When I first got to site about two years ago, my school said that their main need was a water pump. They thought that it would be a good idea to use profits from an income-generating craft project to make the pump happen. They were right. In July, my school got its water pump. They worked hard but they didn’t attain success on their own. Peace Corps volunteers, staff and their friends and families bought lots of jewelry to help make the craft project and water pump a success and a reality. I am forever grateful for their support. I’ve compiled a list of things that helped me and my school to have a successful international development and/or secondary project:
-Respect the culture. Respect and accept the Basotho culture as much as possible, even if you don’t agree with it. Time, for example, stressed me out but I came to accept that meetings would never start on time. Also, I’d push my school to work on grant applications at least three months before the deadlines so we wouldn’t miss out on good opportunities. Work little by little, one step at a time, and respect the culture.
-Let your counterparts have ownership of the project. Simply put, let go. This will be hard to do but you must let your counterparts do most of the work with you and Peace Corps’ guidance. This is a great way to create sustainability for any secondary project. Everyone has something to contribute and focus on people’s strengths. And help people help themselves. Guide them, and then back off.
-Find a healthy balance of communication. Initially, my American assertive aggression didn’t always mix well with the Basotho’s passive aggression. To solve this problem, I’d discuss sensitive matters with my principal before staff meetings and afterward, let her say it to staff in a way that wouldn’t offend them.
-Learn to work around difficult people. People aren’t always receptive to change, and they won’t always fall at your feet neither. You’ll want to kill the haters (read: psychopaths) at first, but then you’ll learn to just work around them. Haters are going to hate but let them hate and let your work speak for itself. Forgive them and continue to do the work.
-Put energy in all of the right places. Your counterparts will feed off of your energy, whether it is negative or positive. Check your attitude and emotions. Feeling down? Go put all of that negative energy into a grant application. Or a business plan. Or a Facebook page. And see how far your project will flourish.
-Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to Peace Corps, those books in the Maseru VRC, the Basotho and other volunteers if you have questions. Learn as much as you can. Research. Read. Ask questions. Utilize all of your resources.
-Know your role as a teacher or youth advocate. That comes first. Your project shouldn’t interfere with your primary duties.
-Engage the kids! Utilize the skills and talents of the children as much as possible, especially if you want to maintain and sustain your project. They’ll be excited to help in any way so incorporate them into the project as much as possible. This also creates sustainability.
-Know your intent. Know exactly why you are doing the project. Really think about it. Is it for you, the children or the community? You’ll come back to this when days get tough. And this will determine how much commitment and support you get from your counterparts.
-Have a sense of humor. Sometimes things will happen and all you can do is just laugh!
-Don’t compete with other volunteers. Help each other! Bounce ideas off of one another. Your volunteers will be your strongest support system.
-Have a life outside of your project. It’s important and healthy to have other interests and hobbies outside of your secondary project so you don’t go insane.
-Focus on small victories! It’s OK if your project doesn’t work out because there’s a myriad of factors that go into project success. Just focus on other things. You can make an impact in so many other, smaller ways. Tutor. Teach ESL classes. Hold art classes. You don’t know who you’re impacting just by being here. So don’t be so hard on yourself. Do your thing! You can make an impact in smaller ways through smaller projects.
-Have fun. Take advantage of all of this creative control and freedom that you’ll likely have while working on your secondary project.
-Be thankful for the opportunity! Gratitude is always the best attitude so be grateful for this unique opportunity to serve people and make a difference.
-Flourish in the dysfunction. You will have to function in dysfunction and flourish. This is a very difficult thing to do but a very important life skill that will always stick with you.
-Be transparent. Be honest with people. No one likes a liar. Or a thief. Or a phony.
-If all else fails, listen to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Yeah, it’s cheesy but who cares. This song got me through some rough days.
The truth is that working on this project was one of the toughest parts of my service because of cultural differences, money issues and haters (read: psychopaths.) Still, the school and I soldiered on to success and the rewards have been very fruitful. There are many factors that go into having a successful international development/secondary project and hopefully, some of these tips will help you.