Behind the Curtain: What “Sustainable Change” Really Means

Guest post by Kate Woodward. Kate is a sophomore at Belmont University. She interned with Mocha Club last fall, and is currently interning with the Community Development team at our parent organization, African Leadership
development blog post - March Update

When we talk about project development, here’s what you might picture: 
Our team members step off the airplane into a foreign country. It’s dusty, it’s hot, and it’s African. Maybe you have a country name in mind, or maybe just the term “Africa” suffices. We then might go into a community, looking for why it’s broken. Maybe then we’ll say, “Ah! Yes! Here’s the problem! Let’s fix it!” Perhaps the people are poor, and not only that but they’re uneducated. So, we build a school. The doors open, students come in, and now all of the people in that community are learning, and will someday be educated members of society. After we reach this goal, we send you this email, thanking you for helping us make change a reality with the hard-earned money that you send to us each month.

This idea of development is so wonderful! Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it works. Our goal here is to pull aside the beautiful, romantic curtain of images that you might have about how it looks to develop Africa, so that we can give you a taste of what it looks like to truly change a community with permanency.

When we work with our partners on a project in another country, we do things a little differently. The first thing we look at is what that community sees as its needs. We want the members of a community to identify the issues that their community finds important, and find their own solution to that problem as we work alongside them. This process is hugely important because it allows for community members to take ownership of their projects. This tactic of allowing the community to speak for themselves instead of having an outsider come in and assess problems without understanding the history of the community is an incredibly effective part of our work in Africa.

Our goal in the development of a community is to create something alongside people that we love and respect, honoring their individual needs and concerns and solving problems with the assets that the community already has. In order to ensure a project’s success and sustainability, we look at the talents and gifts that the community has to offer by considering the assets that each member of the community has individually. The community then can compile all of those assets to form one strong force, allowing them to create a project that they carry out themselves. A perfect example of these efforts is taking place currently in the Congo, where leaders are taking a look at the community around them and listening to the needs of the people. Eastern Congo is still suffering from the tolls of a 20-year-old war, so some of our African colleagues in Dungu, Congo have expressed their hope for an expanded trauma outreach program, noting that people “come out of hardship because they are cared about by the local church.” We hope to help the local church leaders in this area achieve this goal by working alongside them, providing financial aid and teaching tried tactics, so that they can carry their dreams out in the best way possible for their community.

When you put your money towards efforts like these, it’s more than just putting a bandaid over a wound; you’re helping clean, stitch, and seal the wounds of our brothers and sisters. We tell you this so that you can invest wisely. This way, not only can you transform a community, but you can also walk with us as we appreciate and love that community, offering them both pride and support in the work they do for themselves.

Stay tuned over the next few months as we continue to share about the ways we’re doing development differently in Africa. 

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