Learning from other NGO’s: Zerca y Lejos experience

Jorge Carrasco and Javier Vázquez have been part of Zerca y Lejos for more than 10 years, a Non-Governmental Development Organization (NGDO) whose projects are mainly focused on Cameroon. There they work closely with the indigenous people who live in forests “for the recognition of their Human Rights, their access to health, clean water and to quality education.” A few days ago, we had the opportunity to meet with them to share ideas and learn from their experience.

The beginning stages of an NGO are never easy, both for economic reasons and for all the work that requires get the first projects underway. So it is always rewarding to get to know people who have been working on this for years and see how their programs have grown.

After 17 years, Zerca y Lejos has more than 1000 members, donors and collaborators, and more than 150 Cameroonian and Spanish volunteers. Their goal remains the same: “to make the world a better place.”

After our meeting with Jorge and Javier, their advice and experiences helped us redefine some of our projects. That’s why we’d like to outline here some of the ideas that inspired us most of this talk.

The sustainability of projects over time

Something became very clear to us after talking to the guys from Zerca y Lejos: the importance of creating development projects that are sustainable in the long term. That is, that the objectives and benefits of these initiatives last over time after their conclusion. Hence the importance of educating, teaching and providing tools instead of falling into assistencialism.

To achieve sustainability, it is necessary to empower local communities, to engage people involved in taking part, and to make them feel the project is theirs as well. In addition, it’s relevant to let them take responsibility for the maintenance or management of the infrastructures and goods generated by the aid.

Understanding the reality of local people

Understanding the reality and needs of the local people is an essential step for a community to be involved in a development project. We often make the mistake of believing that we know what is best for them and what they have to do to change, without taking into account that some people may not see the benefit of a project which will directly affect their interests or their particular situation.

Before cooperating, there must be an understanding of what is desirable and what is actually possible. But we must also have a deeper knowledge of the relationships among the community members, their culture, their capacities and vulnerabilities, their interests and needs. Only this way we will be able to achieve a positive and lasting change.

Volunteers’ commitment

We don’t want to finish this post without talking about volunteering. While it is easy to find people interested in cooperating and helping others, Javier and Jorge told us the challenges they usually face to recruit and retain genuinely committed volunteers.

There are many good reasons to volunteer. But we have to keep in mind that this is not just another personal experience. It requires responsibility, perseverance and motivation. Apart from training, it is important to think about what really motivates us to be a volunteer and what we want to get out of it. But above all, we must be honest with ourselves about how much time we can commit.

Become part of the change!

If you don’t know who Zerca y Lejos are yet, we encourage you to learn more about them and take a look at their development plans.

We also hope that this post helped you better understand how we want to focus our projects and the values that we promote here at Madanfo.

And you? Want to become part of the change? 🙂

Javi-Jorge-Zerca-y-Lejos

Javier and Jorge in Cameroon