To train in a community, you have to first be their student

As always, the week of training at Equip has flown by!

I am back in an airport terminal (Asheville) and as I wait for my flight, I have two distinct thoughts; (1) I have learned more then I anticipated during this week of training; (2) airport terminals make me hungry!  Obviously, I am going to discuss thought #1 (although thought #2 will need to be taken care of soon!).

This past week of training was very different from past training experiences.  It was a very interactive class where I received just as much helpful information from my fellow students as from the teachers of the class.  Everyone came from a different backgrounds and perspectives.  The ministries represented were diverse – medical, educational, counseling, construction – which gave us a wide range of ideas and experiences to compare.  Essentially, we were learning how to build sustainable communities worldwide.  Community Health Evangelism (Education) takes what they call a “wholistic” approach to community development.  In other words, our focus is on the whole person – meeting their emotional, social, physical and spiritual needs.

We discussed many places in the bible where Jesus taught on meeting the physical and spiritual needs of others but one that comes to mind is Matthew 25:35-36:

 35 “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” (NLT)

We are shown in those two verses how important it is to meet all needs of an individual – food, water, fellowship/friendship, clothes, medical attention, ministry.

We learned methods for identifying promising communities, taking the proper steps in entering those communities and integrating by becoming “students” to learn the culture, language and desires (needs) of the community.  It isn’t uncommon for a foreigner to go into a community and start to “help” them by pushing their own agenda.  We have a mentality that since we are living in a more advanced society that we must have all the answers and know exactly what a community needs.  That won’t get you very far.  You need to enter a community as a “learner” – as a student.  As someone who is willing to spend time developing relationships, listening and finding out the true needs of the community.  I have seen the result of organizations going in, getting the job done without support from the locals and leaving.  The result is usually community health improvements (i.e. Latrines) that don’t get used.  This cultural puzzle has been an interest of mine for a long time.  At my last Engineers Without Borders (EWB) conference, I spent most of my time in the cultural workshops because it is an important, often overlooked, aspect of community development projects.

With Hydromissions, we are brought into a community by a local organization (typically a group of Nationals) who request wells and latrines.  Those local organizations are the ones that develop the relationships in the community, find their needs and bring in the different technical people to meet those needs.   I would eventually like to be working on a more long-term project where I take part in developing those relationships (which is why I took this training course) but for now, I am blessed with the opportunity to serve with my technical background.

Ah, I have written quite a bit already and didn’t even talk about how we go from “learners” to “trainers” in a community! That lesson will come later since my flight will be departing soon.

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