in the lives of the poor we need to slow down… Extend time lines, think in terms of processes not tasks, take into account the infrastructural limitations of the countries when designing a business plan, etc. All of these conversations, plus the many hours in the classrooms at LSE discussing the failures of development efforts in the last few decades, helped me prepare to transition to a work environment that would require a large quantity of patience. Patience with the external circumstances that would shape the way I worked. What I did not foresee was that I would need even a larger quantity of patience with myself and the impact that my personal transition would have on the work I was ready to do.

Find out why by watching my video.

CSI: Lahore!…well, kind of (Part 1)

February 1, 2008

In our new and fledgling community of 30 families, about 15 km outside of Lahore, we had our first ‘scandal’–referred to as such by our residents.

As I approached our site office at about 2pm, one of the elder employees and residents stopped me half way and said,

‘Last night was a terrible night for Khuda Ki Basti (the name of our development)…the entire community is quite shaken and have been up all night trying to make sense of the situation.’  Pointing to one of the residents sitting in front of the office…’He tried to poison his wife last night..he put something in her tea and she picked up on it early enough..and we have preserved the evidence…the wife is in the office, you have to deal with this now’.  Now I am thinking, ‘Oh My God, I didnt sign up for this!’

When I get into the office I greet the women and ask her the story.  She says she found a pill in her tea…and ran to so and so house who gave her immediate medical attention…and saved her life. 

So what pill was it….a tranquilizer…which is really bad, but really could not have killed her, especially if the pill was still intact (had not dissolved)…nevertheless, we took everything at face value at that stage.  But this is not the end…

A rumor had been spread within the community that the husband was abusing his daughter while the wife was at work…the wife is asked the question and she passively confirms it has happened in the past.  Now I am even more taken aback by the whole situation.  For now I ask her to leave the office and go home while we try to figure out what should be done. But that is not the end, either…

After she leaves, one of the employees tells me that this womens ‘character is not right’ and everyone in community knows this as well. In Pakistan, when someone says this womens ‘character is not right’, it either means she sleeps around or is a prostitute. 

Now, I am totally freaked out! Murder, child abuse, prostitution–all in one house!!  As I look out of the site office, there are several community members waiting to see what decision Saiban makes about the household–all are quite upset.  Some are saying our children are not safe if that man stays here, the women are saying we dont want a women like that in our community–essentially everyone wants us to expel them from the community.

Realizing that this problem is not going to be solved in one day, I asked the ‘accused’ family to leave the development for a period of one week, while we look into the matter AND upon returning, bring your elders with you (a Pak/islamic tradition)–because we do not really know the entire background and Saiban is in no position to make judgements.

The following is what I tried to explain to staff and residents: All residents of Saiban come here out of a need and are generally desperate.  Ills of society are rampant everywhere, not just here–they exist in your old neighborhoods and mine as well.  Saiban does not have a guage to check the moral uprightness of all individuals coming here–all residents are coming from within society, they are not coming from the heavens above.  So we have to deal with those problems accordingly and cannot be reactionary all the time.  Saiban will get ‘good’ residents and ‘bad’ residents and we have to manage.  It may very well be that ALL of your accusations are baseless and incorrect–but you have insisted on expelling them.  IF we are wrong and take such action, we will be answerable one day for this injustice.

It ‘seems’ the community accepted this explanation and have cooled down a bit.  During this process we have tried to ensure a message gets across to all: the above issues are very serious for all members in our community and will not be accepted by anyone. 

The fact that this got across to everyone early on is comforting for me, but am aware that this is only the beginning. So, now we wait for the family to bring their elders next week.  Thus far, based upon preliminary investigation, it seems that this was a domestic fight that got out of control, but we shall see next week…

The entire situation is difficult and am open to any comments, suggestions, feedback.

Eid Mubarak!!

December 21, 2007

The slaughter

Today was the start of one of the two ‘main’ holidays of muslims.  The first holiday is known as Eid ul Fitr, which marks the end of the month of fasting–Ramadan.  The second (that started today) is Eid ul Adha, which is centered around the pilgrimage of Hajj that happens every year in the holy city of Mecca.  The rites surrounding this holiday focus on the sacrifices and struggles that the prophet Abraham (known to all religions) made during his life time.  One of the main rites of this holiday is the sacrifcing of an animal (goat, sheep, cow, camel) as a reminder of one of the struggles that Abraham endured during his life.  Everyone that can afford to, must sacrifice an animal–and divide into three parts: one for the family, one for neighbors, and one for the poor.

 So, after the Islam 101 tutorial above, you must be wondering what I did today??

My wife and I picked up Wangari and set out to the Saiban community to spend the afternoon with them.  We had made arrangements to have a cow sacrificed there, and have the meat distributed amongst the 30 families living there.  Besides all the blood and guts, it was really an awesome experience…a day I will remember for a long time.

Two years ago, this 20 acre piece of land was a place where villagers used to congregate for yearly dog fights.  When I first took on this project, people (locals, relatives, government officials–just about everyone) told me that I had been screwed.  This place was a clear waste of time and no one would EVER move here.

Today, I entered into the home of Naveed Ahmad, a Saiban resident who works as a driver for a telecom company.  He insisted we have lunch with his family.  Now I am not a fan of liver(!!!), but somehow it tasted really good.  As we sat there, I began to reflect on where we started.  Naveed was one of the early residents (and is currently the block manager).  He has four children–two of his daughters are mentally challenged.  When he first came to Saiban, about 1 year ago, he told me he was fond of gardening–and would make the environment a priority.  One year later I am sitting in his home, where he has planted all types of fruits and vegetables, as well as fragrant flowers–I am in shock–he kept his word beyond my imagination.

 Just sitting there today amongst people who only dreamed of owning their own homes–now having them–and in a place that was a big joke for all of the onlookers—was a pretty good feeling!