In January 2004 I established the Sustainable Agricultural Program for Liberia (SAP-Liberia) a non-profit, community-based organization in Liberia to address the felt needs of returnees and internally displaced people created as a result of the fourteen (14) years civil crisis. I decided to establish this local community-based organization, because I believe that grassroots community-based approach to development, which encourage and promote local participation, is an effective way of engaging a community in the process of addressing their own problems. The organization was established with the purpose of rendering services at the frontline of community-based recovery developmental programs without discrimination to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, culture, and political affiliation. SAP-Liberia seeks to achieve the above stated purpose by collaborating with local institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), schools and religious organization as well as international agencies such as the Germen Technical Cooperation (GTZ), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Government of Liberia in implementing the below listed goals: to engage in sustainable agricultural programs; promote environmental conservation; engage in sanitation programs; participate in the rehabilitation and construction of roads and bridges; facilitate the process of formal, non-formal and informal skills training programs; renovate and construct public facilities that were damaged as a result of the civil war; collaborate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration process of returnees; to promote and participate in the distribution of relief items (food and non-food items) to returnees and internally displaced people and to encourage academic research in the areas of social change, environmental sustainability and education .
As a result of this project, SAP-Liberia is one of the well-known community-based organizations located in the Southeastern of Liberia that is touching and rebuilding the lives of internally displaced people, returnees and refugees from the Ivory Coast. A total of ten community based vegetable crops production sites were established throughout the City of Zwedru by local farmers who participated in our micro-agricultural loan initiative funded by the United Nations Development Programs. Please see enclosed project brochure for more details on current projects. SAP- Liberia also trains teachers in local primary, junior and senior schools through partnership with the Ministry of Education of Liberia and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). To date, a total of 50 teachers in have been trained in effective teaching strategies, lesson plan formation and classroom management techniques.
Personally, I learned a lot not only from this project, but also from my previous experiences working in Ghana at the Buduburam refugee camp with RESPECT Ghana a non-profit, community-based organization as the Program Coordinator and as the one time representative selected by local organizations at the camp to be a part of the UNHCR and Ghana Refugee Board (GRB) annual meetings to discuss development issues confronting refugees in Ghana.
Throughout my work as a development agent in Ghana and Liberia, I came to the realization that in order for development to be efficient and effective in achieving its goals the holistic participation of the local community in project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation is paramount to its successes and failures. Development projects based on my previous experiences should take the bottom up approach as oppose to the conventional approach of project formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation which tend to ignore local participation and belief systems. When the local community is fully involve in the project development process as well as implementation and evaluation they tend to take ownership of the project and that minimize the possibilities of failures.
The Fundamentals of Economics for International Development is a course that not only exposed the economic aspects of development initiatives and theories or frameworks that shaped these initiatives, but it also created a new ideology in my perception as to how development projects should be carried out in developing countries so as to achieve sustainable livelihoods and create economic stability for individuals, communities and the nation at large. My quest to learn and understand how international development theories are formulated and the discourses associated with these theoretical frameworks was significantly shaped by this course and other courses most especially Development Theory with Dr. Ellen Foley.
This section of my paper provides an overview of what I have learned and understood throughout this semester in relations to International development theories and how that has changed from my previous understandings of how development is carried out and how I anticipate to use these theories and concept in the construction and implementation of development agenda in meeting the felt and real needs of communities that I will be working with as development practitioner and agent of social change. Throughout this course, I have come to the realization that development or “international development” as we know it to be has failed to bridge the gap between poor and rich countries. It has failed to break the barriers between the “West” holding about 80% of the world’s wealth with only 20% of the world’s population and the “Rest” holding 20% of the world’s wealth with about 80% of the world’s population.
I learned how Development discourses shape the way in which development projects and initiatives are implemented and how those discourses are Eurocentric in their scopes and operations alienating local knowledge, belief systems and traditions, which significantly contributes to their failures. The concept of an alternative development as a possible option for replacing development discourse to me is possible if and only if these alternative forms of development acknowledge local knowledge, belief systems and traditions and encourage the local participation of community members and community-based organizations. Participatory grassroots development strategies to me are the best forms of discourse that will be effective in addressing local needs of the targeted population in developing countries.