Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is the cost of education? - Post 6

In working through our programs and finding university resources we have come across the shadows of classic economic obstacles. Resources are limited. Always. Be your resources physical, things like money or paper, or intangible; time, drive, the ability to go against cultural norms and create something different.        
I saw layers of the educational system today, layers that describe these limitations beautifully. This morning we had a meeting at Wits University fall through, and though the professor was kind and apologetic, it signaled how important this project stands in her daily life and the progression of their university programs. Next we met with a man who helps bridge learning gaps in children and in adults around the community. He was passionate, but reserved. Our project coordinator and the blunt nature of our conversation easily intimidated him. Needless to say, he left quite quickly, wanting much more from us than we from him. Leaving the center and our hopes for this university program deflated.
The third interaction was one that I hadn’t set up, but ended up being the most influential on my day, and thus on this post. We’ll frame it like a joke.

A girl walks into the center
Segero says “hey, why the long face?”
She responds “I just came from school, have you seen Matome? I am here to talk about my community service project”
“Hahaha no, you cannot do it here, you have come too late.”

Funny huh?

The sad truth is that today I was shown how little education is regarded and how much of an uphill battle it is for children to support themselves and create their own drive to pull themselves out of the communities from which they have been brought up. This girl, through the approximately 2 minute conversation I had with her, told me that she had run to the center after school today (bear in mind that most kids are out on holiday and that she is studying during hers so that she can do well on her Matric- the exams to get into university and really the rest of your life) in order to set up her community service project she is doing for an outside organization. She told me that she wants to go to university, but like any senior in high school, isn’t sure in what. The reaction from the center to this girl was flippant and uncaring; from a center whose role is to help the community and to build up child empowerment.

Help is useless without resource and the resources we have—they’re less than impressive.

What's your problem? - Post 5

So this week, I have realized that my words are not nearly as impressive as those of the others. Thus, here are the stories of two 15-year olds and a 17-year-old girl from our center when I asked them what the biggest problem in their communities were.

“My community has a lot of negative issues, teenage pregnancy, drug and substance abuse, actually all sorts of abuse, unemployment as well as police being corrupt (taking bribes), but, I will discuss only one issue, which is drug abuse. Drugs are killing my community little by little. The worst thing is that people who sell drugs are not using them and they also sell these drugs to scholars. The painful thing is that these drug lords do not get arrested because of desperate police officers who allow bribery. Many (the majority) of people in my community are uneducated, so they cannot get jobs, so in order for them to live they sell drugs. I, as an individual, think that this problem of drug selling is caused by unemployment/poverty. Individuals who use drugs do not work so in order to get drugs they then steal from their neighbors or start mugging people. This hurts because each and every day I find a parent to is really worried about his/her kid. The most painful part is that parents really struggle to meet our needs as children and yet the youth in my community are letting all the bad things influence them. Mob justice is sometimes caused by people who steal for drugs. Parents start neglecting their own children. Most people think males are the ones who abuse drugs but in my community even females do. Out parents do not use drugs but alcohol seems to control them.”

“I am first going to describe what a drug is and where it comes from. A drug is a substance used in medicine and a drug is also a substance taken because it affects the senses or the mind (e.g. a narcotic or stimulant especially one causing addiction such as heroin or cocaine). Where a drug comes from: a drug comes from medicine (ARVs) and ARVs are used to treat HIV and AIDs, but most people use ARVs for making drugs and mostly in our community people use it to get high while those infected with HIV and AIDs use it to get well. In our community drugs are getting worse and worse because even the young children go on drugs now. [The issue with] drugs that makes me feel very bad is that everyone must not smoke drugs because drugs are not there for drugs, they are there for sick people. The causes they have on an individual are making it so people must steal from their own homes and are starting to become gangsters and that is very bad. It is very important not to use drugs because drugs change your life badly and some people don’t change they always want to be on drugs. When you want to be on drugs your future will be messed up and everyone in your community will talk about you and they will say that girl was a good girl but now she is on drugs and messing up herself. So if you do drugs you must know you are messing up your future and for this future you need to put everything in in order to go far in life. Never give up on life because life will never give up on you. Hugs not drugs.”

