My villages: rural and lots of room for improvement

Am leaving shortly for 12 days in Pretoria, where Peace Corps HQ is, for “IST,” or in-service training that always happens after a training group’s first 90 days, after PST — pre-service training. We are supposed to have spent the 90 days conducting a “community needs assessment,” getting to know our communities, our neighbors, what the needs are, settling in, interviewing people, etc. PC calls it the “community integration period,” while cynical volunteers call it “lockdown,” since you’re supposed to remain in your village, except for occasional trips to one’s “shopping town” for supplies.
My CNA is 15 pages long, typed, single spaced. I have no idea how it will compare to those of my fellow volunteers. My supervisor, Nonhlanhla, declared it “brilliant” when I had her read it, but I doubt it’s brilliant! Being a writer I have pretty high standards. It’s a decent job but, but not brilliant!
A lot of the information in my report comes from the municipality’s own 5-year (2012-2016) planning document. The municipality is completely rural, with no cities or townships, and has 32 identified villages, as well as six “traditional tribal authorities.” It is honest in its assessment: “The municipality, like others in the country, is faced with a variety of challenges, including inadequate access to basic services, inadequate transport system, high levels of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and insufficient resources for infrastructure development.” It identifies education and health, economic development, and infrastructure development and basic service delivery as its highest priorities for the next 5 years.
The municipality has 140,700 people — roughly the same population as my home town, Eugene, OR — and about 140,500 of those are black; 200 are “colored,” which is not a bad term here (it refers to those who are of Indian descent), and a few whites, none of whom, but me, seem to live in my collection of 20 or so villages. The rest are spread out, it would appear, on the distant side of the municipality.
Other issues, identified at the district level (a bunch of municipalities make up a district), are orphans and vulnerable children, youth and children in trouble with the law, “youth exposed to trauma,” abused women and children, substance abuse, “widows, divorced and disabled rural women,” the indigent and the homeless, “granny- and child-headed households,” and “unskilled, unemployed and retrenched youth, including school dropouts, ex-combatants and ex-prisoners.” The local area is expected to take these issues into account as well, along with provincial issues identified, in its planning. Developing decent housing for people — human settlement is the official term — is also a priority. Hmm. Sounds to me like the issues are similar to those in the U.S., including Lane County, Oregon, though it may be worse here.
Regarding health, the local government says: “Primary health care remains one of our focused areas. . . . We managed with the assistance of various stakeholders . . . to develop 5 clinics and 22 mobile clinics,” but more are needed. The main clinic has 6,000 visits a month, about 225 per day. One local program manager of an NGO that I interviewed made a direct connection between the high HIV rate and unemployment: “Lack of jobs means that people are free to have sex every day and there are many more opportunities to practice unsafe sex, which leads to a higher rate.” I’ve been unable to tie down an official unemployment rate, but it’s variously estimated at 50-89%. The HIV rate in the most significant demographic, adults aged 18-40, approaches 35+%.
Here’s some of my own editorializing for the report (which is encouraged): “_______, like many places in South Africa, has a foot in two worlds: many citizens live modestly, in many ways not unlike ancestors from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, but also with a keen sense of modern life in the 21st century. A good example: The proportion of households that had a cellphone increased from 14.5% in 2001 to 66.4% in 2007, yet only 12 households had access to the Internet from their homes,” and there still many people who don’t have decent access to water or sanitation.
Many people interviewed said better water delivery systems were a high priority. Most villages have wells with pumps on the surface for people to collect water, but other villages still have water delivered by tanker trucks, which at times don’t show up, leaving people with no water. It’s also a problem that many people still cook over a wood stove, even if they have electricity, because they can’t afford to use electricity to cook. Wood burning is also the main way people heat their homes, which is unhealthy, especially on top of the cooking. An extraordinary amount of energy is expended by residents acquiring wood for cooking and warmth, and getting water for cooking, drinking, cleaning and bathing. There are still thousands of households “without access to potable water,” or 10% of the population. (The report said portable water, but I presume that was a typo!) Poor sanitation services is another significant problem, in that 14.5% of households have no toilets at all, let alone a decent disposal system.
Also worthy of mention is an ambitious provincial program, that operates at its best at the local level, called Sukuma Sahke (“working together”). The program tasks local municipalities — there are 51 in KwaZulu-Natal — with identifying individuals and families in their jurisdictions who need help, then arranging for that help to be provided, either locally or by referral to provincial or national social programs. There are 3.5 million KZN residents who live below the poverty level and could potentially benefit from this program.
What I’ve presented here is just a smattering of the information and statistics I found in my research for writing my community needs assessment, but offers a realistic view of the norm in many parts of Africa. I look forward to using this information to decide with my program what my projects will be.
And a final note: you may have noticed that nowhere in this blog entry did I mention the name of my “local municipality,” or any of the villages it contains. This is keeping with Peace Corps’ request that we not advertise our precise locations for safety and security reasons. But if you just can’t stand not knowing, feel free to send me an email and I will happily identify my precise location!

About GaryC

I'm a retired mental health worker, a returned Peace Corps volunteer (South Africa, 2012-2013), and a writer. I live in Eugene, Oregon with the world's best dog, Carly. My card describes me also as "Jack-of-few-Trades, Master of Some", non-profit supporter, friend, grandpa and world traveler.
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2 Responses to My villages: rural and lots of room for improvement

  1. Teri says:

    Gary, do you think the Ecocina (from StoveTeam International) would be a viable option there? Their model is to build stoves on site from local resources/materials, employing local labor. Considering all the ‘needs’ that need tending, this is but a drop in the bucket. However, it addresses several issues you raised; open wood cooking and unemployment.

    • GaryC says:

      Good point, Teri. I’m ahead of you. I emailed Stove Team a couple of days ago and am still waiting to hear from them. Also visited Aprovecho’s website to check out the possibilities. Two of the top makers of efficient stoves for use in developing countries located right there in the Eugene area. What are the odds?

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