Traditionally, community development work has been left to institutions. The community members have resigned themselves as the beneficiaries and not as active players in projects addressing their own challenges. This has led to these institutions, the government included, starting initiatives that are either not relevant to the community or sustainable. This is mainly because they are not owned by the community. Tatua Kenya’s fellowship program is creating an opportunity for community leaders to learn and apply community engagement methodology in their communities. The leaders through constant coaching by Tatua staff work with the community to create a structure that allows the community to create social change.
Natalie Finstad, a Co-Founder of Tatua Kenya shares her take in aid and mission. She not only has a vast experience in justice work but is also playing a vital role in ensuring more people are involved in the new way of doing mission- as she talks about in this post as well as teaching them how to do it.
“Tatua Kenya began as a collective response to the way mission and aid were being done in the world. At its inception, I couldn’t point to exactly what was the problem but I did know a few things that bothered me.
- Mission was typically short-sighted and didn’t think through the long-term challenges.
- Mission didn’t engage local voices or honor their contribution.
Overtime however, I began to become increasingly frustrated with the one-sided nature of mission, meaning that for the most part mission efforts were about the “other person” or “other country’ changing, not us. This association of mission likely comes from the church’s tendency to use mission to describe the work it does with the outside world. Churches send out groups on mission trips to heal the sick, feed the hungry, build houses for the poor or work at a local food bank. Participants sign up to “make a difference” or “help the less-fortunate.” However, after the fact, many participants on mission trips will often remark, “I thought I was going to help them but I realized that they helped me more. That trip changed me.” While this sentiment sounds nice, I have always doubted the weight of the words.
How really were they helped by the poor people who received their new house? Was it in the welcoming they received or the view of a simpler life? If so, it appears, in most cases that the help they received didn’t go very far because few people who go on mission trips come back and change their lives – they might give a little more to the church or share about the plight of poor children in a faraway land but rarely do they make the sort of changes that could bring about a new kind of world, locally or globally.
In the time I worked at Tatua I began to understand mission as a, by definition, two-sided change. Mission was the encounter with another which changed the way you saw yourself, saw the world and therefore, the way you lived. One example for me is coffee, before I went to Kenya I never really thought about fair-trade coffee products. I knew it existed but I assumed it to be a fad that would fade away in the near future. However, in Kenya I met people who grew coffee, I saw places coffee was grown and the conditions under which it was farmed. I visited homes of people who were, quite literally, breaking their back to grow coffee and living in poverty. This experience has motivated me to begin to talk to church’s about only serving fair-trade coffee at church, out of a commitment to really love our neighbor. .I don’t expect this will be easy, it will be hard enough for me to commit to spend the extra few dollars every time I buy coffee as an individual but we have to be willing to make changes that will actually lead to a just world.
The mission of the church is not to fix the world, it’s to engage with the world in a way that leads to the emergence of a sacred way of life. This sacred way of life means that we honor all of us who inhabit the world, and that we are willing to change our everyday lives to honor one another. Mission isn’t a trip or a project or a theory – it’s a way of being every day. This type of life requires deep relationships and communities that support us in living differently. I believe the Christian Church has the power to nurture both those relationships and communities. Now that I’ve left Tatua Kenya I’m working with programs in the church to design and strengthen these type of communities and relationships. In doing so, I hope to see an expansion in the US of people that know what it means to engage with the world for the purpose of its and our own continual transformation.
This week Tatua helped launch a team of clergy, students and teachers in the Diocese of Kajiado to “Encourage, organize and mobilize the Kajiado church and community to pull together their resources to improve education and spiritual well bringing in Kajiado. The Diocese of Kajiado is a large Diocese that is just south of Nairobi. It stretches all the way to the Southern border of the country, where Kenya meets Tanzania. The Diocese is diverse, it is home to burgeoning urban cities and rural areas where the Maasai still live in the traditional manner, raising cattle and living nomadically. Over the last four years Tatua has been building a deep friendship with the Diocese, specifically with Bishop Gaddiel. Bishop Gaddiel is really an incredible man, committed to education, equality and partnership within the Anglican Communion. I’m very excited about this project we will be starting together.
The Diocese has recently invested in a school as many of their members struggle to provide education for their children. However, they have learned that the school itself can’t influence the community to value education. Bishop Gaddiel and his leadership team have decided to partner with Tatua to develop a program that cultivates the value of education throughout the Diocese.
Tatua will be coaching, training and supporting a team of priests and teachers at the Diocesan School in the organizing methodology so they can build community based movements across the Diocese that address local and Diocesan education needs. This project will develop the leadership skills of priests in the Diocese, improve education for people in Kajiado as well as build support for the Diocesan School.
What excites you about the project in Kajiado and why? What does real change mean to you?
I find working in the community exciting because you interact with such a diverse people. What gives me hope in my work is seeing the people in the community willingly helping and been a part of the Kanyerere campaign. I had conversation with some of the leaders of the campaign and for the first time they all appreciate that as interesting as community organizing, it is new to them. It has taken us so many meetings to identify the problem. We now know what our root cause is. Some parents are not responsible enough. As they put so much effort to fend for their families, the forget some of the other aspects of been a good parent. Taking care of their children. In order to solve this challenge, we have come up with a ‘parents watch group’. These parents will meet once a month, donate money, stationary, uniform, school bags, shoes and desks, all towards taking 50 children back to school in an year. The parents will also begin to develop a relationship with their children through school follow up with teachers, and well being with their children through daily 1:1 conversations. We believe if we got parents to sign up to this dynamic group, we would have a community with responsible parents. A community geared towards bringing up responsible children and generation.