Grey Mist Lifting

A Weekly Blog About Lives Changed Through Eye Care

Lynda Cherry, former Vice-President of International Programs

Community workers: the force behind change – Part 3


In the last instalment of this three-part series, Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, our senior director for Operation Eyesight in India, describes a more equitable model of engaging community-based workers.

Through first-hand experience I have observed the gaps in stated values and principles of some organizations and their actual practices. I have shared my observations and analysis with quite a few NGO leaders. While some happily accepted my views and suggestions, most, though they appreciated my perspective, expressed their inability to change their current practices.

The rationale given was not very convincing:  “We can pay higher wages only to the staff of the project that our organization is funding, but not to all. Other NGOs will not consider our request for an enhanced budget. We do not want to create gaps and acrimony among the staff of different projects supported by different donors.”

I question the ethics and the sustainability of adopting such a limited development approach. Post-project, I have seen target beneficiaries slipping back to their original status before the start of these projects. I have seen projects left incomplete or not finished according to agreed timelines because community workers chose to leave, or had to leave, in search for alternative job opportunities.

Jyothi Rao is a community worker who teaches mothers about child health and nutrition. Click on the photo to read about her in the fall issue of SightLines newsletter, page 3.

Coming back to the community-based workers in Operation Eyesight-supported projects, I am happy that they are not forced voluntary workers. They are paid salaries that are commensurate with their qualifications and skills, and are at par with local market rates. They exhibit not just their commitment to the work that they are doing for the benefit of their neighbours, but are also loyal to Operation Eyesight’s vision and goals.

Unlike what happens to the community-based workers with some other projects, my Operation Eyesight colleagues at the implementation level tend to continue with their work, although that work may be of a different nature.

With support from Operation Eyesight, they form what they call a Community Based Organization (CBO) during the implementation period of the project. These CBOs are registered with the government, enabling them to do development work and to raise funds to support this work.

It is a win-win situation for all. Thanks to our community-based workers, we are able to address the challenge of avoidable blindness in a systematic and sustainable manner. As a result, my work gains new meaning, too!

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