When people would ask me in January about my project, I would go on and on about the wonders of dry bathrooms and how they're a great solution to rural sanitation projects (which they are), and about how we had the support of the local government and it was going to be great! My old high school raised about $3000 to contribute to the project, families were all progressing on their hygiene practices, it was great! I was on the fast track and looking to complete the construction of 22 bathroom units by late June, and possibly run another bathroom campaign.
That was then.
Now when my host family asks me 'Que tal el proyecto?', I tell them I really don't want to talk about it. What's happened?
First to clarify, I have two municipalities. My town (Sausal) is a ‘centro poblado’, meaning that the ‘purse strings’ and all the real decisions get made in the district capital, Chicama. The Municipality of Sausal is just kind of an administrative outpost. So here I refer to Chicama as ‘the Municipality’ or ‘my Municipality’. And my main work in site has been a 'Healthy Homes campaign, where families from two communities attended health talks and completed various requirements to increase their level of health and hygiene in their houses. At the end, families who complete the project are eligible to receive help building a dry composting bathroom, with support coming from Peace Corps Partnership funds and the Municipality of Chicama, our district capital.
‘The Maestro - hard at work. The Municipality – not so much’
The project was originally approved by the mayor and his staff in late- February, with construction to begin in late March. In March I was told that while the district municipality (mayor, public works department, local representatives) approved the bathroom project and pledged support, they needed a legal document from Peace Corps stating a working partnership between the two. No big deal, right? Well, it took about a month of back and forth between PC HQ in Lima and the Municipality of Chicama to finish the document, then about another month for the government to approve it (but not sign it), send it to Peace Corps (I wound up having to do that), and then signing it themselves after our country director put his mark on it. The municipality blamed it on staff turnover, the mayor going to Lima for trainings, etc. Ok, cool, all set. Can I start the project now? We’re in mid-May by the time the document is all squared away.
By this point, the government was informing me that there wasn't any available funds right now and wouldn't be until June. Then June turned into July. But by June, I had access to the funds that were donated by my high school, so I began buying materials with these funds, got the truck + driver from Chicama to haul all the bricks and cement, found a construction team, and got to work.
In July, the manager of the municipality of Chicama informed me that the original meeting notes from February (when the project was approved) didn't include the amount the project was approved for. And even though this amount was in every document I turned in, since it wasn't writing in the meeting notes, the Municipality couldn't give me money. This was in July, referencing a meeting from six months ago. Either nobody noticed, or whoever did notice didn't say anything to anyone.
So throughout July, the project had to go through approval from the legal and public works departments, and was re-entered into the the council session for (re)approval with the amount of funding written clearly. As of writing, this session has been pushed off two times due to other circumstances. We're in early August, and the next session is in mid-August. Assuming we’re approved, and are starting full force by the end of August,, I'll be lucky that we finish with the remaining bathrooms before early October.
All of this doesn't even include the countless trips I've made to Chicama, which is a 45 minute bus ride from my site. Nor the trips I've made there at someone's request, who never showed up or 'plans suddenly changed' and they couldn't meet with me nor bother to call me to save me the trip.
I feel like a shyster, and embarrassed to go into the two communities with whatever reason the Municipality has given me this month as to why we’re not building bathrooms. Families have been waiting for months to start, and I feel like I'm lying to them every time I come with a different excuse why we haven't started their bathroom yet; even though they have they went to all the educational sessions, do all the right things in their house, have their adobes and sand ready for building.
‘The house of one of the families who will receive their bathroom, thanks to outside donations’
So right now, I’m just in a holding pattern. I can’t commit to do anything for longer than a week (such as an educational program in a school) because if plans change, I’ll be in the field rather than in town. There’s a part of me that wishes I would get a definitive answer, either a yes or no. That way, either the project can move forward or end when the PC money runs out. I’ll let you know how it goes.
(I think this post sounds a lot more depressing than it is, especially considering Peru 18 is about ready to head for country and will probably stumble upon this blog. But it might also be a good reminder about the failures in development, in Peace Corps, and how local governments work (and don’t)).