by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Business Systems Analyst
For the past two weeks, staff from ChildFund International and ChildFund Honduras have been in Dominica, collaborating with the ChildFund Caribbean office to test a new child survey tool loaded onto ultra-portable computers. This pilot project, which is funded with support from Intel, will help determine the feasibility of collecting and transmitting digital data in all of the countries where ChildFund works.
Climbing the northern mountains of Dominica early on Sunday morning, our caravan tried to outrun the impending downpour. After another hairpin turn near the summit, we slowed and began to see villagers dressed beautifully, walking uphill with a purpose. And then we heard the music.
Our team had arrived in Penville. Perched on a promontory overlooking the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, we found a small green-painted church that seemed to be the center of the universe. The mass was about to begin, but the congregation, still arriving, first had to weave its way through a crescendo of song.
Music is a vital part of life here, especially sacred music rooted in American gospel and blended with diverse cultural variations found uniquely on the island. The melodies and harmonies also provided our team a peaceful way to decompress from the drive, as we waited for the service to end and our next round of child status interviews to begin. While pausing outside of the church, I began to reflect on the work completed to-date and those whose participation was so vital to its success.
Among the data collectors that day were Clasia, a ChildFund-trained community mobilizer for the West Federation in Dominica, and Valarie, a community volunteer from the Northeastern District. ChildFund has organized its programs on the island into an East and a West Federation, with each serving approximately 2,000 enrolled and 1,500 sponsored children.
Clasia has worked with the West Federation for just more than a year and is responsible for reaching out to 332 children who are enrolled or sponsored through ChildFund. “I am getting to know each one,” she says.
As a youth, Clasia enrolled in the Dominica Business Training Center, a second-chance learning institution. Through the center, she became familiar with ChildFund’s work and later accepted a job, knowing that her passion is working to better the lives of children. “It’s wonderful to see how [they] react to us,” Clasia says, beaming. Even the casual observer can see that the children feel comfortable around her. As a result, they talk about the things that matter most to them. “It takes a while, though, to gain their trust,” she says.
Technology in the form of ultra-portable computers should help Clasia become more efficient in her job in the future. She was impressed with the initial tests and looks forward to future technologies as they are rolled out. “When you are in the field all day, you have to go back to your sub-office [to file reports]. You have to think about what to do next, and you have to put your information into the office computer. Now, it’s already there. It’s much easier. The next day [after being in the field] you can just continue with your work.”
Valarie, a community volunteer whose poise belies her young age, didn’t know what to expect when she signed on to collect data for the Child Status Index pilot. One thing she didn’t anticipate, though, was to “work such long, hard hours for so many days,” she says. “I found the motivation to move on, though,” Valarie adds, “to wake up every morning and face it again. And to be honest, I could do this all over again.”
Watching Valarie engage with a family that she’d never met and ask questions that, at times, could get personal, it was easy to see that the work came naturally to her. Children opened up and answered questions as if they were continuing a longstanding conversation.
“My best experiences were the home visits,” she says, “getting the opportunity to meet and dialogue with people in my country—and being touched by it.” Valarie is at the point in her life where she’s deciding on career paths. “I definitely will consider this field,” she says. “Whatever path I choose, though, I will always desire to be a volunteer and give back to my country. This was a life-changing experience!”
As the music died down, it was time to carry on with our work, but, for a brief time, we were able to clear our heads, rest our feet and imagine ourselves entwined in the daily existence of Penville, Dominica.