I have been too busy for blogging lately. Actually since September I have worked and traveled, supporting three non-governmental organizations in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Brazil who work with commercial sex-workers in the process of learning from their doing. As part of an evaluation process I also wrote case stories on prevention of HIV/AIDS among young gays in Honduras and among transsexuals in Ecuador. And I am involved in the evaluation of the woman’s rights component of the programme of grants covering several countries in Latin America, a major evaluation project with 8 other professionals from Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, Uruguay and the Netherlands.

It is very frustrating when you spend more time on report writing for clients than on blogging. If only because some of those reports will never be read by more than 5 or 6 people. But I did get to meet some interesting and courageous people: activists for LGTB-rights and other human rights defenders a variety of street workers and activists who relentlessly fights for the interests of those who are marginalized and excluded. Courageous because some of the actually received threats. And there was a lot of learning:
– in Nicaragua we tried to set-up a simple monitoring system that actually informs about how the clients are doing and not only on what the organization is doing with the grant money. From the reports and evaluations I have read over the last few months – piles of them – what the receiving organizations does with the grant money seems to be the overriding concern. Surprisingly few pages are actually dedicated to how all this affects and changes the life of the beneficiaries.
– it was also nice to work with a Dutch organization that makes grants to organizations in developing countries and that actually invited a group of them to tell them face-to-face how they do as funders. They were really very open. Based on some case stories written by external people, in the group we looked the concerns and issues that arose from that funding experience. All the organizations got a lot of “food for thought” out of that open and frank debate, which they most probably will use to improve on what they are doing: something that is not the standard for evaluations in the context of development coöperation.
– and I also learned a lot myself: about the need to improve my skills as an interviewer and about my strengths in facilitation, about the situation of women’s rights and women’s rights defenders in Latin America, and a neat technique to “dissemble” controversial statements with a group: with some colored cards and some magic you can bring in different experiences and look at what is the essence of the problem, instead of a traditional exchange of views.

And before you know it fall is over and we are all heading for winter…………. Brussels is freezing cold, but with some luck my strawberries will come back in the spring…

It actually snowed tonight:

strawberries in the snow