Posted by Joe Smith


What does someone living on under $1.25 a day really need and want? Some would say a lot of things. Perhaps a reliable water supply, or latrines, or four sturdy walls, or a library, a new set of clothes, a hospital, or a road to get to that hospital. So if you think they need everything, you could make things simple and pick one option out of a hat.

If these people live in houses that are open to the elements, you might decide to bring in some reinforced concrete. But then perhaps the reinforced concrete does not keep out the heat like a good adobe and wood structure. Maybe they end up using their new house to store their beans and corn or to house their animals.

The people who really know what they need and what they want are the people with the needs and the wants.

But even that is problematic. Let me use the same example as above. Perhaps you ask someone living on under $1.25 a day if they want a house. They may well say yes please. But that cannot guarantee that they will not end up using it as a barn as they lie in a hammock watching the stars.

The fact is that charitable donations not only have to go as far as possible, but they have to be used in the best way possible. Usually, this means investing more in the first stages of a project and finding out what a community really needs and what is really holding it back.

The technique we use – Participatory Rural Appraisals – helps us to map a community’s needs without unduly influencing what they see as important. If you are a water charity, and they think you are trying to find out if they really need a water tank, then they might say they need one even if there is something else they need more.

Nuevas Esperanzas tailors all of its projects to the specific needs of the community it is working with. Influencing a community’s decision would be counter-productive and – as in the fictional example of the house above – might mean that resources are wasted on something that is not really a top priority. Yes it might help a little. But it might not meet the project objectives and it might not change anyone’s life.

Participatory Rural Appraisals are time consuming. Each one involves almost our whole team and takes at least one whole day. Although we cannot guarantee the success of every project, we are better placed to address a community’s top priorities if we take this step.

Taking the time to understand a community’s unique situation is better than hastily giving them an option they do not think they can refuse lest the gift horse bolt.