Here's an email I recently wrote to a professor at GSU, just another basic update on what my life as a Municipal Development volunteer should look like:
Things are going well for me here in Guatemala – although I’m still in training, I’m pretty excited about the capacity building I’ll be doing in my forthcoming assignment as a Municipal Development volunteer. Working in the equivalent of a county planning office, I’ll be helping to not only share some basic U.S. office culture (punctuality, organization, professionalism) but I’ll also probably be doing some civic participation facilitation with grassroots community groups which are known as COCODES (Community Council of Development). COCODES are basically any group of Guatemalans that organize themselves to pursue a given activity, whether it be civic or recreational.
Guatemala’s government was formally decentralized in 2002, and in pursuit of that goal, I’m supposed to encourage these community groups to form, register themselves with local government, and begin to understand the planning processes associated with identifying their own needs and understand how to share them with the appropriate authorities. Over the next two years, I’ll be working with communities to achieve some pretty interesting processes - community mapping and diagnostics, needs assessment and prioritization, training and preparation, project design, project funding solicitation and hopefully, some project management. I’m pretty excited.
I’m really excited about Peace Corps model of Development – heavy on the capacity building and community-based relationships, light on the financial support. Maybe I’ve already drank the Kool-Aid, but I’m concerned about infrastructure focused Development that relies on the influx of cash and physical results, as I worry about the “money falling from the sky” effect that doesn’t encourage stakeholder buy-in or active participation. At any rate, it’s still early (I haven’t even been here two months), but I’m excited about the possibilities of what I’ve been learning thus far. We’ll see how things progress.