A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit the PCI office in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. This was seriously a special treat for me. Of course, I work in international development, so I am always interested in what other organizations are doing - but there is definitely a handful of organizations, PCI being one of them, whose mission and goals line up with my view of development. Because of this, I really wanted to see PCI and how it works, and I especially wanted to see how they run their monitoring and evaluation, since that is what I've been doing down here for the past 7 months.
We went to a few communities around Huehuetenango (well, really far away, we drove for a few hours to get there), and the first day we visited a few schools that do nutrition programs. We went to Cuilco where there are a handful of schools that are implementing this particular program and met with some teachers, principals, parents, and even spoke with some of the kids. The program has been put into place because of the malnutrition among so many of the children are underweight and don't receive adequate nutrition at home. PCI works with the parents (the moms are assigned to cook on different days of the week) and the teachers in order to fully implement the program.
They provide rice, beans, flour (a corn-soy mixture), and oil to the participants of the program, and they are responsible for supplementing the food with other nutritious ingredients. PCI also hosts open houses where parents get together and learn about nutrition and share recipes. PCI works so well with these schools, when we showed up they were already having the kids line up to wash their hands and some had even been served. The administrators had all the paperwork filled out and up to date, and they were following the regulations of the program so well. That is something PCI does very well, they have a very well developed plan for these communities, so there is no confusion and everyone knows their role and what needs to be done to accomplish the goal of the project.
While we were there, Nery, the M&E specialist, was teaching the field technicians how to use a new app to report M&E numbers and information. It was such an efficient way to report M&E and it made me jealous that I didn't have the app (or the projects) to do the M&E work for.
One thing that really impressed me about PCI is the fact that every single person that works for them, in the office, in the field, in the communities, you name it, they know EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing. Their roles are so clearly defined that they never seem to be confused or doing work that is not directly related to their function. It really makes for an efficient team when things are outlined so well.
After we visited three schools we went to la Casa Materna, a maternity house that provides services for women throughout their pregnancies, and then offers a place to stay next door to the hospital while the women wait for their delivery. Many women live several hours away from the hospital and would be unable to make it to the hospital in time for delivery and the hospital charges a lot to stay there. La Casa Materna provides the help these women need in a clean and safe environment with doctors and nurses who know what they are doing and care about the women.
The next day I went to another part of Huehue and visited communities that were benefiting from a few of PCI's projects. The first thing I was able to see was a disaster planning meeting with a handful of community leaders. PCI was teaching them about how to implement a disaster plan and then the community would elect leaders, divide the community into districts, and then hold a mock disaster to ensure that they know how to implement the plan. We only had time to stay for a little bit of the meeting, but it was great to see how excited the community members were to learn about disaster planning.
After we left that meeting, we went to a recipe workshop with some of the local women. Just like in the schools, PCI implements a program where they supply basic food rations to women who are expecting or have children under the age of 5... or 2. I can't remember the ages of the children. Anyway... they host cooking workshops to teach the women how to cook the food differently. Some of these families only live off of the food provided by PCI and a few other humble rations, so PCI tries to teach them diverse ways to prepare the food so they wont get bored or burnt out on eating beans and rice. This day we ate a bean puree with tomatoes, onions, and a spice that I didn't know the translation for. They were really good. And all the kids that were there gobbled them up - so I think it was a winning recipe.
Later, we visited a few farms to learn about some of the farming methods and techniques used by the local farmers, including the new fences and chicken coops they were incorporating. In case you have never been to Latin America - most of the time the chickens run free, no cage, no coop, just free range. And although that sounds great (trust me, I grew up in Portland, Oregon - I know the fascination of free-range birds), it isn't productive for those living in extreme poverty - especially because they cannot track down the eggs, and the chickens get sick because they mix with other chickens.
These men were telling us that they have better, fatter chickens that they are able to eat (and supply more food for their families) when they keep them in a cage. And they are able to find the eggs very easily, and they haven't had any chickens get sick because they are able to vaccinate them and keep them segregated from the other chickens. Such a great program and such a simple solution to their problems.
Lastly, we visited with a woman who is part of a group of women who participate in a savings and loans program through PCI. These women are completely transformed and empowered through this program. They save their own money, then use the money to loan to the other women in the group. This particular group is planning on buying corn in bulk when the prices go down (the prices always fluctuate) then selling it when the prices go up - then saving the profits and doing it over and over again. They were very entrepreneurial minded. This women took us all around her house, showed us her sheep and compost pile, and then fed us lunch. She was so sweet.
After visiting all the projects that PCI had in Huehue I am so happy I went. It was a really long process to get there from Santiago, but so worth it. It was amazing to see how PCI really empowers a community to fix their own problems. They create leaders within the communities and give people the power to think and create their own solutions. It was so great to talk to members of the communities who are getting excited about other possibilities after working with PCI. They have a newfound hope that you don't often see in the ultra-poor populations in Guatemala. It was very impressive and gives me more drive and determination to continue my work in the development field.