LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Often when supporting development work, donors can feel detached from the projects they are supporting.

Famine relief, disaster response, and peace-building are all important, and the various agencies working in these areas are dedicating trained staff to tackle these seemingly insurmountable problems; but sometimes, it’s good to reach an end goal and know a lasting solution has been found.

CAFOD – the international development agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – has been allowing people to participate in what it calls ‘Hands On’ projects. These are short-term projects lasting just two or three years with identified and achievable goals.

“The ‘Hands On’ regular giving scheme allows regular givers – those who have a direct debit setup – to support a specific project, and also receive specific information about this project. They usually support a project for two or three years, and they will get progress updates every three or four months telling them how the project is going. At the end of the project we will give them a final progress update,” said Vanessa Chang, the Individual Giving Manager at CAFOD.

“All of our projects have indicators and outcomes, but when we’re looking for a ‘Hands On’ project we are looking for one that is able to achieve a real difference in two or three years,” she told Crux.

Chang said it is also important for a project to have the kind of support staff that can provide the proper regular updates for the donors.

“I think one of the main attractions of ‘Hands On’ is that you start right at the beginning and it is very clear what the problem is, but it is also very clear from the beginning what the plan is and what you are hoping to achieve and how you are going to measure that success. All of that is made clear at the outset. The real attraction is that by the end of it – hopefully – you will see we have met all the targets and all of the objectives that we said we were going to achieve, and the community has truly been transformed,” she said.

The first project, for example, was restoring a dam and reservoir in Kitui, Kenya, allowing the community to once again have access to water.

Launched in 2014, the Kitui project trained the local population in new farming techniques, planted 10,000 trees and constructed thousands of yards of terracing.

The local reservoir was restored, and wells were dug for the community of over 2,400 people.

The project is now finished, and the once drought-stricken community has water for drinking and crops even during the driest periods of the year.

The next two projects helped agricultural communities in harsh environments – one near the Sahara Desert in Niger, the other in high-altitude Bolivia – improve farming techniques, put in proper irrigation equipment, and disaster-coping procedures.

After the success of these first ‘Hands On’ projects, CAFOD is now looking towards a more complicated field, where success is much harder to measure: Peace-building.

“We felt it was the right time to start trying to show off the other aspects of our work,” Chang told Crux.

CAFOD has often worked in peace-building areas, but applying the ‘Hands On’ model, with projects with goals that can be achieved in a few years, is more complicated.

Government troops, Marxist rebels, and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia have been battling each other, with the civilian population caught in the crossfire, for 50 years. However, a series of peace deals, most recently with the FARC rebel group, means the era of conflict might finally be coming to an end.

The people of the Magdalena Medio region are the focus of the latest ‘Hands On’ project.

“They are living with daily conflict and daily violence,” explained Chang. “There are people who are receiving death threats; there are curfews; there is a teacher who will be teaching in his school, and paramilitaries will march in and take over the school and demand airtime with the schoolchildren – so it is affecting people on an everyday level.”

Magdalena Medio is particularly at risk, since it is located on a river which is popular with smugglers and other illegal actors.

The three-year project will run peace-building workshops in 34 schools, focusing on teaching young people how to avoid a life of violence, and teach others what they have learned.

The project will train and equip young people with the skills necessary to hopefully make peace a reality.

“The idea is to help young people stop getting recruited into paramilitaries, to understand more about their own rights, and to imagine a future and understand what their opportunities are,” Chang said. “The hope is that by changing it for young people it will filter through to all levels of the community.”

She said if the project goes well, the goal is to take it to Colombia’s Ministry of Education.

You can go here to donate to CAFOD’s ‘Hands On’ project in Colombia.