Read: 1996 Apr 30, Two Baha'i International Community Projects Camero

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This report, submitted by the Baha'i International Community Office for the Advancement of Women in April 1996, appears in The Emerging Role of NGOs in African Sustainable Development, published by the United Nations and distributed to participants
in the Mid-Term Review of the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa in the 1990's (UN-NADAF).

New York, USA
20 June 1996

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The Baha'i International Community has 44 national affiliates in Africa with over 5,000 grassroots communities. Baha'is are committed to improving the collective life of everyone on the planet. Within this framework, there are both collective (institutional) and individual responsibilities. As Baha'i institutions, the national and local Baha'i councils are responsible for the well-being of the entire community, not just the Baha'is. As individuals, Baha'is see work done in the spirit of service to the community as a form of worship. This framework of institutional and individual responsibility is buttressed by certain principles, e.g., equality of men and women, [1] necessity of independent investigation of truth, high station of education, and the importance of agriculture for society. The Baha'i approach to social and economic development has at least three major components, which you will see manifested in both projects presented in this paper: 1) the practice of the art of consultation; 2) rectitude of conduct individually and collectively; and 3) the solution of problems through the application of spiritual principles. The effort of putting these principles into practice, the Baha'i writings state, leads to self-sufficiency and self-reliance and the enhancement of individual and community honor and dignity.

The Baha'i International Community will demonstrate the effectiveness of its approach to development by describing two projects and sharing lessons learned. The first project, in Cameroon, promotes changes in community values by teaching participants to use analytic tools like focus groups, interview techniques, and community surveys to identify problems; consultation as a means to analyze them; and traditional media presentations as a non-threatening way to generate dialogue within the entire community which can lead to solutions. The second project is the Masetlha Foundation in Zambia which combines spiritual enrichment with training in primary health care, literacy and agriculture, and which has recently added a secondary school for rural girls which emphasizes science and agriculture. Both projects emphasize the development of individual human resources and the capacity of institutions to sustain the development work. Although both projects capitalize on the institutional infrastructure and commitment of the Baha'i community, they are open to all and serve the community at large.



- Goal: The goal of the "Traditional Media as Change Agent" project was to raise the status of women in selected communities through strategies designed to involve men. Instead of ignoring men altogether or assuming that men could not or would not change, this project boldly advanced the premise set forth in the Baha'i writings that improving the status of women benefits everyone. Project designers, therefore, set out to effect a shift in community values (1) by involving men in partnership with women in identifying community problems associated with women's low status and (2) by stimulating community discussion of those problems by using traditional media. The project was designed by the Baha'i International Community and implemented in countries on three continents with funds from UNIFEM.
- Activities: Working through elected local Baha'i governing councils in self-selected communities in Cameroon, trainers facilitated the following process:
- Gathering the facts: Project participants were taught how to use tools like focus groups, interview techniques, and community surveys to gather data on the status of women and identify problems in their own communities related to women's status.
- Analyzing the data: Using consultation as a basis, participants analyzed the data in light of certain principles such as the equality of men and women, the power of example, unity of purpose, commitment, and service to the community.
- Stimulating community-wide discussion: The analysis and recommendations were shared with the community as a whole through such traditional media as theater, songs, and dance. Messages communicated in this way are taken very seriously in non-literate communities, and they provide a non-threatening opening for dialogue with the whole community.
- Impact on local development: Because the project initially sought only to increase awareness and develop capacity of local institutions, the results exceeded expectations.
- Information produced: Participants identified the following as the primary problems faced by women: lack of education; domination by men; uneven distribution of workload between women and men; and poor management of household finances by men (who did not consult their wives). These findings were the same in every project village in Cameroon (in Malaysia and Bolivia, as well, where this project was also implemented).
- Interaction with beneficiaries: Qualitative evaluation data showed increases in husband-wife consultation such that men made more money available to the family and spent less on themselves; alcohol abuse and domestic violence decreased drastically; in most project areas the enrollment of girls in schools increased from 6-7% at the start of the project to near 100%; and evidence of significant shifts in labor patterns emerged as men began to take on some of the work women had been handling, both in the home and in the field.
- Capacity-building: Local communities were able to use skills of planning, consultation, implementation and evaluation for activities other than the women's program, showing that these skills are general and can be extended to other issues and sectors.
- Follow-up: Attempts to quantify the results are in process. Data has been gathered on behavior patterns in three project villages and three non-project villages. Project participants themselves interviewed 50 couples in each village -- men interviewing men, women interviewing women. The data gathered is now being analyzed.


