Two years of student proj ects have come and gone since the bulk of these
essays were first drafted, and while the center has held steady— the health
insurance scheme, the cyber, microfinance, and the writers’ workshop
remain staples— other proj ects are being added: latrine sanitation, a
universal nut sheller, a second Internet café, an archival and oral history
proj ect, Zumba classes. It is the improvisatory, roll- with-the-punches na-
ture of this work that not only makes it fresh and in teresting—opening
up new challenges and possibilities each year— but also lends it flexibil-
ity that larger development initiatives lack. States and nongovernmental
organ izations (ngos)—bureaucratic apparatuses saddled with protocols,
blueprints, and annual reports and at the beck and call of executives and
funding streams back home— lumber along, with little ability to adapt to
local realities. Rare is the ngo that can abandon a proj ect in mid- stream
that might not be working and begin something entirely new, switching,
say, from child sponsorship to microfinance or from malaria prevention
to agriculture.
Do- it- yourself (diy) development in a neoliberal moment not only
retains a nimbleness that enables it to travel (and sidestep bureaucratic
inertia); it is also less costly. Student ingenuity discovered a way to make
the health insurance scheme self- sustaining and to run teen microfinance
on less than $500 a year. With student technicians— notably, engineering
Charles Piot
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