People not Projects

MEET South Africa 2018

In July 2018, a team of young adults visited South Africa as part of a team organised by WDR, World Mission Partnership and IMYC.  Such visits are aimed at growing people’s faith and understanding of the world, enabling them to better serve God and his people. MEET South Africa 2018 have many more stories to tell. Contact them via our office. 

In this blog a few of the team share about their time with 2 of our partners; Church Land Programme and Phakamisa

“ONE!” shout I (Jools) and quickly Zoe echoes “TWO!”. By the time Gemma gets to “EIGHT!”, we know that Ben, Chris, Jill, Bethany and Emma are all in the room/bus/plane. One in, all in. In July, the MEET South Africa 2018 team – Methodist, Explore, Engage and Tell - threw ourselves into learning from a wildly different culture, in order to more fully understand issues of justice, poverty and leadership.

We were to experience a different way of being Methodist. A way that meant during morning prayers with Phakamisa, you better have your dancing shoes on because those grannies are going to sing and pray in a way that will rock you like you’re in a boat. Ways that provide phenomenally high (and sought after) standards of education for black, Indian, and coloured children as the staff are raising Christian leaders of integrity for a new South Africa. Ways of being Methodist that cross ethnic, racial and economic barriers so the worshipping people of God can be known as a family that embraces all.

One thing remains - whether on retreat at a beautiful beach, being filled with stillness through deep and caring sharing or being challenged by the deprivation of shack-living, we were family, and our understanding of God and of our Methodist family grew immeasurably. 

Church Land Programme

Emma & Sane

Emma & Sane

I (Emma) met Sane in Cato Crest, an informal settlement in Durban consisting of over 6,000 families, where she has lived her whole life. With a college degree in human resources, she was very articulate and described to me the conditions in which she lives. Her greatest challenge, was the lack of consistent (and legal) electricity. It was most difficult when studying for exams because at home she was unable to revise due to the lack of light to see her books.

The Church Land Programme (CLP), a World Development & Relief partner, works alongside those who are landless by listening and understanding people’s specific circumstances. CLP works with the intention of seeing those living in material poverty empower themselves and change their own situation, especially in relation to land injustices. Graham Philpott, the director of CLP, described the listening aspect of their work as a “political act” which affirms people’s right to speak for themselves. Sane appreciated the chance to be heard and said the government does not recognise those in settlements as people, never mind hearing what they have to say. Sane, and approximately 600 families in her area, have connected with CLP. She is now a volunteer teacher of a political class in Cato Crest, teaching the next generation about South Africa’s land issues and context. She hopes this will enable young voices to be heard and be a stepping stone to shaping future leaders. Her wishes to see the future decision-makers of South Africa be leaders that are truly for the people.

I learned so much from listening to the very wise members of CLP and the welcoming, inspiring and open people in the settlements. Land issues in South Africa are complex and I still have much to learn but I do know that God is present in these situations and CLP share His strength and hope, glorifying Him in all they do.

Phakamisa

Phakamisa is a ministry of Pinetown Methodist Church and a partner of World Development & Relief. ‘Phakamisa’ is Zulu for ‘to uplift’ and from the moment we arrived our spirits were uplifted, as we met women seeking to uplift the most vulnerable members of their communities. They had identified the oldest and youngest members up to 50km around Durban who would benefit. There are now about 1,700 women and 6,000 orphans connected to their ministry.

The director, Thokozani Poswa, was passionate about her work and this impacted us. We spent time with the caregivers’ programme; It focuses on Gogos (grandmothers) who need an income or new skills to support their families, often including grandchildren who have lost one or both parents. A day for a Gogo at Phakamisa might consist of morning aerobics (you can imagine our feeble attempts) followed by devotions and then classes in skills such as sewing, cooking, literacy, beadwork or gardening.

