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The Immeasurable Is What Is Important
By David Zarembka, AGLI Coordinator

This article concerns the importance of what is immeasurable. AGLI, like all NGOs, has to report on how its funds have been spent. For grants, we have to have an evaluation process and assessment reports. Our proposals are full of goals, objectives, evaluations, and documentation. This is all well and good, but as I will explain below this misses the real essence of the work we do because it is not measurable.

Large NGOs focus on giving out material things that can be easily counted — food, seed for planting, corrugated iron sheets, and so on. Even the UN Peacekeeping Department has realized that within five years after the end of conflicts in which they have been involved, more than half of the conflicts erupt again and material support they had given is rendered useless. Therefore, peacebuilding and reconciliation work is important. We have approached the big NGOs about this, but they do not want to take this on because it is so difficult to “count” the outcome. AGLI, of course, has the same problem, but we do the best we can with the various assessments that you receive.

I am not talking about the many testimonies that we get; a husband saying that he has stopped beating his wife and children, nor the wife saying her husband has stopped beating her and the children. These are important outcomes to the Healing and Rebuilding Our Community workshops. Even here we cannot have an objective such as “50% of the men will stop beating their wives.” An old friend, Judy Brutz, did a study in the 1970’s on whether Quaker families were less violent than average families. Her conclusion was that they weren’t particularly less violent (except for acts of extreme violence), but then she could not tell if this was due to the fact that the Quakers may have been more honest about their actual behavior than others.
I am talking about the real essence of change — the change in attitude. This can never be measured since it has to do with the inner conscience, the inner light, as Quakers like to say. Yet, this includes not only personal attitude changes, but societal attitude changes where society has unquestionably moved. I have two clear examples.

The first relates to the Twa with whom we are working in Rwanda [click here for article]. They are now being called “those who history left behind.” The Twa are less than 1% of the population in Rwanda. They are the outcasts in society because they hunted and ate wild animals, made clay pots, buried the dead, and are the buffoons and jesters at weddings and similar events. In order to promote wildlife conservation and tourism, the government has removed the Twa from the forests where they formerly lived. They have been settled on small plots next to the forest, do not send their children to school, and will not come to meetings called by the government. In other words, this presents a nice challenge for AGLI and HROC-Rwanda.

With support from Quaker Peace and Social Witness in England, HROC-Rwanda conducted workshops in two communities of Twa; one in Ruhengeri and the other in Kayonza. Elizabeth Cave, an English Friend, went to Rwanda and taught sack-gardening to the graduates of the HROC workshops. Because they have such small plots of land this was useful for them. Moreover, the vegetables would enhance their nutritional intake. It is my opinion that one of the reasons for their short stature is malnutrition during childhood.

I have received reports on the follow-up workshops. As I would expect, there are men who say that, by dealing with their trauma and anger, they have stopped beating their wives. Others report willingness to send their children to school and to attend government meetings. But the really basic underlying change is conveyed in the following testimonies:

One women told us that, as she is married to a Hutu man, her family used to hate her saying that she went away from the marginalized (i.e. Twa) family, but now they have changed, and decided to help her. She said that she is pleased for the workshop she attended and how she feels to be welcomed in
the family again.

Olivier: Before coming in the workshop, we were in isolation, but now we are free, we can easily approach the local authorities, and can express ourselves in good ways.

A different Olivier: We are helping our colleagues who didn’t attend the Growing Together workshops so that they know how to grow these vegetables in sacks. This is a part of building trust among us. People from this area [that is, Hutu and Tutsi] were surprised when they saw the vegetables grown by our houses.

Mukandori: I had the tree of mistrust inside me, but have started building the tree of trust in my family and among my neighbors, I can tell you that this tree has started to grow here in Kabazungu [place of the workshop]. People who are not Twa are coming to see the sacks we’ve grown, and we are ready to go and teach them how to grow these vegetables in sacks.

The really significant change is that those who were seen as outcasts have become models in their community; those who had formerly despised them are now looking to them as innovators. They are no longer "left behind by history.”

The second example occurred last week here in Kenya when we conducted seven AVP basic workshops with mostly Nandi youth in Turbo Division where there had been much violence after the 2007 election. The previous week we had a refresher course for the AVP facilitators and there we heard many negative comments about the Nandi. We do not have any Nandi facilitators. We were told that Nandi youth are suspicious, will not open up in the workshops, the women will not speak, and they will demand sitting allowances [payment for attending the workshop].

The first workshop was held last Monday. In one of the workshops, nineteen participants showed up and demanded sitting allowances. The facilitators, as we have instructed them over the years, gave the reasons why there was no sitting allowance. The lead facilitator called to say that he did not know if many or any participants would show up the following day. How many returned the next day? Nineteen!

At the end of the week, I was speaking with one of the facilitators who said that his second workshop had been excellent as the participants were very receptive and responsive. At the end of the three days, the group, without any coaching from the facilitators, decided to form an association of the participants.

Here again attitude has changed. The Nandi – who had been seen as difficult, hard to reach, and responsible for much of the post-election violence in the area – responded positively to our peacebuilding efforts.

These changes are immeasurable, yet of the utmost importance. This change is in the attitudes people had of each other and the relationships that are changed when those attitudes change.