Josh Levy

Josh Levy graduated from Columbia University in February 2015 with a Master's of Public Administration. Before becoming an AP Peace Fellow, he was the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) intern for the West Africa Team in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, where he provided administrative and research support on a variety of security and development issues. Prior to joining the UN, Josh worked for The World Bank, where he co-managed a research team and assisted the Global Center for Conflict, Security and Development in improving their evaluation methods for development projects in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Mr. Levy also worked in public relations and marketing in the public sector and in the private sector prior to moving to New York to pursue his Masters. After the fellowship, Josh wrote: "The fellowship has helped me grow professionally and personally. I improved my photography skills, my journalism/writing/reporting skills, and my project management skills. And seeing the fruits of my labor was the best experience. Once the toilet was built I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment." Contact: jlevy@advocacynet.org



The Tochi Toilet: Nature Called and We Picked Up

05 Jul

20150630_134258

20150630_134330

Power’s out, nothing unusual about that. Except this time we really could use the light. It’s late in the afternoon and a torrential downpour is pounding the sheet metal roof, making it quite noisy.

You could cut the tension in the room with a knife, or at least it felt that way to me. Negotiations with Geoffrey, the construction contractor, were climaxing. We had been going back and forth for quite some time over details such as the payment scheme, project valuation, and designs for the latrine, but we were finally about to come to an agreement.

I was stressed because I had made some major changes to the contract only yesterday. I revised the numbers in the contract, shaving off about 1 million Ugandan shillings, and I altered the payment scheme so that Geoffrey would have to demonstrate his commitment by implementing and completing 30% of the project before any compensation was given.

I also made some alterations to the contingency fund we established. I revised it down from 3% to 1.5% of the contract’s value and I wrote that Geoffrey would only receive this money if (a) the material expenses did not exceed the agreed upon amount, (b) strict accountability procedures were adhered to, and (c) he completed the project ahead of schedule while still maintaining the high quality standards we outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

What I didn’t tell him was that I still had USD $100 set aside to take care of any unanticipated hiccups. He didn’t need to know that right away or that I was ready to spend it all to ensure this project was successful. I wanted to see how things developed first and establish some degree of trust between GDPU and Geoffrey so I could see how this relationship would blossom.

After what felt like hours of silence, broken only by intermittent mumbling between Geoffrey and his colleague or my interjections to explain whichever part of the contract I saw them pondering over, they put down their flashlight and asked for a pen. He agreed to our terms! Now the challenge was going to be implementing this program.

20150701_135901

As I’ve said in previous blogs, this project is about more than just building a drainable latrine which is accessible to all students. It is about creating an inclusive school environment, which means that GDPU was going to need to invest a lot of time and effort into this program. That was going to be a significant challenge considering the situation GDPU was facing. They, like many community-based organizations in the developing world, operate on a shoestring budget and survive from one project to another.

Sometimes they have had to suspend salaries for all of their staff. This time they were running up against multiple deadlines. Two of their biggest programs, a Youth Development Program which trains young people with disabilities on how to engage in income generating activities and a cerebral palsy awareness program which trains parents and care givers on how to support the needs of children with cerebral palsy, are expiring in the next few months. Once these programs dry up, so does GDPU’s coffers.

20150701_133652

20150701_133938

Yet here I am, pushing the two most capable, hardest working members of GDPU’s staff to devote precious time and energy towards the Tochi toilet project. I completely understand their need to ensure the sustainability of their organization, but I also want to instill in GDPU a belief that this toilet can unlock a whole new avenue of advocacy. The way we have designed this program is such that the elements are tied together by the idea of promoting inclusion and accessibility.

20150701_133840

20150701_152507

For example, through this program, GDPU is bringing structural accessibility improvements to Tochi Primary School via a new latrine, but they are also training teachers and staff on the critical elements of creating an inclusive environment. The training sessions we had last week on topics such as language and labeling, communication, and understanding how students with disabilities participate in daily activities as well as the unique challenges these students face, are a way of making the school more welcoming to students with disabilities.

The idea is that these training sessions will equip the teachers with knowledge and tools for supporting students with disabilities. The MOU also states that GDPU will hold awareness workshops for parents, teachers, and students in order to address the issue of bullying. Additionally, GDPU will be working with teachers at Tochi to organize a series of activities and competitions. Students who participate and perform well will receive scholastic materials such as pens or notebooks, while the grand prize of one term’s school fees paid will be awarded to one student from each class.

20150701_152447

Hygiene education and inclusion will be the general themes for each activity, but the objective is to engage students in an innovative way, motivate them to take it seriously, and promote values which are conducive for an accessible school environment. For instance, one of the activities will be a mural painting that is going to require teamwork skills. Students who bully others are not going to score well.

Most importantly, GDPU will be required to monitor the project and collect data for evaluation reports. There is a small portion of the budget allocated for salaries to incentivize the GDPU staff to commit time to this project and ensure it is sustainable.

Sustainability is a hugely important component of this project. That’s why we also had a meeting with the Parent Teacher Association, the School Management Committee, and the Head Teacher to discuss maintenance and how to ensure the toilet would last. They agreed to raise money from increased fees for parents in order to cover the cost of draining the latrine when it was full and resupplying the hygiene materials when they were empty. We even had meetings with the city engineer and local officials from the Department of Education to ensure they were on board with the project.

20150703_121609 (2)

The planning is finished, ground has been broken, and all stakeholders have been engaged.

