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by Kamal Phuyal (Nepal)

edited by Phil Bartle, PhD

"Training participants do not concentrate on the contents of the training, but they watch the trainers' behaviour – whether their behaviour is as per their teaching / saying in the classroom or not. Moreover, participants will bring their learning in practice if they are convinced with trainers' practical behaviour"
(Mr. Uttam Dhakhwa, Sharing Forum on Spirituality and Development).

Why to use PRA? This question has been raised in various fora, like training and workshops. In my experience, I have mainly seen three major important components of PRA; attitude and behaviour aspect, Concept or vision aspect, and process (of application of tools) or skill aspect. The third aspect seems to be very clear, which concentrates on how to use its tools. There is a comment that most of the training focuses on this aspect. Training starts from the history of PRA and ends with the application of tools.

The first component deals the question; who should use PRA? What are the characteristics needed of a PRA practitioners. Second question concentrates on why to use PRA – Why not other tools? What are the values of PRA? Likewise, the third component focuses on how to use its tools more effectively? What is the process of its application?

Participation of local people depends on the attitude of PRA facilitator.

Development Means Sharing Happiness

Once one of my colleagues told me that, “You know, what does development mean? In my experience, it is mainly sharing happiness with others.” He explained, with various cases he had experienced, and I liked his idea of development.

I have had opportunities to visit many development projects; some spending millions of rupees, and some only a few thousand. Once I was in a nearby village of Pokhara, within 200 km of Kathmandu. We were doing a participatory evaluation of a drinking water project. We had a very good time there; we could share a lot with the villagers, they were very - very happy to have us in their village. Financially, it was a small project. Government's watershed district office and a Japanese organisation did the project jointly. They spent about Rs. 35,000 to complete that project. The women explained about their project during our sharing:

A Didi (sister) came to work in our village. We ignored her for a long time. You know, the villagers told her to go back (as they had some bitter experiences with previous development workers) but, on the other hand, she would think about our problems for the whole night. She was so nice. Eventually, we liked her and worked together and completed many things. Now we have our own co-operatives. We did literacy classes. We did have very nice time to be with her. We were very happy while working together and enjoyed a lot. We completed all our work happily, you know. We get excited even now by remembering those days. We love our project very much and we never let it die even to recall our time with her.

Those villagers even cannot pronounce the name of the organizations properly; the only thing they revealed repeatedly was that they were very happy to be with that Bikase Didi (‘development worker - sister’). Unfortunately, we could not meet that Didi, but when shared about her, what we found was she used to be very happy to work with rural women. We came to know that her only motto was to share happiness with other people. Both villagers and Didi shared their happiness. The drinking water project was the means for them to share happiness. And, that happiness brought that project into success. The villagers do not care about the amount spent for the project, nor do they remember how much was spent. During the whole evaluation period, they recalled their happiness repeatedly. That happiness encouraged them to do many other things. Now they have their own co-operative, they have formed a maintenance committee among the women. They have saving groups. “We are happy to be in a group and we come there, we share our problems and in fact we can share our happiness there,” they said.

One of the biggest multi-lateral organizations spent 1.5 million rupees on one village's drinking water project in Nuwakot district, the northern part of Kathmandu. Yet, one village development committee (VDC), that covers about 800 families (several villages), receives only 500 thousands rupees from the government as their annual budget. Again, there has been large conflict between the project and the villagers. The villagers were not happy with the project, although their problems of fetching water from a long distance had been solved. In their evaluation of the project, the villagers expressed:

The construction of the project is almost completed, but we do not even recognize the project people. They keep changing the staff members. We never see any people for the second time in the village. We do not think this is our project. We heard that they have formed a working group. We do not know who they are. They must be among the political leaders. The staffs do not have an office here nor do they have any permanent place to stay. Most often they go back to Kathmandu or Trishuli (the district headquarters) on their vehicle after visiting the sites. One of the neighbouring village's contractors has taken responsibility of construction work. We once went to talk to the staff members, but they did seem happy to talk to us.

The villagers have been fetching water from the nearby spring for many years; and they can continue to do this in the time to come as well. The villagers were not asked about their desires; what their real thinking was. It was planning by the outsiders and also implemented with the support of a handful of people who did not have water problem themselves. Here, we found that the project could not be the means of sharing happiness. The gap between the villagers and project people started widening from the very beginning of the project's entry into the village. It seems that the staffs took that project as just a part of their job. They think that they are kind to the villagers by bringing a project to the village. They are not ready to take the time to talk to the villagers; if they do not talk to the people, how can they share happiness?

Our history tells us many stories regarding the participatory work done by the people themselves. We can find that people have made many temples, roads, dug wells and ponds, schools and so on. They used to do all these things as if they were celebrating the ceremonies. If you go on analysing, you will find that the main motivation behind all of these things was to share happiness. They used to sing songs, conduct social work collectively, shared food with each other at parties, laughed and enjoyed and completed their work. It seems, sometimes they do share their happiness by giving something to others and sometimes by taking from others and sometimes by sharing with each other.

Once a big organisation offered a big job to one of my colleagues. She thought a lot, shared with others and at last she refused the offer. She said:

I am not sure whether I can get such a ‘happy environment’ in the new place or not. I am very happy to work with my colleagues here with whom I can share my happiness. I am enjoying my work here. Yes, of course, they have offered me a double salary and facilities. But, I am afraid of losing my happiness.

