Shelter For Life International Inc
A CLOSER LOOK: SHELTER FOR LIFE INTERNATIONAL INC.
TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED
since a massive earthquake rocked Kashmir, Pakistan—killing nearly 75,000 people and leaving an estimated 3 million homeless. But construction and relief efforts are far from over, and keeping project team workers and local villagers focused on rebuilding is a constant struggle.
“Fifty percent of the construction has yet to happen,” says Mark Bradby, an in-country director for Shelter for Life International Inc. (SFL), a Maple Grove, Minnesota, USA-based relief and development organization working on rebuilding projects in the region.
Much of the slow progress is due to the daily obstacles that Mr. Bradby and other project managers face, such as the political unrest and the lack of reliable communication technology throughout the country.
“In Pakistan nothing works,” says Mr. Bradby, who is based in Islamabad. And when telecommunications lines go down, he's often cut off from his teams for days. “Logistically, it's definitely frustrating,” he says. “You have to set up a robust enough project management system that can run itself, and you always have to be thinking about what can go wrong.”
In addition, Mr. Bradby and his teams are charged with training local villagers—many of whom have no construction skills. Originally, SFL had planned for international volunteer teams to rebuild the homes, but the Pakistani government insisted locals tackle the projects instead. The hope is that, although it may take longer to see results, the process will leave disaster victims empowered.
“It gives unskilled people a marketable skill and makes them a part of their own rebuilding process,” says Mustafa Omar, PMP, the USA-based SFL International project development manager and project manager for the group's post-earthquake community development program in Tajikistan. “By working on homes in their own communities, they become skilled laborers who can use those skills to find employment.”
The problem is that in most of the rebuilding projects, 90 percent of the workers are unskilled laborers. “The local population was hit hard and they lost most of the trained tradesman,” Mr. Bradby explains. “So there is a low capacity for good construction.”
Project teams rely on training, networking and lots of cups of tea to help rebuild devastated Pakistani communities.
LET THE TRAINING BEGIN
Although the Pakistani government allots enough money for each family to build a one-room cement structure, SFL's goal is to teach locals how to stretch those funds and the size of their earthquake-proof homes. One of the most necessary—and successful—elements of the SFL program has been showing villagers how to use locally harvested wood, mud and stone to stabilize the home's structure. But that means project leaders must oversee unskilled workers to ensure they're building safe structures.
To get started, SFL hired a network of mobile teams to manage training and oversight in the villages. Each team, which is responsible for four union councils (or counties), includes:
■ A social mobilizer who recruits workers and gets them committed to the project
■ An engineer for technical training
■ A professional artisan to teach craft trades.
SHELTER AROUND THE WORLD
Tajikistan: Through March 2007, Shelter For Life (SFL) worked in the country's Khatlon region, offering refugee resettlement and reintegration, post-disaster reconstruction, community development, preventative health and business training programs. Between 2006 and 2007, SFL implemented $743,000 worth of programs, affecting more than 17,500 people—women alone developed 488 new businesses.
Afghanistan: In September 2006, the U.S. Department of State provided funding for SFL to construct 435 starter homes and 435 latrines for Afghan households in the Takhar province. Completed in March 2007, this $1.08 million dollar project impacted more than 35,000 people.
When the SFL teams arrive in a village, they identify a leader to oversee local workers. Once the village team is established, the SFL team returns to deliver construction training, and later, when government subsidies are released, they help launch the construction. When the building is complete, SFL inspects the work, which must pass local government standards.
The village teams create a network of people in the community to create a synergy and a sense of leadership, Mr. Omar says. “Often the [SFL teams] don't even deliver the training, rather they coordinate the training, or identify a handful of relatively skilled individuals, train them and have them train their own communities.”
Part of the rationale behind the process relates to logistical issues. It may take a team four or more hours to get to some of the more remote villages, says Edward R. Brown, founder of Care of Creation, a Madison, Wisconsin, USA-based environmental organization, and the former in-country director for SFL in Pakistan. And oftentimes, due to the lack of communication infrastructure, there was no way for Mr. Brown to communicate with the teams while they were in the field.
THE SCALE OF LIFE QUAKE
To ensure SFL teams were visiting the villages, Mr. Brown gave everyone a digital camera to document their work. “The camera was the most important tool we used,” he says. “It gave us records of the destruction and rebuilding for the government and it gave us assurances that our guys were actually going to the sites.”
BUILDING A NETWORK
Overseeing teams was only part of Mr. Brown's job. Behind the scenes, he interfaced with the government, coordinated with other volunteer agencies in the area, established project management processes and wrote grants for donations.
When he first arrived in Pakistan, Mr. Brown had no volunteers, no support structure and no experience managing a project of this scale. He met with United Nations (UN) officials and other agencies working in the country to identify an appropriate strategy.
The Pakistani army played a large role in organizing the relief effort, which Mr. Brown found reassuring. “They gave us logistical help, computer access and, most importantly, protection,” he says. So when talk began of local troops pulling out three months after Mr. Brown got there, he and the other local agencies urged them to stay. “This might be the first time the [UN] was pleading with an army not to leave,” he adds. Eventually, the army agreed to stay an additional six months.
Mr. Brown spent much of his time securing donations, which was tricky because of the nature of the project. “There is not a lot of money donated for training because it's not glamorous,” he says. “Big donors would rather see their money go to build 10 new schools, rather than to teach a thousand villagers construction skills.”
Mr. Omar adds that donors are easily lost to the next “high-profile” cause. “Post-tsunami we had more donors than we needed, but in Pakistan, the donations dried up in the second month,” he says.
Still, Mr. Brown managed to secure sufficient funds while in Pakistan, largely through face-to-face networking with other volunteer organizations.
“This job takes a lot of cups of tea,” he says, noting project managers on such an effort need to be aware of the social aspects required for the job. “You can't come into a situation like this saying, ‘There is too much to do and no time to do it,’” he says. “Having those cups of tea is more important than compiling reports. That's just how this part of the world works.”
While at a picnic, Mr. Brown met another in-country program director for Plan International, a large non-governmental organization based in Surrey, England. As they chatted, Mr. Brown discovered Plan had secured enough funds to build several schools in Pakistan, but the group had no idea how to actually fabricate them and no construction experts on its staff. Although SFL had zero funds, it did have the experience and knowledge to build the schools. Within several months the two groups created a partnership, developed designs and are currently building schools throughout the area. “That's what you can accomplish when you network,” Mr. Brown says. “You build relationships with people you can trust and who know that they can trust you.”
Networking also ensures safety, adds Mr. Bradby. He recalls working in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province where the volatile political climate made security difficult. He invested much of his time building relationships with the local community leaders and employing local people whenever possible, unlike some of the other volunteer organizations working in the area.
Mr. Bradby's efforts paid off when, last June, many of the compounds in that region were attacked and burned to ground by militants, but the SFL facility was left untouched. “That was due largely to the good relationships we had built in the community,” he says. “We had connections, and we were spared.”
With community ties established, SFL continues the long task of rebuilding. But the project is clearly making progress. To date, more than 150,000 homes have been constructed, with another 200,000 in the works.
No official count has been made on the cups of tea consumed in the process. –Sarah Fister Gale
Big donors would rather see their money go to build 10 new schools, rather than to teach a thousand villagers construction skills.
— Edward R. Brown, former in-country director for Shelter for Life
PM NETWORK FEBRUARY 2008 WWW.PMI.ORG
FEBRUARY 2008 PM NETWORK
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.