- The concept of a project with no immediate material benefits may be difficult to grasp at first. However, the initial bewilderment can be overcome if the project leaders stress the benefits of core skills training and provide consistent support, including regular visits.
- Communities can be -- indeed must be -- proactive partners in change, not just recipients of "aid." The process at the heart of this project was inherently participatory and collective -- the rethinking of community values, not just modifying activities or behaviors. Re-examining traditional values together as a community allowed the community to accept and slowly integrate new values as the norm into their social life.
- New values require a new vision. When communities -- especially men -- begin to see that their happiness and welfare depends on their women's happiness and welfare, real community development can take place. Stated another way, when social norms shift, change becomes sustainable.
- Participation by women in decision-making increases much more rapidly when men are involved. The 1995 United Nations Development Report identifies 30% participation by women as the critical minimum level for women's participation in decision-making. At this level there seems to be a fundamental change in any organization, but the report also mentions that this level is rarely attained. This project demonstrated that this threshold is reached more quickly when men are included as partners in unity to achieve gender equity, than when they are excluded or ignored.
- Change is difficult for everyone, so anticipate resistance from both women and men. Talk of partnership is fashionable, but many women have no real interest in working with men, and many men do not really believe in equality.
- Social norms are more powerful than individual values. Both projects (Cameroon and Zambia) identified social norms and the power of group culture as the critical variable in attitudinal and behavioral change. Both projects noted that changing gender roles and perceptions at the household level can be extremely difficult; however, when institutional values favor gender equity, both women and men are able to practice new behaviors that eventually lead to attitude and behavior change observable in other settings. Community institutions/organizations (educational, religious, and legal) which actively promote gender equity may thus be the key to sustainable behavioral and attitudinal change.
- Development of Institutional capacity is critical to sustaining development efforts. It is our expectation that the institutional capacity within the Cameroon community will progress through the establishment of a training institute (recently finalized) and the evolution of the development committee, so that, like the Masetlha Foundation, it will engage over time in action and reflection on a wide variety of initiatives that will support the integration of diverse initiatives for the progress of individuals and villages in the country. Thus both projects illustrate the elements for sustained activity in the future: human resource development and institutional capacity development, both designed to give local people the capacity to participate in and guide their own development.



- Goal: The William Mmutle Masetlha Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization located in central Zambia. Its purpose is to support a spiritual approach to social and economic development which stirs people to develop themselves and achieve self-sufficiency. The Masetlha Foundation was created in 1995 by the Baha'i governing council of Zambia to oversee the William Mmutle Masetlha Institute (founded October 1983) and the Banani Secondary School for rural girls (opened in January 1993). The foundation is the latest stage in a sustained development process which was initiated at the grassroots, nurtured at the national level, and funded both by government agencies and organizations of civil society. [2]
- The William Mmutle Masetlha Institute: The Institute combines spiritual education with practical training for volunteers in a wide variety of skills, including agriculture, health education, children's education, literacy, and numeracy. Spiritual education, which helps to develop qualities such as enthusiasm, dedication, creativity and service, along with the practical skills, leads to self-sufficiency. The active involvement of women is an important focus in all training and field work. The Institute offers a wide variety of courses. For example, one course offered since 1985 is a four-month-long spiritual development and agricultural training program that includes four hours of daily lectures and practical work in the villages. Two of the institute's special projects are the Baha'i Literacy Project and the Zambia Baha'i Primary Health Care Project.
- The Baha'i Literacy Project aims to assist the Baha'is of Zambia to achieve universal literacy and to strengthen Baha'i communities by (1) developing a Baha'i approach to literacy education which achieves both functional literacy and spiritual empowerment; and by (2) training volunteer literacy tutors from both the Baha'i community and the community at large to offer classes in their villages, where illiteracy may be as high as 60%. The methodology used is conspicuously participatory, as it de-emphasizes the role of facilitators and empowers people with little education to study in groups and develop independent thinking.
- Zambia Baha'i Primary Health Care Project, launched in August 1993, is intended to help the Zambian Government achieve Health for All by the Year 2000 through primary health care education by (1) identifying and training a cadre of volunteer Community Health Educators (CHEs); (2) assisting CHEs to promote community-based primary health activities and educate their communities about basic hygiene, nutrition, and disease prevention (emphasizing AIDS and malaria); (3) increasing the level of immunization coverage; and (4) integrating primary health care into a broad range of development-related training programs. The project also provides training for CHE trainers, holds Village Health Committee workshops, and provides refresher courses for Community Health Educators. The Institute has also been training Community Health Care Workers (CHWs) since 1987.
- The Banani International Secondary School: The Banani International Secondary School in the Chisamba district, is a residential school for young women in grades 8 to 12 with an emphasis on science and agriculture. Established by the Masetlha Institute to serve rural girls, the school has adopted the University of Cambridge Exams Syndicate curriculum, which provides students with an International Certificate of Secondary Education at the end of grade 12. The University of Cambridge courses currently offered by the school are English as a second language, French, mathematics, geography, history, English Literature, agriculture, biology, chemistry, and physics. Two courses supplement the Cambridge curriculum: world religions and character development. A key element in the moral training offered by the school is a community service program. The school has an eleven-member academic staff drawn from six countries. Scholarships for deserving students were offered for the first time in 1993.


