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Reaching out.

Reaching Out

Boys' Town and FRA were brought together by the Florida Association of Voluntary Agencies for Caribbean Action, Inc. (FAVA/CA), Tallahassee, a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1982 with the help of Governor (now U.S. Senator) Bob Graham. Through its International Volunteer Corps "Association Ambassadors" program, the group involves associations in Caribbean development. FAVA/CA was formed following a massive influx of Cuban and Haitian refugees that caused unprecedented social and economic pressures on the state. If there was any doubt before, this event made it clear that Florida's future is interwoven with that of the Caribbean, and what is good for that region is good for Florida.

The FAVA/CA initiative enjoys a unique statutory base in Florida law and receives important financial support from the state. Appropriations have been voted annually since 1986, when FAVA/CA Executive Director David Pasquarelli sold Florida lawmakers on the concept of Florida's own mini peace-corps. State funds constitute 26 percent of FAVA/CA's operating revenue.

FAVA/CA's Florida International Volunteer Corps has conducted more than 200 training and technical assistance missions in a dozen Caribbean countries in response to requests from government and nongovernment organizations alike. Drug abuse prevention, agriculture, accommodation for people with disabilities, management training, and preserving the environment are currently priorities for assistance. Missions average 11 days. Consultants, whose expenses are paid by FAVA/CA, emphasize "training of trainers" in their missions, because if they can teach Caribbean people the skills necessary to operate vital projects, these people can continue the programs after FAVA/CA consultants leave.

Associations collaborate with FAVA/CA in four ways: * forming partnerships with Caribbean organizations and individuals to share expertise and advocacy; * recruiting constituents to serve as volunteers abroad (association staff often make excellent volunteers themselves); * donating materials, supplies, and equipment to Caribbean partners; and * supporting volunteer missions financially. Both U.S. groups and Caribbean organizations have initiated International Volunteer Corps projects.

Partnerships arranged by FAVA/CA include the Florida Employment and Training Association, Tallahassee, with the Belize Job Guidance and Placement Centre; the National Association of Social Workers Florida Chapter, Tallahassee, with family counselors in St. Vincent; the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, Tallahassee, with the Grenada Drug Avoidance Council; and the Florida Reading Association, Orlando, with Boys' Town, Kingston, Jamaica.

A volunteer corps


FAVA/CA's volunteer system has responded smoothly so far to request for assistance. Take the case of Ira Joe Simmons, a pediatrician and Rotarian in St. Lucia. In 1987 his Rotary club identified a community need for blood-banking services and donated a bloodmobile. It was soon apparent to Simmons that a vehicle alone was not enough. St. Lucia bloodmobile staff needed to be trained in blood banking and medical technology before the project could be put on the road. He contacted FAVA/CA for help from the International Volunteer Corps. Staff searched FAVA/CA's skills bank for the necessary combination of skills. Finding none, they telephoned Dale Malloy, past president of the state blood bank association for tips on how to proceed.

Malloy suggested a number of options for locating volunteers before realizing that he, as the director of Tallahassee's blood bank and a trained laboratory technician, would be a good candidate. FAVA/CA forwarded his credentials to St. Lucia. The Rotary Club accepted Malloy and within weeks he found himself in St. Lucia, training blood bank staff.

As happened in this case, people often learn of FAVA/ CA and its volunteer corps by word of mount. A spin-off project materialized when the Rotary Club told the St. Lucia Sickle Cell Association about FAVA/CA's program. The association was paired with the University of Miami Medical School's Sickle Cell Program. The volunteer corps recruited Astrid Mack, director of the Miami program, to instruct village workers on how to screen and counsel victims of the disease. Mack also trained technicians in the operation of sickle cell screening equipment donated to the St. Lucia Sickle Cell Association by Helena Laboratories, Beaumont, Texas.

Varied clients, big


Private firms and nonprofits are not the only groups that request assistance from FAVA/CA. Government departments in host countries are frequent partners in assistance as well. The Jamaica Ministry of Health, for example, requested a consultant in emergency medical services. Freida Travis, Florida's state emergency medical services training officer, was recruited. She not only developed a plan for training emergency medical personnel, but arranged the donation of a fully stocked ambulance from Wheeled Coach Corporation, Winter Park, Florida, to be used to help paramedics train in Jamaica.

