HELPING PEOPLE HELP THEMSELVES
By Fr. Gerald Curry, S.F.M.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is co-financing projects being coordinated by Scarboro missionaries in Panama, the Dominican Republic and in Ecuador. In October of last year CIDA Program Officer Carmina Matton accompanied me on a visit to Panama and the Dominican Republic. Carmina is CIDA's representative to a number of Canadian NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and Scarboro Missions is one of them. When Scarboro applied to CIDA for financial help for the projects, Carmina helped us to prepare the proposals. It became Carmina's task, once the project review committee accepted the projects, to follow them through to completion. She will ensure that project objectives are achieved and that money granted by CIDA is properly spent and accounted for.
On these visits Carmina would familiarize herself with the projects, assessing the degree to which they meet CIDA's basic purpose and expectations, and clarifying these expectations with the local people involved. She would also visit the Canadian embassies in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic to keep them informed of development projects being funded by Canada in their areas.
My task as Scarboro Missions. representative was to monitor the projects and to facilitate Carmina's visit, helping her to fulfill the task she set out to do.
Since 1996, CIDA has contributed to the Interamerican Cooperative Institute (ICI) in Panama, a centre dedicated to the development of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. ICI was founded in 1964 by Scarboro missionary Fr. Harvey Steele to train people in the skills needed to establish cooperatives and credit unions. The motivation which began ICI continues today: to provide leadership training to men and women from poor communities, "to assist them to recognize and understand their common problems and how to look for solutions through communal action". The educational programme includes courses on marketing, social analysis, women's issues, to name a few.
People who study at ICI learn skills which they then pass on to the organizations which sent them. These organizations, based in countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, share one characteristic they are all committed to working with the poorest of the poor in their local communities.
We had planned our visit to ICI to coincide with its intensive three-week marketing course. We were able to observe first hand the class activities and long hours of work put in by 50 students from 15 countries from as far away as Argentina and Bolivia in the south to Haiti and Belize in the north.
We met for many hours with the administrative director of the centre, Porforia Crespo, and the centre's educational director, Oscar Munoz. Carmina, fluent in Spanish, was able to get a good grasp of the centre and the way it carried out its purpose.
Carmina was impressed by the expertise and dedication of the staff and the diligence of the students. She voiced her amazement that classes often continued until nine at night even after a full day of study.
The Dominican Republic
From Panama we flew to the Dominican Republic to visit projects being coordinated by the Association for the Development of San José Ocoa. All of these projects were what CIDA terms "Human Resource Development". Over a three-year period the projects will include the building of three irrigation systems, six aqueducts, and close to 200 latrines.
With Scarboro missionary Fr. Lou Quinn serving as Executive Director, the Association is involved with health and education in the town of San José Ocoa and the surrounding mountain villages, giving the people the capacity to improve and maintain a better standard of living.
At the headquarters of the Association, located in the town itself, Carmina met with those coordinating the work of health and education, the development of women, the care of the environment and the culture of the people. Carmina stressed the importance of basing the planning and implementation of the projects with an eye on expected results, and of establishing ways to measure the change that took place within the community as a result of the projects.
While in Ocoa we visited the site of an aqueduct, and a family gave us a look at one of the latrines that were recently built. As well, early one morning, we embarked on a 45-minute journey into the mountains overlooking Ocoa; a journey which tested Fr. Quinn's driving skills and the resilience of his little four-wheel-drive truck. There we joined children from a nearby school (also built by the Association) in the planting of 1000 saplings as part of the community's reforestation efforts. This gave us a hands-on experience in the work of development.
In her follow-up report to CIDA Carmina wrote of the Association's work on women's issues, on the environment, and in addressing the needs of the poorest segment of the population in an area characterized by endemic poverty. She suggested that the Association institute a formal evaluation of its many programmes and that it carry out this evaluation every year with a special emphasis on women and the environment.
Both in the Dominican Republic and in Panama we had spent three days observing, questioning, learning. Everyone cooperated with us and we were given the royal treatment. Carmina ended her report by recommending that CIDA continue to fund both the institute in Panama and the community development association in the Dominican Republic.