It’s time to build some toilets.

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I revised the numbers in the contract, shaving off about 1 million Ugandan shillings, and I altered the payment scheme so that Geoffrey would have to demonstrate his commitment by implementing and completing 30% of the project before any compensation was given.\n\nI also made some alterations to the contingency fund we established. I revised it down from 3% to 1.5% of the contract\u2019s value and I wrote that Geoffrey would only receive this money if (a) the material expenses did not exceed the agreed upon amount, (b) strict accountability procedures were adhered to, and (c) he completed the project ahead of schedule while still maintaining the high quality standards we outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). \n\nWhat I didn\u2019t tell him was that I still had USD $100 set aside to take care of any unanticipated hiccups. He didn\u2019t need to know that right away or that I was ready to spend it all to ensure this project was successful. I wanted to see how things developed first and establish some degree of trust between GDPU and Geoffrey so I could see how this relationship would blossom.\n\nAfter what felt like hours of silence, broken only by intermittent mumbling between Geoffrey and his colleague or my interjections to explain whichever part of the contract I saw them pondering over, they put down their flashlight and asked for a pen. He agreed to our terms! Now the <\/span>challenge was going to be implementing this program.\n\n\"20150701_135901\"<\/a>\n\nAs I\u2019ve said in previous blogs, this project is about more than just building a drainable latrine which is accessible to all students. It is about creating an inclusive school environment, which means that GDPU was going to need to invest a lot of time and effort into this program. That was going to be a significant challenge considering the situation GDPU was facing. They, like many community-based organizations in the developing world, operate on a shoestring budget and survive from one project to another. \n\nSometimes they have had to suspend salaries for all of their staff. This time they were running up against multiple deadlines. Two of their biggest programs, a Youth Development Program which trains young people with disabilities on how to engage in income generating activities and a cerebral palsy awareness program which trains parents and care givers on how to support the needs of children with cerebral palsy, are expiring in the next few months. Once these programs dry up, so does GDPU\u2019s coffers.\n\n\"20150701_133652\"<\/a>\n\n\"20150701_133938\"<\/a>\n\nYet here I am, pushing the two most capable, hardest working members of GDPU\u2019s staff to devote precious time and energy towards the Tochi toilet project. 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Students who participate and perform well will receive scholastic materials such as pens or notebooks, while the grand prize of one term\u2019s school fees paid will be awarded to one student from each class.\n\n\"20150701_152447\"<\/a>\n\nHygiene education and inclusion will be the general themes for each activity, but the objective is to engage students in an innovative way, motivate them to take it seriously, and promote values which are conducive for an accessible school environment. For instance, one of the activities will be a mural painting that is going to require teamwork skills. Students who bully others are not going to score well.\n\nMost importantly, GDPU will be required to monitor the project and collect data for evaluation reports. There is a small portion of the budget allocated for salaries to incentivize the GDPU staff to commit time to this project and ensure it is sustainable. \n\nSustainability is a hugely important component of this project. That\u2019s why we also had a meeting with the Parent Teacher Association, the School Management Committee, and the Head Teacher to discuss maintenance and how to ensure the toilet would last. They agreed to raise money from increased fees for parents in order to cover the cost of draining the latrine when it was full and resupplying the hygiene materials when they were empty. We even had meetings with the city engineer and local officials from the Department of Education to ensure they were on board with the project.\n\n\"20150703_121609<\/a>\n\nThe planning is finished, ground has been broken, and all stakeholders have been engaged.\n\nIt\u2019s time to build some toilets.\n<\/span>\n”,”class”:””}]}[/content-builder]

Posted By Josh Levy

Posted Jul 5th, 2015

7 Comments

  • I’m so excited to see the progress you’ve made! I definitely know how it feels like it takes ages, but you’re going to leave such a lasting impact for the community, especially for the disabled who will benefit from the toilet. Seemingly small projects contribute to those much larger goals such as inclusion.

  • Shannon

    July 9, 2015

     

    Great to see the Tochi toilet project is moving forward, the students there definitely need it! Sorry we didn’t get to meet up in Kampala but glad things seem to be well in Gulu! How did you all get a monkey?

  • Josh Levy

    July 11, 2015

     

    The mural painting will be done by the students and a local artist The theme will generally be Good Hygiene, Inclusion, and Accessibility, but we still need to work out the details with the artist and the school. Everything will take place on an Open Day to be hosted at the school where we will have a lot of fun projects for the kids, announce some prizes, and GDPU will give a short speech to hand over the toilet officially to the school. Thanks Shannon! The monkey was kind of an accident. My wife sort of stumbled into a black market monkey trade and decided to rescue these orphaned vervets. She is volunteering with the wildlife authority now to prosecute the guys who capture them and take them away from their monkey families. The wildlife authority then takes the orphans to Murchison Falls National Park where they have a small sanctuary to try and rehabilitate them.

  • collins

    July 13, 2015

     

    Thank you Josh for your commitment to ensure that everything moves as planned

  • Iain Guest

    July 17, 2015

     

    Great work Josh! Your passion for the project, and your determination to improve the lives of the students, shines through. Also, I appreciate your hard-headed and businesslike approach! Key to success will be GDPU’s commitment and engagement. As you write, they are always scrambling from one project to the next just to keep the lights on! But you’ll help them to see the long-term value of this investment as Kathryn did last year. Well done!

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