A Lidy bit of action

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Today we met Lidy. Around the back of the church he is part of sit large water carriers branded with the name of the international charity that provided them. That charity has now left.

I say this not to make another charity look bad, because we were told they’d help train villages up in fish rearing, pig rearing, insect rearing. Yes, they rear insects here, they’re quite a delicacy (I ate a few myself yesterday). I say this because no charity can stay for ever, and if they did that would be a bad thing.

Lidy is only twenty and is the umoja facilitator for his church. Over the past year a group from the church have come together to ask what their community needs.

What a previous aid organisation had begun to do was encourage the local community to be a part of the development they were delivering and have an investment in the animals they were rearing. Umoja takes this a step further, it is for communities to take responsibility for the needs they identify.

For Lidy and his church the needs of their community were:

    1. Education
    2. Health
    3. Financial problems
    4. Spiritual need

On the inside wall of the church is written their vision statement. They want to increase the size of the congregation, they want to raise up leaders, they want to improve life for the community around them and along the bottom written in English it says: ‘Love Jesus Forever’.

This is a church taking responsibility for the place that God has placed them, they have recognised the needs around them and they want to do something about it.

Many members of the church are part of a savings group, where they invest regularly and from which they are able to borrow if they need to. It costs money to travel into town to use the bank, and the interest rates make borrowing money an expensive activity. I was reminded of churches in the UK setting up credit unions to offer an alternative to pay day lenders – maybe things aren’t so different here.

Lidy’s church is looking to set up a crop growing project and perhaps restart some pig rearing. These will both happen on the church’s land.

Before we left the church we got into a bit of impromptu volleyball over an electrical wire with a couple of the kids that had gathered round to watch. Whether it was projects to serve the community, or a place for kids to play, this church was looking to be somewhere for the whole community in years to come.

After one year they’ve barely started and the work Tearfund are involved with is delivering change through investing in people, like Lidy, who will not leave after their programme is finished. If you want to support Tearfund train more people like Lidy find out how you can at www.tearfund.org/bloggers.

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Umoja for beginners

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Being taught about a Swahili word by a group of Cambodian development workers was not what I expected on my first day here.

But the more I think about it, the more important Umoja is. It crops up all over the place. In conversations about wells, about classrooms on the front porch, on the cover of a community savings group account book.

Umoja means togetherness, and it’s the way Tearfund works on Church and Community Mobilisation the world over. For ICC, who we’re visiting this week, it’s at the heart of their Village Integrated Development Programme. They’re currently working with 15 churches, and through these churches are seeing 46 small projects changing communities.

In each village it looks a bit different, and works at different speeds, that’s what we saw today in the villages we visited, but at its core is the same five step process.

    1. Envisioning the church
    2. Envisioning the community
    3. Dreaming and developing a vision
    4. Plan for action
    5. Evaluation

This isn’t a quick fix solution,  the analogy the ICC staff shared was that of a chicken and an elephant. A chicken’s gestation is just 21 days – for and elephant it’s 22 months. Umoja is more like an elephant, it’s a long term process.

At the start the church must be on board, the pastor must be committed and a volunteer facilitator able to work with the community. The communities chosen to Umoja are those that have good relationships with the local authorities and wider community including Buddhist monks in the area. They have to be committed to serving the whole community.

Churches and communities are asked to be realistic but also to dream. Three questions they are encouraged to ask are:

    1. What are the problems?
    2. What are the dreams?
    3. What are the resources?

I mentioned it before, but the non-revolutionary, revolutionary part of this process is that the communities are not given the resources to solve the problems they identify. They are encouraged to see what they already have, and how using that, they can change their circumstances. Yesterday we visited a village using Umoja since 2009 and one of chief problems the church pastor identified was the good intentions of other charities who had given the community things in the past, chickens to start a chicken rearing programme, seed to start growing, and the chickens had been taken to market and sold. It had not lead to sustainable development.

Changing mindsets is one of the hurdles to getting the Umoja groups up off the ground. Once communities see the future in their own hands they take far greater ownership than if they are given what they need to solve their problems. The role of facilitators is vital. The action communities take, the small projects they establish, happen because they have changed the way communities think.

Probably the most heartening thing I heard yesterday was from the village facilitator explaining that the fish raising programme they had started early on in the Umoja process hadn’t worked and had to be abandoned. That’s part five of the process, after the envisioning, after the dreaming, after the planning and the action, comes the evaluation and seeing what works and what to do in the future.

We’re getting a chance to see for ourselves the work that Tearfund is involved with in Cambodia. If you sign up to give £3 a month as part of their See For Yourself initiative you can see the difference your money is making to communities in need.