FOCAL POINTS AS BRIDGES TO CITIZENSHIP IN AFGHANISTAN
On a bus called “Zindagi To Bewafahi” [Life is Disloyal], focal points from Nangarhar, Panjshir, Badakshan, Balkh, Herat and Parwan provinces shared their ideas, jokes and experiences as they travelled north to Parwan. From idealistic, activist youth to white-bearded community leaders, the 13 focal points represent a wide range of backgrounds, professions and ideologies.
Focal points are paid community workers that support local monitoring volunteers (See Chapter 2 for more detail on their job responsibilities and criteria for hiring). They are the first ones to address problems that come up in infrastructure projects, if the local monitors cannot address it by themselves. They help train the volunteers, organize regular project visits and the more experienced focal points even prepare PowerPoint presentations that are presented to donors, government officials and construction companies. These presentations demonstrate both the progress and problem areas of projects.
LEARNING FROM COMMUNITY WORKERS
After four years of training and directing the work of focal points, in 2012, we had a realization that it was now time to learn from them. They can provide insightful comments and constructive criticism that can drastically improve and shape the community-based monitoring (CBM) program today. The three-day focal point conference (April 30-May 2, 2012) was accordingly designed to learn how focal points have implemented the CBM program in their respective provinces and districts.
TRAINING COMMUNITY WORKERS
Continuous training is an important part of maintaining the skills of community workers. Since the community-based monitoring program keeps evolving and new methods are introduced, it is very important for the ideas to be implemented properly at the district level. During this conference, the focal points were provided training on sophisticated photography and filming techniques, communication guidelines, conflict resolution, quality of construction materials and new ways to collect and manage monitoring data. All of them were also presented with Integrity Watch business cards that will help further legitimize their role as they negotiate with company engineers, government agencies and local elites.
SOLUTIONS FROM THE PROVINCES
There was also ample time reserved to discuss pressing issues, such as what to do when focal points are offered a bribe or threatened by the construction company. Another salient point of discussion was how to increase women’s engagement at all levels in the program. In a room filled with all-male focal points, each focal point began to brainstorm ways to increase women’s engagement in surveys, as local monitors and as focal points. Each province offered different challenges and respective solutions, such as using female schoolteachers and women’s shuras to engage women that are otherwise off-limits for male local monitors and focal points. Of the challenges that lay ahead in the near future, an important one is recruiting female focal points.
The theoretical framework behind the CBM program design emphasizes citizenship, accountability and using community-generated data to influence development policies at the national and international levels. This framework can now be improved based on the focal points’ world of imperfect, yet meticulous practice from both urban and rural Afghanistan. Focal points, in the course of their work, take the message of citizenship and monitoring to mosques, schools, government offices, city streets and shura [local elders] meeting rooms. They are thus, the critical bridge transmitting knowledge and ideas back and forth between democratic civil society organizations and the changing or inchoate Afghan citizen.