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Feeling the pressure

I’ve been meaning to update my blog for the past week.  But work has kept me very busy.  The Monitoring & Evaluation unit at my organization is quite small.  Two to be exact:  myself and *Roxy.   And it’s our busiest time of year – when all of the projects come up for evaluation.

NGOs, particularly smaller organizations, rarely have the necessary funds to support their M&E depts.   I’m still trying to determine if this is because proposal writers overlook the costs of M&E when requesting funding, or if donors shy away from allocating funds for the M&E of projects.

In any case, donors place a lot of emphasis on evaluations, especially when it comes to making decisions about renewing project funding. So, they are pretty important – yet under-resourced…a mystery…

Anyway, before I arrived, Roxy was alone in M&E.   And she’s done a great job (with very limited resources) to keep a handle on things.    But she’s happy to have some help and I’m getting the opportunity to work in partnership with her on M&E activities.

So, what have I been up to?

In terms of work, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks designing the tools we’ll need to gather information on a fairly complex mitigation project.  We need this information to write a report on the successes, failures and lessons learned of the project.

After a lot of research and brain-storming with colleagues – we’ve settled on a mix of interviews with stakeholders, focus groups, community meetings and video documentary.  I’m really excited about that last part.   Video as a tool to monitor and evaluate projects is a growing trend and let’s face it – tons of fun.

This Thursday kicks off a six week monitoring and evaluation bonanza – I’ll be hitting six districts of the GBAO!  That’s a lot of driving to very remote and beautiful villages to visit projects.   AND, I get to go to Murgab!  Murgab is home to Kyrgyz-speaking people (originally from Kyrgyzstan).   They traditionally live in Yurts and are nomadic part of the year.

And….drum roll please……I get to cross the river into Afghanistan to monitor a couple of projects!   My obsession with crossing the river has been clearly documented in this blog and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

I’ve got a lot more to update you on but in the meantime, check out: http://harryrud.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/election-fever/ for an interesting post on the election in Afghanistan.  Harry is an aid worker living and working there – he’s a great writer and very entertaining -well worth the read.

I’ll update soon with more news!


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I’ve spent the past month at boot camp.  30 days of intensive training on inter-cultural relations, conflict management, participatory development,  capacity building, project management –  the list goes on.   It was nice to finally gain some concrete skills for working in the field and spending time with colleagues with similar interests.     But, the best part of the training sessions were the guest lectures.

To hear the personal stories of people who have spent their lives working in this field was incredibly inspiring.    No 30-day boot camp, no formal education on development, no guide books – just a backpack, a map and a plane ticket and off they went. Imagine Africa, South East Asia, India in the 60s, 70s, 80s.    Before Internet, CIA country reports, MEC.   The first international development workers – given a destination and a goal and that’s about it.   What an adventure – it makes what I’m about to embark on seem tame and totally manageable in comparison.

I have to admit, I was riveted while they recounted their adventures – we all were.  A tiny glimpse into our futures.  And they didn’t sugar-coat their experiences. They spoke of the hardships of working in this field, the impact on personal relationships, the frustration of dealing with bureaucracies and the problems with development.    They spoke of professional failures and personal mistakes. The isolation of living abroad and the stress of working in conflict and post-conflict zones.  The suffereing, the pain, the misery.  And the hope.

Perhaps one of the most interesting conversations was one regarding the role of  younger aid workers just starting out their careers.  The trend of sending Westerners to developing countries to “do development” is shifting.  NGOs are employing locals with knowledge of the context and membership in the communities.   It’s an essential shift and one that should be strongly supported.   But it raises questions for the next generation of aid workers and our role in this field.  I think part of my journey will be figuring out what my role will/can be.

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