For my second week of rotations in the Mbola Millennium Village, I was with the Community Development and Education Team. I was particularly interested to see the activities and challenges in this sector due to my past work with both educational development NGO’s as well as with community organizing. The way the project engages the local government and village structures, as well as what it does to bolster up the educational systems means a lot in terms of sustainability and community acceptance of MVP initiatives.
We were immediately drawn into the breaking news of the Mbola village cluster, when during our second week working with MVP a school teacher living in staff housing was robbed of his new motor bike. The problems of attracting quality professionals to rural districts is consistent around the globe; by building staff housing for both schools and dispensaries, MVP is providing an incentive for teachers and nurses to work in under served areas. It is no surprise that the best school in the district (Ulimakafu Primary School) is the one with a 35:1 student- teacher ratio, while the lagging schools see numbers that approach 100:1. Whether or not the teacher stays in Mbola is still to be determined, so we were interested to see how the community and the project would follow up on the incident.
Without any police force, rule of order is decided in the village through community meetings and the Village Councils. We were surprised that the project did not play a more active role in the village meeting where the robbery was discussed, thinking that perhaps the Coordinator would be more engaged in Village governance. The reason that the MVP team was at the meeting was because they were scheduled to talk to the villagers about contributing more maize to the school meals program. After this project announcement Village Council members asked the community to say who they thought was guilty of the robbery, the community was reluctant to do so because they were concerned for their own safety. We are unsure how the issue was resolved, since the meeting went on after the MVP team left. On one level I was expecting the project to be fully engaged with community structures, actively problem solving with Village Councils and school committees, while the reality of a more detached management makes sense in terms of the community successfully managing these systems themselves once the project leaves.
The entire incident made me realize that the importance of the Village Executive Officer (VEO). As we go through our rounds, Coordinators often stop first to tell the VEO where we are going and the activities that we are doing. Frustrations have come across from both the project and village government s; VEOs emphasize the importance of better communication to their offices and Coordinators sensitize the community though various elected committees who are not required to go through the VEOs. Coordinators have been encouraging committees to go through village governments for their activities and the project tries to use established governing structures to get their messages across. Using a community meeting to discuss the shortage of maize for the school meals program this season is just one example of how project initiatives are being integrated.
It is hard to say whether or not the changes that MVP hopes to bring can be sustained without strong action from the village governments. If the community committees are engaged enough in taking ownership and leadership of initiatives with endorsement from the VEO, it seems like that would be enough. The challenges of attracting schools and nurses could also be overcome with strong incentives and support from the VEO’s, especially in terms of security. In the meantime the gap between local ownership and capacity building that needs to be bridged is still being overcome, one meeting at a time.