April 6th I was asked to give a TEDx Talk in Mathare. The invite was exciting, fun and incredibly humbling. TED is a non-profit organization that asks speakers to share their life story and how their unique past led them to the work they are doing. This story/result should challenge the audience’s beliefs and provoke conversation.
You would think for some one who is versed/teaches narrative this would have come easily to me but I was forced to really think about what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to get up there and give the usual “Tatua Rocks” schpeel, though we do rock. Instead, I was hoping to focus on the method/belief behind our work – that true development goes beyond the material to the spiritual.
This belief is based in our understanding of poverty. We believe that poverty is more than a lack resources; it is a lie that you are in fact, inferior to the people who hold those resources. It is a lie that you do not have the power to create your own solutions.
Currently, the majority of our development programs are focused on addressing the lack of resources rather than the lie that causes and encompasses that lack of resources, for more on how we’ve come to believe this lie see here.
The trick with narrative is that to tell a good one you’ve got to know why you know something is true. I mean, I know that but this was a new narrative for me, I haven’t really talked about when I knew the difference between the tangible lack of resources I experienced as a child (I’ve talked about that before) but this time I was talking about when I felt poor.
I was able to coach myself well enough to get to a story that I could tell.
I was ten years old, it was cold outside and time for recess. I was wearing this old, pink, thin windbreaker. I ddin’t want to go to recess, I didn’t want the other kids to see my jacket, they all had warm clothes. So I hid, I curled up in a little ball in the ourdoor hallways of bendwood elementary and I hid. I continued hiding for the next eighteen years.
-Natalie Finstad, Executive Director of Tatua Kenya
I spent several days last week representing Tatua Kenya by attending the 24th Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlement Program. The theme this year being “Sustainable Urban Development: The Role of Cities In Creating Improved Economic Opportunities For All, With Special Reference To Youth and Gender.” Yet there was clearly another theme, subtitled in the conference ~ one of participatory community development. This can be summed up by the constant reinforcement from speakers throughout the events that we can no longer refer to the ‘poor/slum dwellers/disadvantaged’ as beneficiaries, they must be partners.
Since the inception of Tatua Kenya, we have called everyone we work with partners, insisting that we build a relationship that is based on mutual understanding and mutual accountability. This is out of the belief that we are all in this together, and the more we ‘differentiate’ between us and them, those who have and those who do not, the more we create dependency and inequality.
It was great to see that the big guys like UN HABITAT are coming on board with this idea, and working with great grassroots organizations like Slum Dwellers International to implement the Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP). Sitting in the conference room with heads of state from all over Africa, listening to them call for a ‘new approach’, one that demands partnership and ownership from the community, gave me chills of excitement. I know it will not be an easy path forward, but it is one that we are taking together.
There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go far, go together. If you want to go fast, go alone.”
Sometimes it seems easier to just go alone. In the beginning Jacob and Rose felt that way. Working closely with other people is a challenge, especially because everyone functions differently.
Last week Rose and Jacob had an open meeting where they were able to really talk about the support they needed from eachother. Since that meeting they have been working together in a new way. A new way that includes regular communication and a better understanding of each other.
Now, they are in agreement, they want to go far! In order to go far, they need to go together and not just with each other, but with everyone else in the Ngong community.
Follow our blog and Facebook page to keep up with the work Jacob and Rose are doing in Ngong.
“Everytime I am doing organizing, I look at it as a big puzzle of 1000 pieces. Each piece is fundamental to complete the big picture, which is to reduce child poverty. Everytime I wake up in the morning I think about organizing the pieces and asking people to come and bring their own pieces to complete the big picture in the community.”
Thank you to Mr. Tony Ngala for that perspective on community organizing.