Development, Up Close and Personal

I’ll admit it: when I learned I’d be spending the next six months of my life in a Millennium Village I knew nothing about Jeffrey Sachs, MDG’s, or even the UNDP. To say the least, the past weeks have been a crash course in the intricacies of international development.

I’ll do my best to bring you up to speed.

In 2000, the United Nations’ Millennium Project determined the eight most integral steps toward the end of poverty:

  1. Eradication of extreme hunger and poverty
  2. Achievement of universal primary education
  3. Promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women
  4. Reduction of child mortality rates
  5. Improvement of maternal health
  6. Combat of HIVAIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability
  8. Developing a global partnership for development

These are known as the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG’s.

Following the MDGs’ announcement, economist and author of The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs, created a non-profit called Millennium Promise whose goal is to achieve the MDG’s in Africa by 2015. Millennium Promise subsequently partnered with The Earth Institute at Columbia University and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to develop the Millennium Village premise.

Essentially, the idea is to pick various villages, representative of varied climate and culture, across sub-Saharan Africa in which to implement development “interventions.” The unique (some say impossible) aim of the Millennium Village Project (MVP) is for all development interventions to be led and implemented by the local community.

Furthermore, MVP operates on the premise that the interconnectedness of the areas of development means it is ineffectual—even detrimental—to focus on only one sector; development must occur across all sectors simultaneously. I like to think of this last bit like a Rubik’s cube, you can’t focus on just the one side; even when it’s solved completely, the remaining sides are discombobulated and far from solution.

There are currently 14 of these Millennium Villages (which are, in fact, clusters of villages, with one serving for research purposes as the “primary village.”) I live in one of these, in northern Senegal, called Leona. Its population is roughly 1,300—about the size of my high school.

Through my apprenticeship with GCY, I’ve been observing various projects and events organized by Millennium Village Project as well as meeting with coordinators, all in an attempt to understand the reality of the project. I have had the opportunity to volunteer alongside health workers, teachers, farmers, and community organizers

Just this week, I’ve stepped into the next stage of my apprenticeship: I have chosen to focus my energies for the next four months in the sectors of education and feminine health. While my supervisors and I have some exciting ideas in the works, I’m going to let them mature over the next weeks before I definitively report any future plans.

For now, I am thrilled to have such a unique opportunity to not only be immersed in the culture and languages of Senegal, but to be involved with the cutting edge of international development—the Millennium Village Project.