Last week, I sat with our community organizers and taught the Collective Decision Making process. This is yet another tool we use in working with communities, one that involves allowing discussion and dialogue to create a path forward. It is a rather simple, yet complicated process that involves determining how decisions are to be made, creating criteria, brainstorming, narrowing down ideas, and final votes. The community organizers are using this tool to work with the community stakeholders to facilitate a decision about what issue/initiative they wanted to focus on.
As we sat at the table and discussed how the organizers have used this in past forums, and what needed to be changed for future forums, one of the complications that continued to pop up was people not understanding certain words: initiative, criteria, brainstorm and others. Which meant the organizers spent a lot of time explaining what these words meant, trying to translate them directly. Listening to them discuss this problem, I paused the organizers, and we stepped back and worked on explaining and going through the process in simple terms, translating it to Swahili. We learned the word criteria is not important, but the concepts behind it are what really matter.
Working in communities is all about adapting to the audience, shaping the program so that it gives everyone the opportunity to participate. It is incredible to watch this adaptation go on, and know that it could be done again and again in different communities around the world.
Out in a place called Kitui there is a village that is completely self-sustainable catering to orphans and elders living with or affected by HIV. It is called Nyumbani Village.
Our community organizers took a trip out there to explore and research their method. The village opened in 2006 and designed to hold 1,000 orphans and 100 grandparents in 100 homes. It was a great opportunity for our organizers to see a community working together towards one goal and to see how they accomplish it everyday.
Plus it got them outside of what they see everyday. They had a great time meeting new people and getting to know each other even better.
Here is what James and Tony had to say about that trip.
‘Nyumbani village is a place where you go in and do not want to come out. It is a placefilled with the love that you will find at home. We saw that from the smiles on the kids faces and everyone else in Nyumbani. Whether you are white or black short or tall infected by HIV or affected by it, you are welcomed and accepted.’
-James Njoroge, Community Organizer
‘The Nyumbani Village is a great place, I really liked the Organic farmers club where they involve the neighbouring community on the projects of growing the kales on the farms offered by the Nyumbani village. I also liked the waste management system and how they use it as a resource from the population in the village. The setting of the clusters really builds unity in the five families and actually builds up the community setting. The Projects are managed by local individual, creating the ownership of the projects.’
Our weakened global economy has sent some charitable organizations into crisis, “How will we raise money?!” This crisis has affected us positively and negatively.
Positively, the crisis has forced us to commit. It’s harder to fundraise when, “finances are tight.” To do so requires a conviction that your program is a worthy investment. Ideally we’d remain connected to this belief but we easily drift away from it.
Also, organizations have had to get creative about our budgets. Creativity is good; it asks “What am I overlooking? How could I better use the resources I have?” In a perfect world we’d practice creativity regularly but it often takes crisis to move us to this mindset.
Negatively, crisis can cause ‘panic,’ we must think of a solution, quick! One response to this crisis has been to generate income: orphanages open bakeries; international NGO’s sell beadwork. While these actions may produce funds they can divert us from our primary focus, the service we provide.
When a development tool fails to enrich our service it weakens programming and can hurt communities in which we work. I love Tatua’s way of generating income because we are constantly reassessing our programs. Tatua offers community organizing consulting and training at an affordable cost (link to services on website). In doing so we imagine organizing in new contexts, deepen our understanding of the material and further our mission of ground-up change (link to what we do).
I encourage organizations considering income generation to discern whether your idea for income generation will strengthen or weaken your cause. If the latter, don’t panic! Reassess your resources, commit to your mission and see how you might emerge stronger from this crisis.