Seeing the Denan Project After My Long Years at the UN

By Richard Gordon, Volunteer

In late October-early November, I accompanied Dick Young to Peru in the context of the DENAN PROJECT. The mission consisted of meetings, discussions, and ceremonies in Limatambo, the district capital, and in Uratari, where the project is based.

At the outset, I should say that I worked for the United Nations for twenty-seven years primarily doing project work in developing countries in the field of integrated rural development, a multi-disciplinary approach to confronting poverty in rural areas in such fields as health, education, water resources, agricultural development, and small-scale income-generating activities. Because of this experience, I could quickly relate to and understand the nature and activities of the Uratari project, including such important factors as the need for collaboration with and support of national, regional, and local government officials; the difficulty of recruiting qualified professional staff to live and work in remote areas; the involvement of the local community in developing and advancing the critical work of the project; and the necessity of ensuring the timely delivery of inputs.

The Uratari project has five principal components or objectives for eventual implementation: 1) health; 2) education; 3) agriculture; 4) water resources; and 5) economic development. With the understanding that the most critical need in the Uratari region was the provision of medical services which were nonexistent before the arrival of The Denan Project, the parties concerned, namely The Denan Project; Tengo Un Sueno, the local NGO which partners with Denan, the villagers in Uratari, and the national and local governments agreed that the most urgent objective was to provide a health center in Uratari staffed with professional doctors and dentists and with modern medical equipment. This health center would serve an outlying community of 23 villages in the region. The villagers in Uratari agreed to provide local labor and resources to build the health center on their own without outside assistance. The health center was accordingly built by the village and it has been progressively staffed and financed by The Denan Project. When we arrived in Uratari, the first thing that we saw was the gleaming white health center building which is functioning very efficiently as a medical service for villagers in Uratari and far beyond who come to the center for medical treatment, both actual and preventive, at no cost to themselves. Dick Young and his counterparts in Tengo Un Sueno and local government officials walked through and did a complete observation of the health center, discussing relevant matters with the medical staff, resolving some issues related to the delivery on inputs (such as the provision of a solar panel, solar heater, and a new ambulance from abroad), and pointing out a number of small problems in the building infrastructure for resolution and repair.   There was a ceremony to inaugurate a new pre-school in Uratari, attended by the Mayor of Limatambo and other local government officials. A new high school is also being constructed by the villagers. There was discussion of the eventual provision of irrigation for agricultural development in Uratari and the surrounding region. The villagers themselves, through speeches at the ceremony, as well as in conversations with the visitors, seemed both grateful and excited about the health center (we were informed that in a recent month, 800 individuals had come for treatment to the health center from both Uratari and outlying villages) and other eventual project inputs. It is evident that the creation of the health center by The Denan Project is serving as a catalyst for other critical needs of Uratari and the local community.

I mentioned above that I spent a long period of time with the United Nations working on socio-economic development projects in developing countries. In my long experience with the U.N., I have rarely, if ever, seen a more effective project than The Denan Project in Uratari. In considering the reasons for this, I have identified the following factors as instrumental in making this project so successful:

  • Dick Young, who initiated The Denan Project in a remote area of Ethiopia and then expanded the Project to Burkino Fasso, Peru, and recently to Mongolia, has mobilized a set of donors, Board members, and Committee members of highly dedicated individuals who commit their time and resources on a long-term basis to ensure that the Project will accomplish its objectives.
  • Dick goes 3-4 times a year to each project site to monitor, evaluate, and propose solutions to existing problems. This constitutes a continual and valuable empirical oversight for Utarari and the other venues.
  • Dick has managed to partner with well-established and highly effective local NGOs. In the case of Uratari, the partner is Tengo Un Sueno, run by a former UNICEF staff member who knows the developing world and particularly South America exceedingly well. Dick has also managed to establish strong working relations with both national and local government officials who participate and are intimately involved with all aspects of the project. In Peru, for example, the mayor of Limatambo and many of his staff continually visit the project and provide inputs and assistance.
  • In Uratari, as well as in elsewhere, the recipients, namely the villagers, are aware of the immediate benefits of the project for themselves (medical assistance initially) and are willing to participate in essential local tasks. In Uratari, as noted, local labor was provided gratis to build the health center and maintain it.
  • The philosophy of providing medical services gratis, at no cost to the villagers, which permits the poorest of the poor to take advantage of the health center in Uratari.
  • Dick’s philosophy in relation to the issue of ‘sustainability.’ In the UN system, as well as in bilateral aid (USAID, Canadian, or French assistance, for instance), projects are funded and implemented for a defined period of time (3-5 years, for example). There may be a project extension, but often not. A project extension has a limited time basis. Once the project is “completed,” the UN or the bilateral agency pulls out, leaving the national and particularly the local government to ‘sustain,’ often meaning ‘maintain’ the project to ensure that its accomplishments will not lapse or be frittered away. However, in most cases, because of financial and political factors, the project work slows down or even ceases altogether, primarily because the local government does not have the financial means or human resources to ‘sustain’ the initial success of the project. Dick Young’s philosophy, however, is entirely different. He has committed The Denan Project to stay in Denan, Ethiopia and in Uratari, Peru, for a period of 15-20 years. This long time horizon ensures that the immediate benefits of the project (health, education, and water in Denan, and medical services in Uratari) will be sustainable. This approach, of course, puts pressure upon The Denan Project to finance Denan, Uratari, and the other venues year after year, but it ensures the ‘sustainability,’ as well as the success of the efforts of The Denan Project for the long term.

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