The roads in my neighborhood are in a bad shape. For the last month, the municipality has been digging and filling and digging them again for revamping sanitation, kitchen gas and water pipelines. Working professionals in the neighborhood had to make alternate arrangements for transport since parking and plying cars was a great hassle (especially those with small children who had to get to school by 7:30am in the cold wintry mornings!). Small businesses such as vegetable, fish, fruit, houseware vendors bore the brunt too, as practically there was no movement through the neighborhood streets. There were no flyers or communication regarding what the municipal officials set out to do, how long it would take and how we could all cooperate. Hence, like many other decisions in the past, common citizens were once again expected to abide by adhoc policies and implementation procedures that someone somewhere may have designed, keeping the community in mind, but without minding to inform them.
Why do most government programmes fail? Why do citizens often associate well designed programmes with election gimmicks? Time and time again, I have seen the same in my work area of public health too. One big factor is the total closure of communication with beneficiaries -who ultimately define the success or failure of the entire programme!
Sometimes I wish we could borrow a few learnings from the marketing departments of commercial businesses. New products introduced in the market go through a rigorous process of research evidence, pilot testing, people engagement and proper canvassing. Although many a times these can be extended beyond reason for profit making, but without proper need assessment and participatory engagement, projects are on a downhill trajectory.
However, the present irritation in the neighborhoods has not been a bad experience so far. Through this process, I recognized a few neighbors with great potential in community engagement. A reclusive neighbor from the adjacent house came out with a flask containing tea, some paper tea cups and packets of cookies for the workers on our street. In India, daily wage earners mostly work in all construction/infrastructure projects. Men and women completing the physically challenging work of digging the dirty roads, could at least spend 5-10 minutes refreshing themselves with a hot cup of tea. Another neighbor led an active engagement with the workers. Asking them how long they would take, what utilities they were covering, and informing the neighborhood of the same. It was only through his information, that I could plan out my alternate transport schedule for the 4 weeks. One other proactive neighbor informed about the application forms for the new gas pipelines, without which, our house would have been surely left out from this initiative.
Although my neighborhood is covered in a mass of dust and people are constantly sneezing, coughing or both, and although we are on a make shift time plan, scampering around making last minute arrangements for keeping to our daily schedules, I am more or less happy to see that there are definitely some leaders in my neighborhood who act when the time comes with spontaneity and grace. While my contribution to the entire process may be limited to admiring them from my balcony and highlighting them on my minuscule blog or for voicing the lack of information at my neighborhood gossip sessions, the feeling of belonging to a community, of being part of a proactive neighborhood is motivating and cheerful.