There are lots of words floating around in the non profit world these days. Almost everyone would agree that they are good words, good ideas, good things to implement. I too like these words. Words like sustainability, community development, community engagement, local buy in, ‘don’t give someone a fish, teach them how to fish”. I mean, most people these days would agree with those ideas-the fact that helping needs to be done in a way in which the people we are helping are edified and lifted up. (Go ahead and read ‘When Helping Hurts’-it’s pretty good stuff) Yet we also need to learn how to help them help themselves, how to better teach them and give them tools on how to sustain things for the long run. But these are not simple issues. They sound great on paper but how is that implemented? There are many books and ideas out there on the topic, plenty of research is being done and ideas floating around. Even some people and organizations are implementing and trying it out.
But it’s a tough process.
I’m thankful we are working for LWI-an organization that has plans and goals to move into a ‘developmental’ role with the work they are doing. What does that mean? Well, at first glance you’d think water should be free. It’s a basic necessity in life-one that we from America take for granted-and millions of people in the world don’t have. Not only do many people lack it, but they even lack the means to ever getting it. They can’t find it, don’t have a way to get it, don’t have the tools to dig for it, buy it, or don’t have the money to clean it. So providing water for free doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
But my opinion-ming you is just that, my opinion-is only based on what I have seen. And if people are used to being handed things for free, often and for most of their lives, a few things happen. One, they won’t do much for themselves simply because eventually someone will come along and do it for them. Two, they don’t have pride or take ownership for whatever it is, and that means things get run down and abused.These are generalities, and Haiti is an anomaly when it comes to these issues as well. I mean, take renting vs owning for example. Everyone knows you are harder on a rental (car, house, skis, bikes, apartment whatever) because, well, it’s not yours! There are always exceptions to the rule-we were still freaks about stains and keeping things clean in our apartments over the years because even if it’s a rental, it’s still your home. Yet we certainly push our little rental cars to their limit most of the time! But as a generality, there is a lack of pride, ownership, responsibility when something is not yours or is given to you.
Regarding water, unfortunately, it’s not much different. You might be thinking, ‘how do you charge people- who more than 80% live on less than $2 a day- for water?’. That seems ridiculous. Mean. Even wrong? But maybe the community buy in and engagement isn’t just centered around money. Local ‘buy in’ and engagement can mean many different things. And we have seem too many organization throw around those terms and not really follow through.
I am here to tell you, that Living Water is trying, one patient, small step at a time, to move into community development. But the word “develop” implies an aspect of time. You develop from an adolescent into an adult over years. You develop a relationship over weeks,months, years, decades. And so, development work takes time.
But who likes to wait? Raise your hand if you are impatient…
Both hands up over here. (God’s working on that one in me, and I still need lots of work). But back to what I was saying. As LWI is trying to move in this direction, the cool part is they are willing to learn from those we are already doing it. Organizations that are out there, specifically in Haiti-since it’s such a unique place-are doing good development work. Our new boss over Haiti and the Americas is pretty great, and he brings to the table not only lots of experience, but he is also Haitian, and he’s done development work for years in Haiti. In addition, he knows most of the ngo’s out there, and who we can learn a few things from. And of course Brandon I love this because why should we go around and make the same mistakes when we can learn from others? Oh don’t worry, we’ve made plenty of mistakes and will continue to, but at least this way we can avoid a few.
So off we went last week to Pignon. We met up with the other LWI staff living in Port au Prince, and met together as a group to discuss the plans and strategy for the next year, and also to learn from an organization who is doing community development centered around water. Brandon and I packed our bags-complete with mosquito netting, sleeping bag type things, our own pillows- because we have stayed in some freighting places here in Haiti. Only to be pleasantly shocked with their guest house/hotel, compete with hot water, constant power, and it was clean clean.
We had some long days of taking about the next year, 2012, and mapping out goals, strategies, ideas, plans, and hopes for the next year. Interspersed in that was visits to the communities that this other organization has been working in. And it was very interesting. They are doing some pretty cool things regarding community development and water. One of the biggest things I realized is these changes we are going to make will take time. It will be hard to keep things running (we’ve got a program to keep going!) knowing it’s not exactly how we want things yet. Or even halfway there. But we are changing. In the meantime we’ll continue to do work that is not development, yet, but we’re getting better. The projects we are doing this week are better than we did last month. And November will be even better.
We are learning from others, learning from our mistakes too. That doesn’t mean we’re not impatient. But all we can do in the wait is continue to seek the Lord, waiting for His timing in these communities, relationships and what He wants this next year to look like. We can plan and plan all we want, but He is control, He is sovereign, and He will do what brings Him the most glory. And I for one am thankful! I am thankful the work we do here isn’t ours. Thankfully, He is in control, He will create the program He wants-how and when He wants it. And that is the beauty of working for an organization that loves the Lord. Not only is it our hope and desire to put Him first in all we do, to glorify and honor Him by working to give people clean water, but it’s also the desire of the organization we work for-and that is pretty cool.