Sharing Happiness Through PRA

We have not found any PRA training boring so far. Recently, I reviewed 60 PRA training reports. I consulted the evaluation part done by the participants, which is mainly done at the end of the training. I never found in even a single report that PRA training is boring. You will find there saying like: "Ten days spent like ten minutes," "The learning process was like games," "We did not feel bored," "We laughed a lot," "We shared a lot," etc. What you learn from PRA can be learnt in other ways as well. However, one of the main values of PRA, in my experience, is that it creates an environment for sharing happiness. The participants do not feel hierarchy there; they do not feel any disparities (socio-economic, caste, gender) there. They all laugh, learn and share. Sharing happiness develops the sentimental attachment among the sharers that is what PRA ultimately does either during the training or in the community.

“You know, while doing social mapping, the villagers move stones, sticks and make houses. They remember that they are making a village map, or an artificial map, for the first 15 minutes. Then they all forget that they are playing with stones and other local materials. They go to the reality then. They shout, they laugh, they talk openly, and sometimes they become angry too. Therefore, what I have felt is that, after 15 minutes they start entering to the live discussion and analysis, and the sharing of happiness moment starts. When the artificial moments ends and sharing happiness starts, other villagers they are standing aside commence to participate in the exercise. Even the illiterate and the marginalised people who in fact hesitate to speak in public start to participate. Sharing happiness makes the process easier”
One of the PRA facilitator once shared.

But, PRA without ‘sharing happiness’ becomes boring and very technical. Sometimes, it becomes dangerous as well. Once the chairpersons of a VDC of Dhading district, neighbouring district of Kathmandu, shared their experiences of seeing ‘PRA gang’ like this:

"A team of PRA practitioners came headed with four or five porters carrying their lodging and foodstuffs. They arrived in the village and some of them went to find the chickens, some went to cut the branches of trees for an evening camp fire. A group of youths went to the water-tap and started teasing the young village girls. In the evening they had a big cultural evening. They played Angreji (English) music and started to disco dance. They shouted and the dancing stopped only when two dancing drunk guys began to fight. The next morning they gathered only seven or eight people, including 3 from the house where they had stayed, and ‘did PRA’."

This kind of non-participatory PRA does not share happiness but steal the happiness of people. Moreover, such PRA exercises, with their vested interests, also ruins the values of PRA itself.

Whatever we do through PRA can be done in other ways too. Using other techniques as well can raise participation of community people. We can encourage the illiterate and marginalised section to participate in development processes by using other techniques. But, the main value, or contribution, of PRA is that it holds the potential to create an environment of sharing happiness.

Once well-being ranking was being done in a village of Sindhupalchowk district, which lies on the east northern part of Kathmandu. A group of villagers did it. They kept an old man on a ‘lower (poor) rank’. He was there in the group too. He denied that. Discussion took place for a long time. Others wanted to prove that he was poor by giving many examples. Actually, they wanted to help him as the project was going to provide some programmes for the poor people. The old man had nothing. It was even difficult for him to arrange two meals a day. He said - “I do not have enough food, but I am happy. I am happiest person in this village you know. Have you ever seen me being sad or depressed. How can you call me poor?” In fact, he was the one who used to be first to take part in, or lead, any social work. Finally, the others put him on the ‘middle rank.’

After that exercise, we talked at length with the man. We found that he had a source of happiness within him. All the villagers feel his absence when he goes away for several days. The PRA team realized that of course basic needs (at least) are the right of all human beings, and hunger might create obstacles in the way of feeling happiness. However, economic well-being cannot be compared with emotional and spiritual well-being.

Last month we had a discussion on development and spirituality. Somebody asked: "What about the empowerment of the marginalized section of society?" Sharing happiness with whom? That discussion had some conclusions like:

"Yes of course, we want justice, we do not want disparity, we do not want exploitation and we want ‘the empowerment of the disempowered’. Therefore, we want the marginalized people or deprived people's participation in their development process. We want to listen to them. We want to listen to their ideas. We want to be their friends in the process of their empowerment. We want this not because this is our job but because we will be more happy for this. We want them to ‘rise’ and the disparities to become smaller. We should let them feel that we will be happy to be their friends in their empowerment process. This is how we share happiness with them. Once, they understand our desires, they also start sharing their happiness with us. Yes, of course PRA can help us a lot to share happiness with the marginalized sections. PRA removes all the formalities between us and PRA supports the process to go on as per their way of thinking."

One of the VDC chairpersons shared his experience of using PRA for planning.

"Before PRA, we used to collect demands from each ward members. Our table used to suffer a lot before - as each and every ward member tried to prove their demands were the most important by banging on the table! However, pair-wise ranking has saved our poor table these days. We do all the prioritizing happily."

It has been through this process that I have learnt from the experiences I have had so far that PRA helps us to share our happiness with the villagers as well as their happiness with us, and of course especially with those who are vulnerable and marginalized. I believe that reflecting on the positive aspects (of anything) can help us to go forward for development. Reflecting only on the negative aspects encloses us; we cannot go forward through concentrating on the negative alone.

Kamal Phuyal
Article Submitted to the IDS workshop, "Pathways to Participation."


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.06.08

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