About half of FAVA/CA's missions are agriculture-related, supported in large part by a grant from Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance, Washington, D.C. FAVA/CA's "Farmer-to-Farmer" program has a regular volunteer in veterinarian Tom Gillaspie, who takes time from his busy Fort Myers, Florida, practice to work alongside government veterinarians and with a fledgling livestock association on neighboring Carriacou.

Live Oak, Florida, farmer and professor Jimmy Rich helped local farmers introduce peanuts for markets on the tiny Leeward island of Barbuda at the request of the Barbuda Council. The crop yield proved to be twice the Caribbean average. This year Barbuda and neighboring Antigua will produce eight acres of the nut, which sells for $1 per pound.

Predictors of success

Successful overseas development projects seem to share seven key characteristics: * a high degree of commitment; * a small, manageable size; * an orientation toward training others to help themselves and their communities; * cost-efficiency; * the ability to be timely in offering help; * sustainable projects; and * a sense of accountability for projects' success.

Commitment. While volunteer missions can be relatively short term, FAVA/CA insists that U.S. participants commit to long-term partnerships. One FAVA/CA volunteer in three will return to the assistance site at least once after his or her initial service. All volunteer consultants maintain contact and provide support after they return to their homes. Long-distance consultation, follow-up, and advocacy for West Indian and Central American colleagues are hallmarks of the volunteer corps program.

Small-scale self-manageability. Change happens in pieces, not great leaps, and then only when programs are "owned" by the individuals they affect. Programs cannot be imposed. Listening to needs and taking the training to the people are what successful programs are all about.

Cost-efficiency. Overseas development assistance partnerships can be formed relatively inexpensively using volunteers and donated resources. For example, FAVA/ CA assistance, according to a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) study, "has been from 40 percent to 50 percent less expensive than that provided by international technical services firms."

Timeliness. Needs are most successfully addressed when they are salient for the people who feel them. Today's needs must be met today, not next year. Small, action-oriented teams are streamlined and have the capacity to move quickly, free of burdensome institutional constraints that can slow the process in government and large private-sector operations. In order to apply for help from FAVA/CA, organizations need only write a simple statement of the problem or pick up the telephone and call.

Sustainability. Association ambassadors focus on projects with solid grass-roots support, relying only on technology available on-site and strong local leadership capable of sustaining the project after the volunteer leaves. Projects that have high human and economic payoff, such as creating jobs, improving productivity, and preventing and treating disabilities, receive high priority.

Accountability. Volunteer projects are carefully evaluated on process and outcome. This is especially important for international volunteer programs, which in the past have sometimes suffered from poorly trained or questionably motivated individuals. FAVA/CA volunteers are consulting professionals who have agreed to forgo their usual fees. FAVA/CA employs a simple evaluation scheme in addition to trip reports and consultant recommendations routinely required of volunteers.

Volunteers are formally evaluated by the overseas requesting organization on a one-page instrument, using a five-point scale that measures the volunteer's knowledge, responsiveness, project outcome, and whether the client would use the volunteer again. In 1990 volunteers averaged 4.5 on the 5-point scale, and all would be asked back. Volunteers rate FAVA/CA staff on a similar instrument that pinpoints performance in problem identification, logistics, and support.

Challenge for the


Associations can play pivotal roles in this era of global interdependence by sharing needed expertise with their professional counterparts overseas. Agencies like FAVA/ CA can serve as important links in brokering these partnerships. And associations are in excellent positions to develop similar assistance programs of relevance to their industries.

Dave Schmeling is associate director of the Florida Association of Voluntary Agencies for Caribbean Action, Inc., Tallahassee. In 1990 FAVA/CA received ASAE's International Achievement Award for its "Association Ambassadors" program.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; associations outreach programs in the Caribbean region
Author:Schmeling, Dave
Publication:Association Management
Date:May 1, 1991
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