- Information produced. The literacy project has adapted a participatory methodology developed in Colombia. Materials are being developed and translated into local languages, and one booklet has been published. Another kind of information is produced by volunteers in the field. For the health project, despite very little opportunity for follow-up visits (problems of distance and accessibility), some 75% of trainees are reporting on their activities. This is evidence of the development of individual capacity - being able to carry out activities out of one's own volition, without someone else needing to push.
- Volunteers trained. Armies of volunteers have been raised up and trained, many of whom are women. The literacy project has trained 41 tutors from Care International and DAPP, who are conducting classes for approximately 20 students each, reaching around 800 learners; and some 40 Baha'i tutors who have conducted classes, sponsored by local Baha'i communities, for another 800 people. Baha'is encourage youth to offer a year of service; from two "youth year of service" training sessions, 50 youth from Southern Africa have arisen to serve throughout Zambia and the region. More than 150 volunteer primary Health Care Workers and 93 volunteer Community Health Educators (CHEs) have been trained; 78 percent of the CHEs have reported conducting health education activities in their communities.
- Interaction with beneficiaries. Approximately one half of all trainees are women -- no small achievement -- many from the community at large. Women have proven effective in the role of Community Health Educators and Workers, earning the respect of their community.
- Capacity-building. Health facilities lack personnel; therefore, NGO-trained community volunteers have proven to be an important resource in both preventive and curative medical care. A number of CHE's have attached themselves to their local clinics, some as volunteers, others as paid employees, and they are reported to work very well. The girls' school opened in January 1993 with 58 students; in 1994, more than 90 students were enrolled.
- Relations with development partners. There has been good collaboration with the Zambian Ministries of Health and of Community Development, who have seconded staff to the Institute. The training provided at the Institute has been commended by a number of Ministry of Health, and of Community Development officials, and recognized by several other NGO's. Ministry people have said that the "Baha'i" CHE's and Health Instructors are excellent workers who are extremely conscientious.
- Financial flows. Baha'i development programs tend to have extremely low overheads as compared to other organizations, even government. Everyone in the field works voluntarily, and Institute-based staff work with modest salaries. Because of the emphasis and value placed on personal integrity, everyone handling money takes care of it, regardless of its source. Institute programs reach almost every province of Zambia through the network of Baha'i communities; without this network, the projects would have to be limited in geographical scope. The network makes it possible to select and invite trainees, without high investments of time and money on the part of the Institute. Letters are mailed to local Baha'i governing councils who select those who go for training.


- Promoting full participation of women requires patience and persistence. Regular, focused discussions with health educators and literacy instructors about improving gender equity are needed because both men and women find that when they return to the village, very strong and persistent habits hold them back and push them to adopt traditional roles.
- Training women as health educators raises their status in the community. Having been selected by the community for training, and then becoming known as a "Community Health Educator," gives many women the confidence and respect to be able to participate in general community events and to begin making changes in other areas. But it is slow, and not enough women are empowered in this way.
- Social norms are extremely powerful. We observe that more progress toward equality is made in the Institute setting than at home in the village. More needs to be done in the village. Many women are able to become more confident to speak in public and participate as equals during the training sessions, and the men seem willing to practice a more equitable culture in the Institute setting. One important reason to have people leave the village for training is that it is possible to create a temporary new culture at the Institute.
- A service ethic produces superior workers. The willingness of Baha'is to volunteer and the high quality of Baha'i CHEs is not surprising, as the training and the whole of Baha'i community life encourages work and selfless service.
- The interface with donors has been difficult at times. The flow of money is often irregular, and going through Baha'i institutions not used to handling grant money is difficult. The Canadian Public Health Association, which is an NGO funded by CIDA to give grants and assist management of some 30 health/immunization projects, is doing a reasonable job of this NGO partnership arrangement. They are holding their annual partners' workshop on the very topic of partnership. It does pool together a certain amount of expertise and learning, while retaining the small and flexible NGO arrangements.
- Consultation with a wide range of people and organizations at all phases of project development and implementation is essential. There has been a great deal of consultation guiding all the projects. The notion of human resource development as spiritual empowerment came out of consultations involving international, national and local organizations and people from all over Zambia. The Core Group for that permanent institute consults regularly with the Foundation's Board of Directors, and the Baha'i national governing council. Baha'i national conventions, involving elected delegates from villages all over Zambia, have always included consultations about the Institute's programs and how to improve them.

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- The following quotes from the Baha'i writings have profoundly shaped both projects: "The world of humanity has two wings -- one is woman and the other men. Not until both wings are fully developed can the bird fly..." (Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha, p. 302) and "As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs." (`Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133)
- The agencies that have supported William Mmutle Masetlha Foundation to date: the Department of Agriculture in Zambia, Zambian Baha'i National Teaching Committee, Sweden's International Development Agency (SIDA), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Canada, CARE, CUSA, Swedish Baha'i Community, Baha'i International Health Agency (BIHA), Canadian Baha'i International Development Service (CBIDS), Ettehadieh Foundation, Beit Trust, and the World Community Foundation. The Ministries of Health and of Community Development in Zambia have provided staff.

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