Photo: Gizmodo

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Supporting and not undermining community solidarity

One of the pleasures of working at the headquarters of an international organisation is that you frequently meet people from, or living in, the world over. Today, I had the opportunity to spend time with a colleague based in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso.

One thing that struck me was the delicate balance to be achieved between developing a project with families living in extreme poverty and not upsetting the community solidarity that is the social fabric of Burkinabé society. For example, a family receives a micro-grant from a foregin NGO that they may use to buy a bicycle, for example, with the overall goal of generating income. If they fail to prosper as a result of the grant, the next time they are in need of community support, they may face a negative reaction: "You asked les blancs for help but you still didn't manage. Now it's your problem." (If you read French, then see this excellent blog post about solidarity networks in Burkina Faso).

All the more important then for projects to be developed in partnership with those who are too often seen crudely as "beneficiaries". This may take over a year to develop to ensure the conditions of trust are in place that will respect family and community ties. In the example shared by my colleague, a relationship is built up,using books and story-telling as a medium, with a young person, part of a group of youths living in the street in the city. He is invited with others to participate in skill-sharing activities - the “Courtyard of 100 Trades” - a workshop to introduce the youngsters to certain trades. The relationship ultimately leads on to a dialogue with the children’s families, as frequently young people will express a desire to return to their community . The aim at this point is to initiate and support plans for a shared future for the young person and their family. A dialogue is facilitated with the family over the space of several months to understand the support the direct and extended family can offer to ensure the young person's return is a success. In such circumstances, where the family and community dynamic has been understood, the conditions are created for a micro-grant to be made that compliment, rather than replace community solidarity.

And what's more, supporting a young person to return to his community is in harmony with traditional values. As the Mossi saying goes, "You must travel to know the elephant, but then return to explain what it is like."
Photo: ATD Fourth World

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