“It’s very obvious: we don’t have enough money to change people’s life. This is the problem. We don’t need your VCA.” the chief of the village uttered in a loud voice and sharp eyes swept over all faces in the meeting room. His facial expression was still pretty vivid in my mind. “Chief Liu, can I suggest we hear the voices from all the representatives of the village?” I fought back. In my belief, the implementation of the Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) tool is extremely critical for the success of the project. VCA emphasizes on uses various participatory tools to gauge people’s exposure to and capacity to resist natural hazards. Meanwhile, I felt the pressure from the great silent majority, which made me unable to think for a while. After a brief discussion with other issues on the agenda, we took a pause. I got a moment to calm down and recollect myself. Considering how to turn around the situation, I politely excuse the Chief out from the meeting room for a while. He felt suspicious, but my colleague covered me up and brought other things to his attention. Expecting the difference after his absence, I tried to initiate small talks with villagers, such as how do you like your harvest this year? Is there some factors boost or reduce the total yield? Interesting thing happened—more and more people started to discuss with neighbors and then spoke out. Especially a mid-aged man, People called him Uncle Wang, led the discussion and sort out the major risks the project should focused on, eventually.
This is a Disaster Preparedness Project, which has been implemented in a remote poor village in Hubei Province 5 years ago. I was working as a Project Coordinator in Red Cross Society of China. Looking back, I think I have made a right but maybe not wise decision—to invite the Chief to leave for a while, at that specific moment. I say it’s a right decision because I can’t imagine if I haven’t done that, how we could push the project moving forward. That is not my first time to face the silent majority. People are afraid to speak out simply because the bitter lessons learnt year by year in China. There a high probability that they would be punished if they speak out real thought or truth. Also, the traditional Chinese culture appreciates the practice of respecting leaders and follows their dictate. To remain silent is a best way to interpret the essence of Confucius’ “Golden Mean” to most people. However, the VCA tool, which is designed and developed by the western world, encourages people to express, to participate, to identify the priorities, and make group decision in the final. For these villagers, who have never experienced the democratic way of thinking and choose what they really need. The challenge is obvious and seems hard to concur.
Before arrival, I thought the Chief of the Village, Mr. Liu, would be an idea delegate and key person to connect all relevant stakeholders. However, with several rounds of discussion, especially his behaviors in the meeting, I thought maybe I was wrong. I should not abruptly take it for granted that—the Chief, as a leader of the Village, is an ideal leader to lead the project in his territory. Besides, with decades of learning and practices from his supervisors, the mayors and higher ranked officers, most of whom are Communist Party Members, he hardly can make decision independently but follow instructions. So, I can understand that he prefers to do the same thing to his lovely villagers. Oppression, the invisible force, makes the whole environment seem peaceful, but cannot satisfy the true needs from the community.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a “right but not wise” decision. I just simply excluded the Chief in the discussion. In the implementation of the project, we suffered by his unsupportive attitude and misunderstanding. Finally we’ve overcome all the…