“ I live in an informal settlement that is known as Kliptown. I usually see a lot of bad or negative things that happen in my community. Drugs have become one of the biggest problems in my community. Everyone uses drugs, even young children. Therefore, I feel very insecure and unsafe in my community because these people that use drugs, I see them every day. Sometimes I even see them during the process of using drugs, I end up thinking that they might kill or rape me because they will not be thinking straight at the moment. I think it is important to change this negative impact in my community because it is important to change this negative impact in my community because it is affecting everyone including teenagers. Teenagers end up using drugs because they think it is a good idea to do. It had a huge impact on teenagers because they drop out of school because they cannot understand or focus in class. Drugs damage their brains. Victims cannot live without drugs so they steal kill or rob people to get money. Therefore, we will end up living in fear because of these people. The worst thing is that there are drug dealers in my community. Drugs will make an individual suffer and become a drug addict. It will make our crime rate increase.”

Take that in.
Now, we often talk about the problems in our lives, the problems in our communities, the problems in our world. As international workers, as economists, as academics we love to generalize about problems, their origins, and their solutions. The world is a math problem that is ours to solve. But what happens when you throw substances into the mix that destroy the foundations of moral action? What happens when we are dealing with people who are no longer acting as people and are throwing variables that I have never dealt with into the mix?

We have those who know them, solve them. Meaning we have to empower, support and accept the shortcomings of those who live in these areas to have them create solutions. I, as an outsider can do very little in order to solve a problem I know very little about. This goes for Africa, this goes for North America. The way to solve problems is to share their story and then empower that story to create progress for a better future. How is that done? I have no idea, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Consulting - The Proexpansion Project

Consulting - The Proexpansion Project

Consulting for field partner organizations serves as a main component of the Fellowship. Fellows are teamed up (2-3 fellows per team) and magically matched with an organization in the Emzingo network. During the duration of the Fellowship, fellows work with field partners in understanding problems and crafting  custom solutions. This is an approach used by many business schools, including Anderson School of Management at UNM, called service learning. Fellows are given real-world opportunities to provide service to organizations by using skills and applying knowledge to solve problems. Meanwhile, fellows are also learning new skills and knowledge as they adapt for new contexts and the ill-structured nature of the problems. It is a win-win situation for organizations and students alike.

Our field partner
Proexpansion is a consulting firm that promotes market initiatives to generate economic prosperity and well-being for Peruvian citizens. They consult for a range of stakeholders regarding a wide range of issues and are a source of relevant information for creating a better planet.  In 2014, Proexpansion completed an assessment of waste in Peru with the following findings:
       7 million tons of waste is produced each year in Peru
       50% of waste is in informal landfills and not treated properly
       20% of waste is processed in formal landfills
       2% of waste is recycled
       110% growth in recycling sector
These statistics alarmed Proexpansion and awoke an interest in generating solutions in order to help improve the waste management system in Peru. Proexpansion partnered with Emzingo Fellows to identify top waste management business models that they can set in motion with stakeholders in Peru.  My team of Fellows are responsible for the following deliverables during the 2015 Peru Fellowship:

1.     Who is doing what in waste management around the world?
      Develop benchmark study of successful waste management business models around the world.

2.     What is feasible in Peru?
Analyze 3-5 business models that would be appropriate for the context.

3.     Who are the stakeholders that should be approached?
Identify potential stakeholders that could be interested in exploring opportunities (ie. Investors, companies, municipalities, NGOs, citizens)

Let the journey through the wild world of waste management begin!

Audriana Stark

2015 Peru Emzingo Fellow

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What is ‘volunteerism’ and is it useful? - Post 4

Disclaimer: this question doesn’t have an answer.

