Working with a Barangay
I just finished working on a short presentation for the Councilor of our barangay.* The Computer Learning Center is going to be presented in the City General Assembly as a ‘best practice’. I am going to say this out loud now. When I started this project, I did not think small. I already know that the project will soon enough win a Gawad Kalinga Award. (Woohoo!)
Anyway, so I have been volunteering my services for the past 6 months now. The biggest thing I offer is technical capacity. I know that the highlight of my interaction with the barangay is the computer units, but the real change agent has been technical competencies. I do not even need to pull out the big guns like development planning or business process re-engineering. I just offered basic project management and resource mobilization skills.
The Basic Skills
So for those who are interested in pulling off a similar working arrangement with a barangay, I suggest you ensure that you have the following skills:
- Proposal writing
- Letter writing
- Report writing
Even I smiled when I read the bullet-points. But it is true. The barangay does not really care if we use constructionism or traditional classroom methods. It does not care if the computer units are in XP or Windows 7. The first important thing you must master is the ability to get the papers moving. Hence, the endless writing.
I write a lot of request letters. I write to companies to get more resources. I draft a letter for the Mayor for an AC unit. I write to potential volunteers so I could get the help I needed.
After those activities, I write status reports. I am particular about this part. Some people hate doing status reports. I like doing status reports. One thing I have learned is that the winners for some contests are not necessarily the best ones. They just happen to be the ones who had the diligence and determination to fill up as many forms as possible.
Continued support happens because of results. Not doing the documentation for a project is one way to lose the community’s support.
The Soft Skills
I have found success by mixing the basic skills with some soft skills. People who claim that government should act in a rational and professional manner are naive. This is the Philippines we are talking about. It is a bureaucracy that uses videoke as a rite of passage for outsiders.
You will have to adjust. I was able to adjust by using some of these soft skills.
Whenever I read rants from people about working with government, I wonder if the government institution is really bad or they just did not have enough social skills to make it work.
Here is one truth. I have been asking the barangay to print out some flyers for the past two weeks. It has not been able to because my point person said that they cannot open/ print a PDF. So here is a perfect opportunity for me to whine and complain about inefficient and ineffective government employees.
However, I did not do that.
I went there and installed another PDF reader in their unit. Does it seem too much work? Probably. But I am of the opinion that when I really want something done, I refuse to quibble over the small stuff. Adobe Reader should not be and will not be an obstacle. If that is enough to turn you off, then this is not the vocation for you.
2. Understanding of the politics at work
Some projects work with better political support. Some projects work with none at all. That is the roll of the dice. I deal with it.
This means ensuring that all the proper people are adequately recognized. Expressing profuse gratitude and uploading tons of photos if necessary.
This would also mean creating the presentations for general assemblies and doing the necessary research during budget season.
This also entails enough savvy so as not to unknowingly step on anyone’s toes. Some people approach this differently. I have so far worked with staying in the background, doing the legwork, and letting the politicians take credit for the work.
I once read that it is best to volunteer in one’s own neighborhood. This is because you become familiar with the social, economic, and political factors at play that might affect the project. I tend to be left in the center alone lately since the other volunteers come from other cities and they have to commute to volunteer.
I know that it will not be sustainable over the long term.
I am addressing this problem in three ways:
- Looking for volunteers from within the community (Results so far = 1 volunteer)
- Training the learners to manage the center themselves. There is a table for tasking on the wall and the older kids are briefed already on what to do. They seem to appreciate the responsibility.
- Partnering with companies near the vicinity. (I think 1 company is already thinking of ‘adopting’ the center so they will provide support for the activities.)
I have earned my money doing some projects I either did not believe in or did not would work out. I have hurried activities in order to ensure the required outputs, even if the goals are sometimes sacrificed. I accept that comes with the territory of working in development.
Volunteering here has given me a different kind of freedom. Because there are no conditionalities, except mutual trust, the learning center is allowed time to develop and figure out its direction. Until now, I cannot present a logframe. I am still not sure.
So far though, the barangay has only been spending for electric bills. And they see proof that the center is operating and the learners look happy to be there.
Let’s see what happens next.
* Barangay is the smallest unit of the local government system in the Philippines.