Click to enlarge photographEihab Aldebiat (ISP 05-06) works as a Project Assistant at the Aga Khan Foundation (Syria)’s Rural Support Programme in Salamieh, Syria. He is an Agricultural Engineer with a Higher Education Diploma in Forestry and Environment from the University of Aleppo and an MSc in International Natural Resource Development from the University of Wales, Bangor.
I was born in Homs, Syria, the second of five children. My father was an army officer and we moved often but most of my childhood was spent in Alqutifa, near Damascus. My father died unexpectedly when I was 13 and since that time we have lived in my mother’s village, Taldara, near Salamieh.
My diploma course in the Department of Forestry & Environment at the University of Aleppo opened my eyes to the way NGOs and international foundations work. Local community involvement in forest management was a new concept for me. This is the backbone concept of foundations that work in development. When I finished my studies in Aleppo, there were very few foundations working in Syria, so the opportunity to work in this field was limited. My work with the government was frustrating and maybe in some ways it was the reason I quit. When AKF started working in Salamieh I was already familiar with the concepts of water management in Salamieh (my graduation project was on the integrated management of part of the Salamieh watershed). I applied in 2002 for a vacancy with the Rural Support Programme (RSP) in Salamieh but unfortunately failed to get the job. I realized then that I needed a higher level of education in the rural development field. In 2005 I applied to several UK universities that have Master’s courses in Rural Development and Natural Resource Development and got an offer from the University of Wales in Bangor and a scholarship from AKF.
The MSc course I attended in the School of Environment & Natural Resources was very useful for my later work with AKF. I had the opportunity to study both the technical and social aspects of Natural Resource Development (NRD). I learned about such social issues as the role of communities and their organization in managing their natural resources and combining these issues to their livelihoods. When after my Master’s I had the opportunity to do an internship at the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in India, I could see what I had learnt in UK being put to practice (e.g. Self Help groups, village institutions, collective management of common property regimes, etc.).
When I finished my Master’s in the UK, I contacted the CEO of AKF in Syria and the Scholarship Office in Geneva to offer my services, since I was committed to return to Syria and work with AKF. I was first offered an internship in India to to gain some practical experience in a long-running Rural Development Programme. I spent six months in Gujarat at AKRSP, from May to October 2007,where I undertook a study on the “Effectiveness & Efficiency of the Institutions & Organization of Water Users’ Association Promoted by AKRSP(I)’’. The purpose of this internship was to look at AKRSP’s experience in the management of common property regimes and to try to transfer this experience to Syria.
I’m currently working a Project Assistant on two projects: poultry and rainwater harvesting. In the first project which I got involved in this year, my work is more on the social aspects and coordination among AKF head office, the lab and farmers. We have recently launched a promising project which aims to mobilizing a group of poultry farmers and provide them the social and technical support through the project staff. The goal of this intervention is to demonstrate the best practices in barn management and bio-security in order to reduce the mortality rate of the poultry. In the rainwater harvesting project, we are working in the tree-planted areas of Salamieh district. We hope this technique will contribute with the other water management projects to alleviate water shortage in Salamieh. My role in this project covers all aspects: social and technical support. I work jointly with the project team to set the seasonal work plan (2008-09), to implement, monitor and evaluate the project
I feel lucky when compared with my colleagues in the MSc course to have found a job with a foundation like AKF and in the same field as my course. I had a painful experience with government jobs when I had to work in a mill in a totally different field than my specialization.
I am now very hopeful that the two project I am working on will succeed. Working with people is really hard but I believe that there is a key for each society that we need to discover. I came back from India with a hope that we could establish Groundwater Committees on village or aquifer levels. The objective is to set a regime of collective action in groundwater management or at least create dialogue among farmers that may lead to cooperation. I am also hoping that by working hard and succeeding in my job, there will be opportunities to advance in my career. AKF is a foundation that offers good opportunities for the future to those who work hard.
My advice to those who would like to work in the same field as my profession is to believe in what they are doing. Working with development organizations is not a routine job. It is more creative, caring and ethical. We are helping people to improve their livelihoods so we need to be honest and to believe in our mission. How can we help people if we do not really feel their problems? I recommend that development practitioners get involved in the field to see the reality of how people live and think. Staying behind a desk will allow you to see the reality of people’s lives.
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