Peace Corps Blog

This is a blog of my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, working in South Africa. My job title is a capacity builder, which means I help increase the effectiveness of a local NGO that does AIDS/HIV related work.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Disconnect between Understanding and Action

Thursday and Friday of this last week, I attended a workshop to SAQA accreditation. In brief, SAQA is an organization that has defined educational standards for certification; and my organization is interested in getting its training program accredited, so that the home-based caregivers we train actually receive certification. The workshop confirmed for me one of the overarching challenges hampering development in South Africa. For this particular workshop, we were working on writing policies and procedures necessary to achieve accreditation (for example, assessment and moderation policies, to ensure that testing is fair). For part of the day, we broke into smaller groups in order to draft sample policies for our own organizations, based on provided samples.

The big challenge that we continually ran into was a disconnect between the policy and procedure we were writing and the reality of the individual organizations. The people at the workshop could easily take the sample policies and procedures and rephrase them, but people seemed to not understand that these policies needed to reflect how their organization would actually function. If the sample procedure (which was from a large corporation) had six different departments involved in the process, then the newly written procedure would also reference six different departments. And when you ask the person, they will readily acknowledge that five of the six departments do not exist at their organization. Then pressing further, asking why they then included them in their procedure, they will answer that it was in the sample.

This sort of thought disconnect occurs often here. The most notable example is with HIV and AIDS. Talking to the average person, they will acknowledge that HIV is a huge problem and the majority of people know most of the basic facts of the disease, including how it is spread (there is definitely some misinformation and myth, but I was surprised by how many people knew the basic information about HIV). Even further, people will talk about how risk behavior and multiple sexual partners are contributing to the spread of the disease and that such behavior is a fundamental part of the spread of the disease. So then after such positive initial conversation with a person, I might ask him, “And what about you, do you use a condom? Or do you sleep around even though you are married?” And then contrary to the whole conversation, they will say “no, I don’t use a condom”, or “yes, I cheat on my wife” (maybe not as direct as that, but you get the idea). People have the knowledge and understanding about HIV and AIDS, but that information does not influence their behavior.

Numerous other examples of this disconnect between understanding and action exist. Another one worthy of mention is religion. The vast majority of people in South Africa are religious, especially in the rural areas (in fact, stating that you do not believe in god can result in exclusion, such as not getting a job). The majority of the religions are Christian based. And each person will talk about the important of Christian values, of dedication to your wife, of abstaining until marriage, etc. Yet, the statistics on multiple sexual partners, premarital sex and other similar behavior is staggering. One specific church (ZCC: Zion Christian Church), which is based in the Limpopo province and has a huge number of followers in the rural area, bans alcohol. Yet again, we find that the majority of the ZCC members still drink, although they will explain that it is not allowed.

The important thing about all these examples is that: 1) people understand the situation and have basic knowledge about what they should or should not do; 2) the behavior of people is contrary to that knowledge; and, most importantly, 3) people do not connect their own behavior with their understanding, they won’t even understand that they are doing something contrary to their thinking. This disconnect results from a series of different things, but I will address that in a later blog post.


At November 16, 2007 5:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This disconnect results from a series of different things

Uh...human nature? Just a guess. ;-)

- Vance Maverick


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