Those of us from relatively rich countries often see development challenges that seem straightforward on the surface—like lack of safe water—and take it on ourselves to “fix” the problem. We bring our financial resources, knowledge of how things should be done, and how quickly they should be done. We may have the best of intentions, but it is easy for us to do more harm than good.
If development is to be transformational, it needs to be led by the local community, driven by local demand, and use local resources whenever possible. Being agents of transformation within their own communities helps people gain dignity, recognize the image of God in themselves, and take on their roles as stewards of God’s good gifts.
For true—using a pump is like carrying a chicken egg; you better be gentle.
Foday Massalay is full of sound advice on this subject; he is the caretaker of the hand-powered water pump that stands across the road from the church in the center of Kakata, Liberia. I recently spent a day with Foday, learning about how he plans to keep the pump functioning permanently.
A year ago, the 16 nearby households organized themselves and elected a “water committee”—three women and two men, including Foday, who set the rules for the pump’s use, and manage its operation and maintenance. They developed a fee system, in which each household purchases one small, pink ticket per month for 25 Liberian dollars—the local equivalent of 50¢—and must show the ticket each time they collect water during that month.
So far, Foday has used the incoming fees to purchase spare parts for the pump, erect a fence to keep animals at bay, and the committee has still saved enough to cover the cost of any conceivable maintenance expense. The committee chose to keep its accounts transparent by recording its rules, meeting notes, income, and expenses in a school notebook that anyone in the community can ask to see.
“Sustainability” has become a buzzword in recent years, but our work in development programs does not produce sustainability. Every community is already sustainable, at least to some degree, or it wouldn’t exist. It’s our role to discover the ways God has empowered a community to sustain itself, and to cultivate those things. Almost always, ideas and methods that emerge from this kind of collaboration are better than anything we could have brought from the outside.
What do you think? Comment and let me know.