The truth about Community organizing

Being an organizer takes a keen awareness of where energy exists and moving on that energy. It means seeing how a community works, what resources it has, what its needs are and helping match already present resources to existing needs. It’s about helping people see that they already have the answers to the problems they want some one else to solve. It’s looking at the community with a different sense of eyes.

The job isn’t about me or you doing everything. It’s about the community doing everything or at least as much as we can do together. This isn’t always the easiest thing to ensure. People often want you to do everything (I often want to do everything) but if we (me or you) do everything it leaves a lot of time and a little responsibility on everyone else’s plate. The truth is, we ALL have something to give to this world. This is our home and the other people living here are our community members, our neighbors and it’s time we act like it.

We may be thousands of miles apart or living in drastically different place but deep down, we’re all in this together, that’s the truth. And, to see change, we’re going to need to start living by that truth.

Helping you realize that truth, helping me realize that truth, helping the global community realize that truth – that’s my job as a community organizer.

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BEYOND CHARITY….

I am not an all day, 7 days a week reader thus very picky when it comes to what I read. Dr. John M. Perkins is one of the few writers that I think have so much wisdom gained from decades of experience in communities. In beyond charity, he asks and answers a few questions. This one in particular, I want to share;

How do we affirm the dignity of people, motivate them and help them take responsibility for their own lives?  By beginning with the people’s felt needs we establish a relationship and a trust, which then enables us to move to deeper issues of development.  This idea of beginning with people’s felt need is what is called the felt need concept.  It is summed up in a Chinese poem…

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leaders

When their task is done
The people will remark

“We have done it ourselves.”

Some however sometimes go in like this…( in communities)

Go to the people with an agenda
Observe the people (maybe)
Tell them what to do
Enable, manipulate and take advantage of them
Even lie to them
Start with what they don’t know
Tell them what you think they should know
But the worst of leaders

will do things TO the community
instead of WITH the community
The people will ask

“What have they done to us?”

Whenever, I go through this poem, I see it in a different light. We need to affirm people’s dignity and break down the wall of distrust–before we talk to them about who we are or anything about ourselves.It’s easy for some of us to come into a situation with all the answers…because although we would never want to admit it…we see ourselves as smarter, more educated, more experienced, the list is endless.  We often think we know what is best for a community.  We force our opinions, thoughts, ideas, etc on a community. When in fact, we do more harm to the community than help.  The community isn’t transforming or coming together, but being torn apart instead. I know I don’t have all the answers and I am absolutely okay with it. In order to become a great leader you must realize that you are always a learner….are you willing to learn?

Liz Njeri- Tatua Kenya Community Organizer.

Tips for Tatua :: Single Vision

Jacob Okumu, Tatua Organiser shares his thoughts on the importance of keeping a single vision. 

Rose Chege, Tatua Organizer, speaks to 150 people who attended the launch of the Ngong Campaign.
Rose Chege, Tatua Organizer, speaks to 150 people who attended the launch of the Ngong Campaign.

We have been working to form cell groups of parents that will come together with the purpose of discussing the importance of education and the goal of getting 40 kids back to school. Building these cells has been a challenging process, some members have been primarily focused on getting numbers so they went out to recruit already established community self-help groups to our work. They thought we could reconstruct them to focus on our community cell groups.

However, I’ve noticed a challenge of convincing the already established group with their own vision to adopt our goal. It is so important to have one vision, one core shared purpose that brings your team together if you are to be successful. Thankfully we have been able to either rebuild some of them or bring over some team members and form new groups, here is a photo from our recent launch in which 150 people turned out. Everyone who attended committed to joining a cell groups focused on education and getting four kids to back to school.

Natalie Finstad, Executive Director of Tatua Kenya, visits the Ngong Campaign Launch.
Natalie Finstad, Executive Director of Tatua Kenya, visits the Ngong Campaign Launch.

Do you agree with Jacob’s assessment on the importance of a single vision? Have you ever had a challenge with keeping your group focused on one single purpose? How did you respond in that challenge?