Victor is a Participatory Planning and Monitoring Adviser from Kenya, currently working with the Centro de Desenvolvimento Comunitário (Community Development Centre) in Baucau district, Timor-Leste.
What is your work background?
I worked as a Volunteer with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in the Philippines and then in Papua New Guinea in post conflict areas. My area of specialisation is in financial management and banking. However, during my overseas postings with VSO I acquired additional skills in peace building, conflict resolution and proposal writing work as part of VSO volunteer personal development.
What inspired you to become a development worker with Progressio?
I see development work as service above self in the sense that one leaves the comfort of her/ his home country to go to the furthest and remotest corners of the world to work with and among the poor, marginalised and quite often the disadvantaged communities. with the hope and belief that during the brief stay one may bring about the much desired positive change, albeit, in a small way.
This may be achieved through creating awareness about and around issues that affect their lives, and in doing so improve their quality of life in the long run.
In a way, it is a sacrifice and a rewarding experience because it gives the unique opportunity to see how others make a living as a community, or a country for that matter.
What made the biggest impact on you on your arrival in Timor-Leste?
I saw a country that was struggling to come to terms with itself after years of foreign occupation. This was evident from the old burnt buildings that stood among the new modern buildings that were coming up along the dusty narrow streets. For some unexplained reasons, best known to the government, the old buildings have not been brought down. I was tempted to think that these relics from the past have been left standing as a grim reminder to the citizens and visitors alike, of the bitter struggle that Timorese had put up against the occupying Indonesian military and close to 500 years of Portuguese colonisation.
Against this background I expected that there would be so much insecurity, lawlessness and general indiscipline but quite to the contrary I have come to find Timor-Leste to be a very peaceful country. As a foreigner I have not been harassed in the little town where I work. The crime rates are very low, if not non-existent. I have never been attacked in the streets nor been subjected to any form of abuse although there is high level of unemployment, which would be a recipe for high crime rates, especially among the youth.
The country has just concluded presidential elections a month ago and there was a very peaceful handover of power. They are now preparing for parliamentary elections in June 2012 and going by the trend just witnessed, I believe that the same trend will continue.
The people here are very laid back and are comfortable to live as they did before. This is particularly true with the rural folk. The government has made great efforts in improving living standards of the people through provision of free medical services at district hospitals, free electricity in rural areas and encourages parents to send children to school.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy my role as a facilitator and a link pin between the local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), government and the few private sector organisations working in the district. However it is a challenge because I work in an environment where there has been suspicion between the government and CSOs in areas of monitoring of government projects and development agenda.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
There have been some exciting moments as well as times of anxiety, but I wish to say that the most exciting moment was when we embarked on rural community outreach, wherein we started conducting more of our trainings and activities in the rural villages.
Four village communities within the district of Baucau were selected to participate in a three-day workshop on human rights and gender equality. Specifically the workshops targeted children’s rights, the importance of education, domestic violence against women and communities right to participate in the development process. Members of the Baucau Human Rights Watch, working alongside community police and village chiefs, delivered the workshops.
The attendance improved considerably compared to the days when we conducted trainings in towns and municipalities. The participants, especially women, had more time to attend to domestic chores and participate in our trainings in the village settings.
And the biggest lesson?
The biggest lesson learnt is that it is more effective as strategy for reaching more people and generating higher attendance and participation levels from villagers when workshops are held closer to home. Community members, especially parents, are far more likely to attend workshops in their villages, as they are able to return home to their families at the end of each session.
What is the biggest change you have witnessed since starting your placement?
The relations between the government departments in the district and local NGOs have improved considerably but there is still room for improvement in this regard. The government has become more open to the NGOs and they have been invited to participate in activities organised by the government for example members of local NGOs were accredited as observers in the recently concluded presidential elections.
What is the biggest development challenge facing the country where you are working and/or the area in which you are working?
The biggest challenge is to work alongside the national NGO forum of Timor-Leste in building the capacity of the local district based member organisations and District Networks in addressing citizen participation in local and national decision making process, and give voice to the voiceless.
What strikes you most about Progressio’s development worker model?
The development worker is heavily anchored on partnership and is is seen as an agent of change with relevant skills and experience to support local counterparts on how to go about their advocacy work.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
I think to be a development worker one needs to be humble, patient and encourage teamwork. I say so because it takes time and understanding of community dynamics for any meaningful development to take place. Additionally, a development worker has to develop rapport with the various stakeholders in his work including government officials, religious leaders and community opinion leaders in order to forge ahead.
A development worker is an adviser and therefore s/he can only encourage, guide the process but leave the final decision to the community but at the same time (s/he) has to work within Progressio’s development model.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended?
I really look forward to going back home and devoting my time to community work in a rural setting. Definitely through working with Progressio, I have come to learn how to go about community organising and mobilisation, motivation and encouraging people to bring out the best in them and restore confidence in them.