As I have started working more, I should not have been surprised when I had my first work disappointment. My primary school was approved for the Books for Africa project to get a library at a significantly reduced cost, and they have to pay a small portion of the fees to make sure they are invested in the project. I had suggested we fundraise for the cost, but my head teacher assured me he could pay the fee out of the school fees. Well, as the deadline approached I went to the school repeatedly trying to get the check, and they did not have it. Since the deadline is not something I control, when the school missed the deadline they are no longer qualified for the project. It is disappointing for any number of reasons, but not at all unusual.
Any development work here, especially following the Peace Corps approach is sometimes frustratingly slow. Besides the differences culturally in definitions such as “on time” or “professional”, there are other barriers as well. The reason my school did not have money from school fees yet is because the government, which now covers fees for grades 1-6, had not yet paid the schools. For the first couple weeks of the term there was no electricity in the school. Obviously, paying teachers salaries takes priority over creating a library.
While this is a problem, there is an underlying problem I noticed the day before the check was due. When I explained, for the umpteenth time, that if the check were late there would be no books, my head teacher seemed slightly skeptical if that would hold true. There is little accountability from some development organizations so it is not entirely surprising our deadline seemed flexible. Secondly, the community having to put in any effort to receive aid is rare, especially in Swaziland. That is not to say they do not need or deserve the assistance, but rather they rarely have to work for it. My head teacher asked me why the US government could not just pay the fee for them when I said we would not have a library this year. While I was annoyed because I had explained repeatedly it’s not so much about the money as making sure the community is committed to the project; I also understand where they are coming from. When other organizations will give away assistance for free, there is little incentive to work with an organization that requires buy-in for the same or similar services.
While I firmly believe in Peace Corps’ approach to development; that combined with a legacy of other organizations in the community can make it much harder to do my job. I was disappointed the project I was most excited for is not going to happen, and sometimes it makes it very hard to feel accomplished. During training the medical unit showed us a chart of the average PCV’s emotions during service. We are currently in a low period according to the chart, and a lot of my friends’ texts, and it is easy to see why. Now that we are starting to do real work we are also starting to see real failures.
I thought I’d post a random picture of me and my friends hiking since my project didn’t work out!