Stories from the Grassroots: The Greengrants Blog
Oct 20, 2016 | No Comments
Photos and words by Robert Riker, Grants Associate
If you Google the phrases capacity building and awareness raising, you’ll be hard pressed to find a universally accepted definition—or any definition at all.
I see these two phrases all the time in grant proposals at Global Greengrants,but even I’ve struggled to understand the full meaning of these activities or their value for local struggles. It’s just holding a meeting, right? Fortunately, I recently visited a grantee community in Burkina Faso and saw firsthand the impact these activities can have in promoting a transition towards sustainable change.
In August, I joined our West Africa Advisory Board at its annual meeting in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and visited the town of Manga. The area has experienced heavy deforestation as a result of local people cutting down trees for fuel, which takes a toll on the land by degrading soil and increasing the risk of erosion. Poor land-use practices and the prevalence of bush burning have also contributed to soil depletion. I was in Manga to see the work of a grantee organization, Association Faso EnviProtek, which received a Greengrant in 2015 to address these critical issues.
The group used the funds to hold trainings for local officials, farmers, and land owners about the impacts of climate change and tree cutting, and to encourage environmental practices that protect forests and restore soil. During our visit, I had the chance to hear over 50 local farmers, who participated in the trainings, share their experiences and talk about ways they have incorporated what they learned into their lives and work.
Something that stood out very clearly to me while listening was that a lack of knowledge is often the biggest obstacle to sustainability. While the farmers were more than willing to change and improve, they needed information and guidance. That is exactly what they received through these essential trainings.
This is why awareness raising is so important: Not only does it make community members aware of the problems at hand, but it also helps them begin to develop solutions to overcome them. Those lessons are then shared with a larger audience leading to incremental change.
One training participant said it best:
“We were told at the training that it is not good to cut down trees because trees protect the environment and preserve the soil.” He went on to say that his local group has since organized itself to fight against tree cutting and has reached out to other farmers and groups to explain why they should protect trees.
While awareness is the first step towards progress, communities also need help developing and implementing solutions. This is where capacity building comes into play, helping people take real action.
One participant spoke briefly about how his group is already seeing positive impacts from its efforts.
“Since the training our consciousness has been raised, in the past we were farming this way, but the soil was not impoverished. Today we burn bushes and cut trees and the soil degrades. We dig holes and then they become ditches. Since the training we have stopped, and we are slowly seeing the results of our efforts.”
Another trainee said,
“[Through] the training last year on climate change and soil restoration, we were able to see the changes in our farming methods. When we were thinking about support, we pictured something different, but the capacity building allowed us to do soil and water restoration, and we have applied this knowledge to our farming.”
The farmer in southern Burkina Faso doesn’t hold a candle to a person in the United States in terms of his role in causing climate change. But with an increased awareness of the impact that tree cutting and bush burning have on his soil, he has realized that his actions do have consequences. With that awareness comes a desire to find a new paradigm, and with a newfound capacity to act, he has begun to inspire significant change.
My experience in Burkina Faso increased my understanding of the terms capacity building and awareness raising by giving me a real sense of the impact these activities have on the ground. The terms themselves are vague, no doubt about it, but that ambiguity allows each community to define and shape the terms to fit their needs. There is no easy way to create all-encompassing descriptions of this work, but these come closest, and the importance of capacity building and awareness raising cannot be overstated. Knowledge is power, and through these strategies and activities communities are able to realize the issues they face and take steps to address them. This increased knowledge and capacity then results in real change.
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