This week Ausi Mareisi (my counterpart) and I took a big step we had been anticipating since PDM. We held a pitso or community meeting to undertake a Community Needs Assessment.
This is a critical first step before working with our organization to design and implement the primary large project of my service. With more the fifty years in development, Peace Corps knows that without community support even the best projects will not succeed after the volunteer leaves. Therefore, before we undertake our projects, we are expected to do a Needs Assessment to garner that support.
My supervisor and I had met with our chief a week earlier to schedule the pitso. Since CCC (Community Care Coalition) works in five villages, we requested a multi-village pitso instead of conducting five different pitsos. While attendance from the other villages may have been higher had we visited each village, it was far less stressful to hold only one larger pitso. This also prevented people from misunderstanding and thinking I would work with CCC to complete a project for each village.
After living in my village for seven months and spending a lot of time talking to people about needs, it is easy to believe that I have gotten to know the community well enough to understand what they need. At the same time, it is important to ensure that I am meeting their actual needs, not simply perceived needs.
As always, the pitso began with a prayer. Then, with surprisingly little introduction, the meeting was turned over to Ausi Mareisi and me. I started with a five minute speech in Sesotho that my tutor and I had fine tuned over the previous week. I explained that it was time to start a project with CCC, but we needed to ensure we are meeting a community need and have community support. I continued to explain some of the limitations of Peace Corps projects including limited funding and goals from the Lesotho government and Peace Corps that my work must meet. To conclude, I explained how we would complete the Needs Assessment. This was by far my longest speech in Sesotho thus far. While it was not memorized, I delivered it well and only struggled through one tough word.
After my speech, Ausi Mareisi spoke and then we completed the Needs Assessment. First we asked for people to suggest things the communities need. We had a variety of answers including:
- a better road
- a speed hump on the district's main road where the school children cross
- a “sawmill” (what the Basotho call a sawmill is actually a grist mill to grind maize and sorghum into powder for cooking)
- income to help provide for orphans, vulnerable children, and the sick—this one took on a variety of answers...
- money to buy chairs to rent out with the community building to generate income
- reinvigorating the CCC vaseline project
- getting milk cows
- getting egg laying chickens
- making soap to sell
- training to make and sell shoe polish
- increased food security
- job creation
- more toilets
- better clinic access
We then allowed people to vote for only two items, however, every single person immediately voted for the first item: electricity. Thus, we adapted and allowed them three votes. This narrowed our list down to five needs: electricity, speed hump, job creation, food security, and income to help OVCs.
From there we completed what is called pairwise ranking, comparing each item against each other item. Despite everyone voting for electricity in our first vote, when compared with money to help OVCs and food security, it took second billing. When compared with jobs, it only tied.
It was challenging to convince people to choose one out of two things they see as strong needs. The meeting nearly fell apart when we asked them to choose whether increased food security or money to help OVCs was more important. It took a lot of energy to get things back under control and moving again.
In the end, the community strongly placed income to help OVCs and the sick above everything else although increased food security and job creation were also important.
The planned outcome of this pitso is to use the information when we meet with CCC to plan our project.
The unplanned outcome has been the conversations this has sparked with villagers in the last three days. Those that did not attend the pitso have started many chats about the pitso and community needs. Just like the people at the pitso, each person has immediately said that we need electricity, water, and a better road. I agree with them but then try to explain in Sesotho how the community reached the decision that money to help OVCs was more important than electricity.
Another outcome has been the affirmation that I do in fact know my community. The types of projects I have been considering and even the one that Ausi Mareisi and I designed for practice during PDM match with two of the three things that villagers ultimately said were most important.