There are few things I enjoy more than learning about people. They way they work, what makes them who they are, and appreciating the amazing differences between us. We can learn so much and change for the better simply by integrating with people of different ages, cultures, ethnicities, incomes, etc., etc. Human nature leads us to prefer to remain with people who think the way we think, behave the way we behave, thus confirming our ideas and behaviors. But what if the things we are doing are wrong? What if there are things we are doing simply because "that's the way we do it?" I for one want to know WHY. I need to know why.
"Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Or just because it's smart, doesn't mean it's right." - People Over Profit
Not much can ruffle my feathers more than people assuming that their respective culture, idea, way of doing things, is the best way. But the thing is, I have been guilty of this so many times. It is amazing how blind I can be when I am absolutely sure I am seeing clearly. We will have NO idea how other people view the world and learn to respect it if we do not try to see it through their eyes and, in the process, question our own beliefs. We will never fully understand what they have experienced in their lives and how their circumstances have shaped the way they think, but we can learn. If we do not pursue this, I believe, we are missing out on Christ's call to be the body: many very different parts combining to form a beautiful whole. I have been reading a little book called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for the second time. A passage that hits me hard every time I read it is this:
"God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy...God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image. I can never know beforehand how God's image should appear in others...To me the sight may seem strange, even ungodly."
When coming into this project we wanted to be sure that what we were doing was actually something the people wanted. You think, water, food, gardens...what could be bad about that? But I have heard of many a project left to die simply because there was no involvement and no ownership by the community, just a plan created by outsiders who have no idea how things are done within the culture. Again, we tend to think our own ideas are best, but most of the time, that is not the case.
We decided that we would do our best to involve the community in the decision making process. We have started going into the village, interviewing families, and asking questions like: "What do you see as the problems your community is facing?" and "What are your gifts/talents/what do you enjoy doing?" and "If we could do things to help, what would they be?" The responses we got were for the most part very similar as to the needs of the community: Water. From poor quality for drinking and the diseases that come from that, to hours of waiting in line during the dry season, to simply having to walk too far, it is a big concern for most of them. They also have trouble irrigating enough area to really make a difference during the dry season because of the amount of labor and time it takes to water with a can that you filled from a source many kilometers away. Apart from the need however, I have been moved by the fact that they are taken care of. Despite their lack of many things, they survive. They have incredible family bonds and when one of them is in need they band together and help. They thank the Lord for what they have and they ask to pray for us. They give us gifts! Talk about humbling. This quote from the book When Helping Hurts has been coming to life for me as we get more involved in the community:
"A significant part of working in poor communities involves discovering and appreciating what God has been doing there for a long time! This should give us a sense of humility and awe as we enter poor communities, for part if what we see there reflects the very hand of God."
The second most common problem was school for the children. There are a few village schools in the area, but there are many many children who have no access to them because it is too far to walk, they are overcrowded, or the quality of education is very poor.
Third, markets for selling their excess crops. When they do have some extra to sell, they must sell it soon after harvesting because most of them have no way to store it to wait for a better price, they may not have another chance, or, more commonly, they need the money right away. There are traders in the area who will come through right after harvest, buy what they can, store it and then sell for a huge markup in the city. They will also promise a higher price to convince them to grow certain crops and then when it is time to deliver, will give them much less than originally said. With no other options, most of the time they have to take what they can get.
Through our research, we have located a spot that seems to be the most in need for our first well. It will be accessed by around 180 families. We have told the community we would like to help them build a well in their area but they must contribute to its installation and administration so it becomes theirs. We want them to take pride in having control and ownership while we are here to help them in the event of a maintenance issue etc. They have decided to form a water committee that will implement a small monthly fee for every family using the well. This contribution will be set aside for any repairs that need to be done in the future. They will set hours of operation for the well and also hire a guard who, in their words, "cares in his heart", to protect it from theft.
The plan is to begin drilling on Monday, but we have had a couple hiccups getting the rig here. It will happen very soon. I will let you know ;). And keep us all in your prayers!