Learning across continents: Latin America sharing knowledge with Africa

Tuesday, 19 January 2010. Today we start with the real thing. A CLAR in action, this is what we came for, so it’s difficult to hide the collective excitement. Plus it’s a warm sunny day, much in contrast to yesterday’s cold rain. But first we go off to the project office, strangely by bus, as we could have easily walked the 300 m.
A casual chat with project staff. Maria Hartl enquires about the definition of communities, and it turns out that the ancestral laws have found their way into modern Peruvian legislation. These extended families have legal status, and are dealt with by the project just as other registered groups and companies. Mary from Rwanda asks about the collaboration with local government, which is promoted in the SSDP by facilitators in each municipality. Staff fluctuations in the municipalities are a problem. For communication with communities, the project’s events in the main squares are the best advertisement for its initiatives. Benson, the vice mayor of Kirehe in Rwanda, really likes the idea of using the CLAR competitions to build up local support, after all this can be very helpful in local elections.

We move back to the main square, where the CLAR session is already in full swing, together with the rural enterprise fair. The fair has been built up across the street from the municipality, a row of colourful booths offering mainly handicraft and cheese, in front of which a tent has been pitched to accommodate the members of the CLAR. Behind them the local project office has set up a mobile office to provide administrative support. In front of this tent, one group after another does not only a presentation of what they’d like to do (and for ongoing ones, what they’ve achieved so far), but full-blown shows with dancing, singing, flower-clad bodies and – the absolute killer – a complete play with several stages and an array of actors including human houses and real tourists. Only the development worker was missing! The groups further show that they manage the project by showing maps and accounts, and by answering questions from CLAR members. Once all are through, the CLAR will declare its verdict on each request for funds. As clouds and some raindrops come over the surrounding peaks, the plaza clears conspicuously and the day’s results get announced: most projects are approved; the group representatives receive the announcements with relief. We flee for lunch, and I guess our groups are not indulging in such a lavish meal, with causas, trout and alpaca.

But no time to relax, Ariel rushes us on to the discussion round with CLAR and group members. We learn how dead easy the voting works, that the community groups hire local TA to prepare their progress reports, that they receive occasional unannounced visits by CLAR members, and how small the CLAR members’ allowances are. Véridianne declares she is deeply impressed with the competitions with judges from different interest groups and client groups that present their own plans and reports.

After a short preparatory break we run the first analytical workshop, at which we jointly analyse the overall project. Our praise is so comprehensive, it almost feels awkward to keep repeating it. There is a genuine feeling that it is amongst the project types of the future. Luckily, to keep things somewhat balanced, we also found some weaknesses, including some targeting aspects, the strong involvement by the project unit, the credit gap for successful enterprises and the low involvement of the communities in preparing and revising their business plans. Nonetheless, the overall feeling is that the Southern Highlands project is too good to be true, and having reached 20h00 again we decide our communal nackerdness has reached a level that doesn’t allow us to launch the final item of the day, an analytical round of the CLARs and the enterprise fair we witnessed today. We keep that for tomorrow, and a group of cold Africans forms around the mobile gas heater as we wait for dinner.

Claus Reiner, Country Programme Manager, Rwanda