Field Coordinator Reflections from the Philippines
By Lacey Willmott
Field coordinating can be a bit of an oxymoron, especially when you are a Canadian and you are tasked with coordinating logistics and learning experiences for three Canadian students visiting a major health and development project in rural Philippines. Often times the field seems anything but coordinated. Luckily for me EMBRACE project staff at ADRA Philippines made this go about as smoothly as one could hope – during the rainy season no less!
After a short orientation in Toronto, and at the ADRA Philippines country office I arrived at the EMBRACE project field office in Goa, Camarines Sur in early July. I had about a month to prepare the Agents of Change (AoC) Tour in advance of their arrival. Fortunately I have lived in the Philippines previously (though in a different region) and taught a field course last summer in Indonesia, so I knew what to expect and what needed to be done. My objective was to make sure the AoCs had a safe, enjoyable and informative visit that set them up with what they need to do their required public engagement when they return to Canada, and to ensure that the tour was a positive experience for ADRA Philippines EMBRACE staff.
I spent the month of July learning about the EMBRACE project, “testing” out all of the activities, scheduling and planning logistics for the AoC tour. For this I spent a lot of time with ADRA Philippines EMBRACE staff in the field. Getting to know them and learning from them has been one of the highlights of this experience for me, and I’m sure for project beneficiaries as well. I was continually impressed with their knowledge, experience and genuine enthusiasm each of them has for their work on this project. Many project beneficiaries also shared this sentiment with me, and it was evident during project activities. A well-intentioned project needs a great team to implement it, in order to make a great impact on families and communities.
Some of the project team’s approaches and practices that I observed really made a difference in their work, and for the beneficiaries. Their collaboration within and between working groups allows for truly integrated project activities. If a beneficiary asks a WASH (water and sanitation hygiene) question during a preventative health engagement session the staff are able to answer it and support the beneficiary because they are informed and engaged with all project dimensions. The grassroots community centered approach of the project is also used around the office for planning, collaboration and decision making. Their adoption of this makes it easier and more natural for them to support beneficiaries practicing this in their community groups as part of the project. Gender equality is a focus and is genuinely integrated into their practices. Supporting and enabling gender equality for project activities and within beneficiary communities is best done through setting a positive example themselves and through continual reinforcement. Doing simple things like using gender sensitive language and considering this in logistics make a big difference. The staff initially referred to the beneficiary groups as maternal and child health groups, but soon realized that this gendered language may be impacting equal participation. To address this they changed the name of the groups to Community Support Groups (CoSuG) to make them more welcoming for all. Continual improvement is a priority for the EMBRACE project. They have a weekly learning sessions on various topics relating to the project that all staff participate in, and regularly go beyond their requirements to include informal reviews of project activities specifically to maximize impact and beneficiary experience. Through their genuine relationships with project beneficiaries and stakeholders they are able to learn from them and truly place them, and their perspectives and needs at the centre of project. Together this contributes to better management, project delivery and responsiveness to the dynamic needs of 1,000+ families across more than twenty barangays (communities) per year.
Working with this team and observing this project has been equally inspirational and informative for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and contribute to this and to show this positive example to the Agents of Change, as it was their first “real world” exposure to global health and development. Being a part of real change and improvements to maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition for families and communities as part of this project is a great start for their futures and is a great story to share with fellow Canadians.
Lacey Willmott is the Field Coordinator for the Agents of Change Tour in the Philippines. She is a global health and development practitioner and a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo with a research examining development, global health, disasters and gender.