Panii Jibon project team invited representatives from affected communities to the planning workshop. Here it’s what they learned and how they are going to change their way of working.
While planning project activities, who is sitting at the table? Look around. Usually, you see project officers, implementing partners, and maybe thematic experts, but how can we make sure that the right decisions are taken? Panii Jibon project team in Bangladesh started a reflection and, after several discussions, decided the best answer to this question was to extend the table. Through the Panii Jibon project, Helvetas, together with Shushilan and the Development Organization of the Rural Poor (DORP), works with vulnerable communities in the Southwestern coastal areas to enhance their resilience to climate change. Representatives from these communities were, thus, invited to participate in the planning workshop to explain their problems and propose solutions. Two out of three were women, and two out of them were from the indigenous community. ”We were delighted to have such diverse voices, but then the real challenge began how to ensure genuine participation, and not only tokenism,” said Moumita Sen, the Junior Programme Officer. “So, we started brainstorming to find a way to include community representatives in the decision-making process,”
Solving the practical challenges
The team revised the methodologies and design of several sessions; however, they were not confident about their proper application. “We had prepared materials for the workshop in English. Thus, we had to translate most of them into Bengali to ensure the participants’ engagement. We detailed the session facilitation process and broke it down step by step to call out the community, and identified the moments to ask representatives for comments and opinions,” adds Manjurul Islam, the MEAL specialist of the project.
The workshop was opened by Sobhyo Dakuya, the Deputy Speaker of Mothers’ Parliament from Morrelganj in Bagerhat. “She spoke with such passion encouraging us all, that we decided to hold a closing speech even if it was not originally planned.” Recalls Musrat Emon, Technical Officer for migration. “We kept most of the sessions quite informal to facilitate sharing.” All the community representatives were active and engaged; they contributed to the discussion, facilitated some small sessions, and presented group work results. In some cases, they led the facilitation of small group works. The community’s knowledge was tremendous, and the project team learned a great deal from the stories and practical examples.
Understanding the real meaning of loss and damage
The issue of loss and damage requires an in-depth analysis of three dimensions: the context or background, the history of loss and damage over the period, and potential risks in the future. This is only the community people who can bring the experiences, data, and information to have a detailed insight into past loss and damage. And most importantly, they must participate in the discussion of loss and damage as it has dynamics of both economic and non-economic factors. And the latter is still ignored or less understood by the externals. In addition, the impact of slow-onset disasters influenced by climate change, to date, is less addressed by researchers and practitioners, which is already evident in the community and has been part of their life. Hence, without community participation, no planning for climate change actions will be worthy and comprehensive.
“Without these community representatives, we would have struggled to understand what the concept of loss and damage means in the daily life of a community,” said Amir Khasro from DORP. “Quite interestingly, they also challenged our conventional thinking.” In a session to define ‘loss and damage,’ the participants analyzed the photo of a woman carrying water with a pitcher from a long distance. The project team agreed that this was an example of adaptation to the water crisis. They were about to move to the following picture when the women from the community stopped the work to share their experiences questioning this conclusion, “Early on, we had drinking water, but now we must walk far away to find it because we lost access to the sweet water.” “Such remarks were convincing, and we looked back critically to our loss and damage agenda,” concluded Khasro.
A new perspective
Panii Jibon team learned that they could apply project principles on the ground only if they were courageous enough to challenge conventional planning and practices. “We often have the wrong idea that communities do not have the capabilities to appreciate the insights of climate change fully. They understand better than we do; they are the first adapter and responder. So, it is time for us, development organizations and practitioners, to challenge our mindset and rethink our processes, to hear what these people have to say,” thinks Moumita Sen.
Bishaka Sana, community representative from Koyra (Khulna)
The project would like to capitalize on this learning; it is positive to advance to ensure more space for the community in decision making. It has agreed to revise its terms of reference for the Project Management Unit, responsible for the project’s overall implementation. It will include members from the Community Based Organizations, who will be part of the decision-making process for the project. The process of selecting them in consultation with the community is undergoing. There will be several challenges down the road, but the project team is ready to accept them.
“I have joined several events organized by NGOs, but I never felt like this. Now I understand how much I can and should contribute to the loss and damage discussion. I, as a victim, know it better than others”, said Bishaka Sana, a community representative from Koyra, Khulna, at the end of the workshop.