Small Project Assistance Program
Grassroots support empowers local communities to make choices that benefit the whole community
Todorka Ovcharova (left) and Anelia Ilieva (right) are part of a group of disabled women based in Stara Zagora who produce hand knit traditional Bulgarian clothing and accessories. They were assisted by the SPA program in developing their own business. (Photo: USAID)USAID INVOLVEMENT Originally established in 1983 through a Memorandum of Understanding between the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Peace Corps (PC), the Small Project Assistance Program (SPA) is governed by a Special Objective developed within USAID: “to increase the capabilities of local communities to conduct low-cost, grassroots sustainable development.” The knowledge of local conditions of Volunteers is combined with the financial resources of USAID to help communities help themselves. Peace Corps Volunteers in all sectors help their local communities to carry out sustainable development projects in areas that are also of priority interest to USAID.
In Bulgaria, the SPA Program started in 1993 and has funded more than 400 projects. The Program will stay in the country through 2008.
GOALS SPA projects enhance the ability of communities to organize, plan and implement group decisions and make responsible choices. They result in the community being better able to apply organizational and technical skills. The Program also aims at providing instruction in subjects ranging from computer literacy to vocational training and supports activities to help increase employment. The focus of projects if often on helping groups with no access to capital, equipment or markets secure resources to start small income-generating activities.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION SPA project preparation starts with a Community Needs Assessment, conducted by community members with assistance from the Peace Corps Volunteer. Volunteers assist communities to identify common needs and concerns, develop strategies to address these concerns, and design and implement small-scale, grass-roots sustainable projects. Each approved SPA Project includes a direct skill transfer or capacity-building component and focuses on the development of local leadership and promotion of more self-reliant community organizations. SPA funds also support training of host country national partners, NGOs and community counterparts to enhance their skills and empower them to assume greater responsibility for their own development.
There are 3 main types of SPA projects: community-based training projects, community development projects and technical exchanges. SPA-supported educational activities improve access to formal and non-formal education for students and community residents, upgrade infrastructure when needed to support the project, and provide instruction or vocational training. Environmental education, conservation of biodiversity, and sustainable natural resource management are also supported by SPA, especially projects that preserve the environment and create new jobs and income for local communities. Technical exchange / Peer exchange projects provide a low-cost, effective way for communities and community organizations to learn from each other. The Volunteer and counterparts visit another community (where there may or may not be a Volunteer) to obtain information and share knowledge and skills. During these exchanges, counterparts and community partners receive specific skill training from members of the “host” community.
Supported projects are in the areas of:
- Teaching English as a foreign language: Creation of foreign language resource centers, computer and Internet laboratories and bringing new teaching methods into classrooms, teacher and student resource rooms, multimedia resource rooms and promoting multimedia education; summer and eco camps; creation of school playgrounds and fitness rooms, creation of school radio studios and curricula, library renovation;
- Environment: Developing environmental materials and education, promoting cleanup activities, environmental film festivals, creating environmental resource centers;
- Small business development and community economic and organizational development: Developing tourism information materials and promoting tourism at the local level, supporting computer education and internet access, language and computer training, supporting business senters, establishing centers for prevention of drug and alcohol abuse and supporting preparation of brochures for drug prevention, creation of a school playground for Roma children, supporting information centers and community development centers, supporting development of tourism and marketing strategies, construction of eco-trails, and increasing environmental awareness, creation of tourism guidebooks and marketing catalogues, supporting local medical centers and children day care centers;
- Youth development: Supporting organization of multi-ethnic and anti-trafficking seminars at the local level, local activities for increasing youth awareness for prevention of drugs, start-up activities for creating a youth-run movie theater, supporting activities among youth at the local level for preservation of nature, creation of youth centers.