China: Sustainable development in Alxa
In October 2007, the SEE Ecological Association (SEE, for short) invited ILEIA to run a documentation workshop with their staff members. Their objective was clear: “We want more people to know not only what we do, but also how we co-operate and the role of the NGO in social progress…We want to share our effective experiences with more people and organizations. But we don't know how to express ourselves. We always hope to learn to communicate and share project experience with other organizations. We do many things, but, we don’t know how to express it, how to form a good case. We think this is very important for a growing local NGO…” We accepted the invitation, and went to Alxa with two of our colleagues from CBIK, our partner organisation in Kunming.
SEE was established on June 5th, 2004. It is an environmental protection organization funded by approximately one hundred famous entrepreneurs in China. SEE is a non-governmental organization (NGO) adopting a membership system and non-profit policy. It is an environmental protection institution for public interest.
SEE is devoted to building up a mode of sustainable development for humans and nature, following the harmonious values between ecological benefit, economic benefit and social benefit. SEE started working in the region of Alxa, solving its desertification problem through comprehensive development in the area. At the same time, promotes the sense of responsibilities on environment and society to Chinese entrepreneurs, promoting environmental protection and constant development for enterprises.
We planned a four-day workshop, including a discussion meeting with farmers and representatives of the local organisations, and also a visit to a farmer's place far outside the city. During these days we followed a simple methodology, which covered the documentation process in three main steps.
We started by defining the experiences to be documented, and thus immediately started working with two of the many SEE projects: "the community development and protection of the ecology of Populus euphratica", and the "sustainable development of ecological agricultural in Yaoba". Both projects aim to preserve the mountain environment the villagers originally came from, and at the same time preserve the environment where the villagers currently live. In both cases, SEE aims to help reduce water use. The context in which these project are found is one where villagers have been moved by the government from one area to the new one. The mountain grass and environment had become poor. In their original area the villagers kept sheep (they were pastoralists), while now they have to do farming; they plant corn and other crops to sell. They keep sheep tied in the yards, and also pigs. As a result, many feel that they are now poorer than before they were moved. On top of everything, there is very little rain in this region.
In general, SEE considers that villagers lack technology for farming; they do not have enough resources to make a living – such as there is little water, the soils are poor, they have little knowledge or information about farming. At the same time, the soils are poor and getting worse – more sandy. The ability to organize themselves is weak. They have conflicts with the government and also conflicts between families.
SEE invited all staff members to join us, and brought previous documents. These were useful for them - but being written in Chinese, not so useful for us. This proved to be the major difficulty. Even though the team ensured that enough people who could speak English were present, the fact that all discussions were held in Chinese meant that we could not participate fully. Among the other major findings, we had that:
- the participation of our partners was very helpful - in helping us understand the context, translating what was going on, and also as facilitators (guiding one or two of the sub-groups which were formed)
- selecting indicators was difficult, in spite of our facilitation. As some of them said, "we started from a wrong logic".
- a field visit was useful, even in spite of the language difficulties.
We began to write texts as a result of the workshop, and on the last day some paragraphs were ready. Participants thought it would be a difficult step to make text out of their analytical work, but once they began they said it was easier than expected. So one of the main lessons we took home was that it is possible to begin writing your text as part of a 3 or 4 day workshop.
However, this case proved that follow up is essential. Shortly after this workshop we heard that "during an evaluation, the experts will give us more instructions about the project and the organisation. So we want to do the writing after that..." Sadly, some staff members moved to Beijing, others left, and the process did not continue with the energy we all expected. This showed that, despite a very good start, finishing the documentation process is not always easy or straighforward. As we have seen before, this shows the importance of dedicating time and energy within an organisation to documentation.
Please write to Wang Jing and Zhou Pu,
5th Floor, Science and Technology Bureau Building
Alxa District, Inner Mongolia, 750306, PR. China
For rural development projects: firstname.lastname@example.org
For other cooperation with SEE: email@example.com