At Masibambisane volunteer organizations come in and out. This, while providing outside support and resources for the center also creates massive instability. With organizations coming in and out constantly, the kids in the center are reminded that relationships are temporary, and that attachment can be extremely harmful. Bear in mind this is a center for orphans and vulnerable children. Kids who already have a very unstable environment at home and who are constantly reminded of the instability of their world. This should not be resounded in the place they go to get away from this turmoil.
Across the globe, in most people, volunteerism is seen as something helpful. If a group were going to hurt, why would they have traveled all this way? No person tries to do harm when signing up to volunteer, that’s against the point. Yet, the story of Masibambisane is not unique. Centers around the world are starving for funding and for resources and are willing to say ‘yes’ to anyone who wants to provide that; often at the harm of the people whom they are trying to help.
This echoes an “assets based” support framework. This assets based approach has been repeated to us as necessary and helpful in almost every training session we have had so far. Assets based support encompasses support with the foundation of the resources that the center (or program) already has. This is easier said than done though. NGOs are scraping by to serve the needs of their populations. Needs that often cannot be privatized or profitable, both structurally and morally.

So social entrepreneurship and volunteerism sit between the proverbial rock and hard place. While blind help is often harmful, welfare programs are not strong enough to support themselves due to the nature of welfare programs. All we can do is try to share information, and to remember that as well intentioned our actions are, they are often harmful in unforeseen ways.

Where am I most comfortable? - Post 3

Where am I most comfortable?

Me and my partner (Kiera), are working at an early childhood and adolescent development center called Masibambisane (Masi). Masi is a medium sized establishment in Eldorado Park in the heart of Soweto, Johannesburg. Community plays a huge role in not only geographic space but also how people identify themselves in Johannesburg. Our first week at Masi was really rough. Being on a pilot progect in a community center is never easy. People at the center know how things are run and are very proud of what they have built, and for good reason. Masibambisane sees about 150 kids ranging from 3 to 21 years old every day. They provide them with at least one meal and the support to go back to families which are often very broken and facing harsh poverty, extreme unemployment, high rates of HIV and AIDS and rampant domestic violence. Masi also visits the homes of children to make sure that their home life is acceptable. Or that’s what the pamphlet says.
On the inside, Masibambisane is struggling to stay afloat. With waning funding opportunities, very temporary staff and low preforming students they do what they can. So here come two American girls, no older than most of the volunteers nor some of the students attending the center, who have been advertised by a large company to change how they run for the better; to drastically improve how they preform day to day.
This is a lot of pressure, and in addition to the pressure, it is not well viewed by the staff nor the administrators of the center. Kiera and I step in to an entirely new environment where language barriers don’t stand nearly as high as cultural ones.
On Tuesday I spent the morning shadowing caregivers on home visits. Initially I felt very comfortable, cultural immersion is something I love and I couldn’t wait to see what was beyond the center walls. I was met with harsh looks, mutters, warnings from the caregivers to keep my head down due to the active violence and drug crime in the area. Needless to say I was slightly shaken. Not only for my own safety, but for the kids and for the volunteers who lived in the area. Returning to the center I had time to think and to mull over the things I had seen and experienced, and how I could use those to better understand the center.
On top of getting to know the community we got to know the hectic life at the center. That afternoon the staff was called into a meeting at 3:30, when all the kids are most active, and Kiera and I were sent in to supervise approximately 100 kids from 5-21, most of whom spoke primarily Afrikaans or African languages. When bringing this up with our supervisor later, we were reprimanded for tattling and told not to bring it up again.

It takes a lot to shake me out of my comfort zone. Maisbambisane did an excellent job in two days. And although there were times that I felt powerless and that I had ended up in the wrong place, they were echoed by a vigor to help and to better understand the history, and the difficulties that these people face each and every day. While I get to go back to a warm bath and an electric blanket, the kids and the volunteers at Masi live within something that was very difficult for me to handle for a day. Through this week’s uncomfort, I am growing into an atmosphere and into a community that I hope more than anything I can bring something beneficial to.