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.

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Mission as a way of being every day

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.

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Natalie at the Tatua 2014 Global gathering.

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.

 

Misunderstood or not? Charity vs Justice

Through-out my time as a community organizer I realized that very few people know much of anything about community organizing. Whenever I introduce myself and my work, over 90% of the time, I expect the questions “What does that mean? What is that?”. Very few people understand the term. A while back, I shared about my work with an american friend, Craig. The minute I mentioned community organizing, he immediately referred to me as an Obama. That got me thinking, he is familiar with the term and goes an extra step of giving an example, maybe more people know about what I do than I thought. However, he still asked me the question, what really is community organizing? Well, I answer that question almost everyday.”Community organizing is all about creating sustainable justice based institutions and building local leadership that creates an opportunity for fractured communities to have a unified voice  and the collective power necessary to get the change they want to see.”After trying to help him understand about this term, I realized that despite his minimal exposure, he thought community organizing was just about political mobilization of voters for I don’t know how long. “We have a lot of work to do”, I thought.

misunderstood

All of us at some point have been misunderstood thanks to ignorance or lack of know how. All we can do is educate and hope that our efforts bear fruit. It goes a step further than other people, ourselves. We at times misunderstand the impact our actions have on others and the world. For the next one month we will look over Charity vs Justice as regards to  Aid and Mission . What do we understand about these terms. What do you think charity is? or Justice? Are they the same thing or are they totally different? What does this mean for the efforts put in before and in the future to end hunger, homelessness, oppression e.t.c

Liz Njeri- Community Manager Tatua Kenya.

 

Intrinsic “unlimited value”

At Tatua the value for human dignity and intrinsic value is very important to us for the specific reason that we are all born with different abilities. Everyone is important and of value. James reminded me of this value on his reflection on community.

When i hear of the word community I think of people who have come together and have a set of agreed norms or guidelines on how they will all commit to live by. They also hold each other accountable.

james painting
James preparing to re-paint the gate at Nyumba ya Tumaini childrens home.

My vision of the kind of a community I want to be a part of is one where  people are treated equally and  justice is at the core of its values .

In my  the community most of the values I would want to see lived into, have all been broken. One that causes me hurt involves the way people are treated   due to the colour of their skin or where they come from instead of who they are in the inside. This as a result causes injustices in form of corruption and all kinds of evil.

James Njoroge, Tatua Kenya community organizer.

What values in your community are threatened and why? When have you felt not valued for who you are in the inside?