So, I’m coming towards the end of my Lao journal now, but I thought I’d write something on our reason for being there – community needs analysis. Based on the 3 government meetings, 3 village meetings and the 2 high school meetings (and 1 primary school), I can see a few “needs” that the Seuang River valley community should address. Of course, this is all my own humble opinion, but I think they are worth considering, particularly for future groups (Griffith and other) that may go to this region to volunteer.
Some notes on what I believe many of these communities need – 29 June
1. A fundamental change of attitude or perspective towards the environment. This is an age-old problem, visible in first and third world countries alike, yet we need to realise and help educate these communities that the environment is not simply there to be used and abused as we humans please. It is a living composition which needs care and respect. It is imperative that villagers are made aware of their responsibility to care for and look after the environment. Primarily, this involves the thoughtful disposal of rubbish (which currently lies strewn at doorways, the side of the road, or in communal spaces) and the recycling of waste that can be reused.
Some of my ideas include targeting this problem through both top-down and bottom up approaches. These include developing educational programs for schools and communities (for e.g. other university or school groups who visit the region could help design a class on the environment/waste management as their project); incentivising rubbish collection and recycling (rewards, exchange rubbish for useable goods or food, monetary reimbursements for recycling), and; implementing rubbish collection schemes that bring benefits to the community such as employment, improved quality of life and standard of living from living in a clean environment, increased tourism and tourist satisfaction, etc.
Most importantly, a greater knowledge and awareness of the health, economic and other consequences of proper environmental management is needed in these communities.
2. Greater food security. With better food security comes a decreased reliance on hunting wildlife (often endangered) for food, more educational opportunities for children who would otherwise be required to work on the farm with their families instead of going to school, and better family and personal situations.
How would you achieve this?
My ideas include – better agricultural knowledge (finding ways to maximise production and minimise time and cost); some sort of safety net of village support (a sort of localised network of food, welfare and support in times of hardship), and; greater ‘on road’ connectivity, which would allow for better trading opportunities and also access to better quality or a greater variety of foods.
Most importantly, the traditional ways of gaining food security must be combined with new ways in order to increase family and village opportunities.
3. Greater transpareny of institutions (governmental and non-governmental). For example, the Ministry of Education (Pak Xeng District) gave educational participation rates of 96%. However these figures have been since questioned by other sources, particularly in rural villages where participation is frequently lower. Transparency means the possibility for a greater distribution of wealth and more effective management of institutions (not to mention a decreased possibility for corruption and the misuse of funds).
My ideas include – government legislation at national, provincial and local levels (as well as the enforcement to back it up); incentives to be transparent (as in Indonesia, corruption, collusion and nepotism occurred more frequently where pay was deemed too little – better pay could be one way to increase transparency and mitigate the need for corruption), and; monitoring by external watchdog institutions (such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and certain NGOs).
Most importantly, transparency equals the most effective, efficient and responsible operation of institutions. Without it, the development of Lao could take a very different and less prosperous path.