A guest post by Sarah Begg.
A desk and line of plastic chairs face an audience of empty seats, my mind casts to a United Nations conference. The arrangement in front of me felt wrong. It felt uncomfortable for a collaborative group discussion of Share Uganda’s Malaria Prevention Programme. I was chairing the meeting and immediately I was unhappy with the hierarchical arrangement of the room. My hopes for an experience of engaging participatory discussion appeared rather muted.
Days before I had openly invited anyone that was interested to discuss the Malaria Prevention Programme, to come forward to share how we can improve and move forward together. Share Uganda actively promotes an environment of collective decision-making and this event was key in establishing a unified voice. The name given to the event was Participatory Annual Review and personally within my four-year involvement with Share Uganda, despite my initial reservation, this was the best experience I have had. This exercise was about actively listening to the people involved, the people directly impacted, and not just those leading the programme.
Rearranging the tables into a circular arrangement I was able to promote a more inclusive environment and after that my only involvement was the simple instruction to discuss the programmes strengths, weaknesses, and to offer suggestions for improvements.
In front of my eyes it unfolded, the most fluid, excited and energetic discussion of the Malaria Prevention Programme. I will never forget the conversations, a collaboration of English and the local language Lugandan – at times mass excitement erupted, a sound I hope to always remember.
I glanced over the table top to see Mr Kalema, a key community partner and staff member of Share Uganda and a great friend of mine, deep in conversation. Mr Kalema speaks very little English, at most a few sporadic words but Enoch, a teacher and trusted friend, relayed Mr Kalema’s suggestions to the floor. In this we were offered clever and innovative suggestions, easy to implement but would make an incredible difference to the everyday activities our staff members carry out. The event permitted Share Uganda’s partners in Kabira, where we are primarily based, an opportunity to voice their ideas, to collaborate, to laugh and to enjoy strengthening the malaria programme that they have built from the ground up.
Participatory Annual Review is a technique I would highly urge others to carry out. It is so simple yet so effective. To listen collectively, to build on strengths, to speak openly over programme weaknesses and to work together to identify improvements offers benefits that will strengthen any programme.
This year was a fantastic opportunity to listen, to learn, and to put into action what has been asked for from those who work directly on the programme everyday. It is this raw thought which will drive Share Uganda forward, into a new stage, an exciting era – to watch Share Uganda stand on its two-feet as a locally led organisation.
“People-centred”, “community-led”, “sustainability” are no longer buzzwords of development.
They have been bought forward and into action. I just had to sit back and listen.