Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Carnivals Are Capacity Building

We're walking to dinner when we crest a hill and find a carnival, its glowing lights bright and inviting and eerily reflected in the water of the Atlantic that sits behind it. Fatima* looks at me, and in her eyes is the same combination of fascination and curiosity and pure joy that has characterized her reaction to everything we've learned this week. 

"I've never been to a carnival before," she says, and though I hear the wistfulness and the request in her voice, she doesn't ask the question.

"Let's go, then," I say, and her face lights up.

For three days now, Fatima's face has been a study in emotions. Pure delight when she walked into a hotel room for the first time in her life, the first time she went wading in the ocean, the first time she tasted filofel. Embarrassment and shyness as our professional development program began, as she introduced herself to other attendees and compared her education, language skills, village roots to their accomplishments, as she looked around the room and found herself lacking. But then came determination, desire, a genuine desire to learn. She took copious notes on every presentation. She applied herself to every exercise, eyebrows furrowed, the concentration coming off her in waves. She made her first budget, wrote her first list of goals and objectives, took a tiny element of our program and, based on a need she sees, made it an integral part. She stood before the group and gave a presentation for the first time in her life.

That emotion? When she sat down? That was pride.

It's fascination on her face now as we wander among the bright lights and happily screaming children for a few minutes before choosing a ride: the Bouncing Rabbit. Fatima grins at me with a childlike joy as we start to move, turning rapidly to delighted squeals as the car lifts us to a height with staggering views and drops us with stomach-clenching speed.

As we leave the carnival, Fatima's eyes are shining.

We're back on the sidewalk again when she turns to me.

"I want to do this program with you," she says, "to learn everything there is to learn. And then? I want to do this for a program. I want to bring girls from towns like ours on trips. So they can see." She falls silent for a moment, looking out at the water. "I want them to see how big the world can be."

Carnivals. Joy in simple pleasures. Public speaking. Pride in a job well done. Inspiration and intimidation from others. Determination to improve. Dreaming.

This is capacity building. 

*name changed