Useful tips for working sessions with communities

After carrying out several activities with five rural communities of Somotillo (Nicaragua) for the risk assessment of the municipality, I would say it is important to consider the following issues when planning activities in the field:

Venue

First and foremost, the meeting has to be scheduled preferably after lunch, as the majority of men occupy their morning in the field working and come back home for lunch. Besides, one should wonder beforehand if the place chosen for the reunion is suitable. It seems easy but it is not. When temperatures reach 35ºC daily and it rains almost every day during rainy season, roof material is a relevant issue to consider. Some communal buildings in the area, recently built, have a zinc roof that makes the room an oven when it doesn’t rain but when it does, the noise of banging drops makes impossible any kind of interaction between human beings. In addition, if people need to write or draw, it is good to have enough number and suitable chairs and tables. Finally, it is preferably to have lights in the room, because in winter rain clouds cover the sky and the room can be too dark to work comfortably.

Gender roles

These have a great effect on attendance and participation during activities. In some communities, men delegate these activities to women, as they are not “productive” or “profitable”. When they come, they may do it just once and not really commit along the project lifetime. When both men and women assist, men usually have a leading role. Something to consider in these situations is the community leaders’ opinion on gender equality, as long as they are responsible for summoning the people. If they justify the absence of men in the activities, one might discuss it with him by challenging that assumption in a gently way. Besides, children care is a housewife’s’ responsibility which can prevent many women from even attending to the activity. If they come with children who are about two or three years old, kids get bored easily and start demanding their mother, making very difficult for her to follow the activity. A possible solution is to keep children busy, by playing or drawing in a piece of paper.

Vocabulary

Be careful, as some terms can be tricky. Some community members use the word “vulnerable” but are unable to define or give examples in relation to hazards and risks. Some people may use the word “hazard”, but in a more familiar way. Some words like “adaptation” or “mitigation” may be new for some people, so it is preferable to avoid them on the first day and introduce them over time. When the activity requires so, it is worth to spend some time explaining the vocabulary to be used. It is good to use examples and let participants particularize them for their own community, this way everybody agrees on the meaning. Learning a concept needs time, so it is good to slide some hints while working, like photos or brief posts on the wall, and often review their meaning.

Observe and listen

We got proved that the outcome is more satisfactory when they work by themselves organized in groups. This way they seem to enjoy more the session and the result is richer, as they have time to reflect, share ideas and create knowledge. For that reason, one should act as a facilitator, making sure that the objective and methodology has been understood and being around to listen and observe. Furthermore, if there are different working groups participating in the activities it is likely to obtain a discussion so more ideas will come out. Nonetheless, special attention must be given to older people as their view is usually overshadowed by the impulsiveness of younger adults.

 

by Ainara Casajús