What most impacted me (Bethany) was the Educare programme which trains young women in their community to teach children aged 0-6 in pre-schools. We met Thandi and Nomalanga, employed by Phakamisa in their ‘Wandering Schools’ in settlements. Coming from education in Ireland, to see the lack of resources, was heart-breaking. Seeing 30 children in a room no bigger than my living room, with holes in the walls and ceiling, no access to water, bathrooms or electricity; well I could only marvel at these teachers. But this was not a place of sorrow. Beyond the ramshackle rooms and financial difficulties was such joy, constant praise and dancing.

One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

Because of Phakamisa, grandmothers and children are leading enriched lives. I wish I could bottle up the pure joy and passion we experienced because even an ounce of it would change me and even the church in Ireland.

The Members of MEET South Africa 2018 continue to be “One in, all in” and are:

Gemma Barclay (IMYC), Jools Hamilton (Trinity College Dublin), Zoe Cummings, Emma Dunwoody, Jill Fergie, Ben McGurk, Chris Patterson & Bethany Stephens. 

The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa

The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa

Victim to Survivor

Earlier this year, Pat (a member of the WDR committee) was invited to see the a glimpse of the work of IJM [WDR Partner] in Cambodia. 

My time spent in Cambodia with International Justice Mission (IJM) was very busy! Our journey took 24 hours and although we were only there for only five days, it was a very encouraging time spent with such professional and caring staff in the IJM office. 

Pol Pot and the legacy of Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia for almost four years. He tortured and killed so many, particularly anyone educated such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers, in fact even if someone wore glasses they were also killed as he saw them as educated. He was ousted by the Vietnamese in January 1979, however a civil war continued for another two decades, eventually coming to an end in 1999. Most hospitals and education facilities are headed up by foreigners.

The IJM team of staff consists of lawyers, investigators, social workers, community activists and other professionals. So, what did I see in the Cambodia office and throughout Cambodia?

For over a decade the IJM office in Cambodia had been working to reduce the exploitation of children in the sex trade. There were approximately 15-30% of minors, many of them 15 and under, throughout the country and in 2013 this was reduced to 0.1%. 

We were driven down a street which is now full of shops, offices and houses that once were almost all brothels.  Sex exploitation of children has plummeted, thanks to IJM and other organisations. 

Thailand Boats.jpg

IJM staff are now mainly focussed on labour trafficking, particularly with men exploited as slaves in the Thai fishing industry, and women being taken to China by 'bride traffickers'. They are also involved, alongside WorldVision, in the training of police officers on the issue of trafficking. There are senior police officers who have a passion to drastically reduce this crime. 

While we were there we sat in on a training session for police officers, had a private meeting with the Chief of Police in the North West of the country, and visited the court where victims give evidence and where many traffickers have been prosecuted. We also got to visit and be part of devotions in a church where the IJM staff are involved in community engagement, led by a young Methodist man. 

We spent a full day meeting the staff at IJM HQ; a non-descriptive building with no signs outside- safety and privacy of staff is paramount. We didn’t get to meet the investigators as they had travelled to Thailand to train staff in a new office. We did however get to meet most all others.  

We heard from the legal team, finance, translator, investigation department, community engagement and, an area I found extremely interesting, the aftercare team.

I was inspired by Saroeun. He previously worked in a nightclub and was asked to help IJM to investigate those exploiting people into the sex industry. He started studying law and was successful at university. Now he is head of the legal team and an extremely influential, respected and well-known lawyer throughout Cambodia.

The aftercare team is very much involved in caring for those who have gone from being victims to being survivors. They help them when they return home, assist them in any way possible, including helping them to seek employment - the reason why a large number are trafficked in the first place.

I was upset yet inspired to hear the story of ‘Sam’ (not his real name we never got to know that or take photos of him) who had been taken to Thailand to work on a fishing boat. He lives very close to Thai border, and as work is scarce he was ‘taken in’ by an unscrupulous person offering him a job in the Thai fishing industry. He was on a boat that was fishing illegally and was never brought to harbour. The men lived in cramped conditions and were fed little food. They were terrified of the Captain who had a gun, knowingthey could be shot or thrown overboard at anytime so they just kept working. They received no money even though they had been promised a salary, no contact with anyone off the ship. For 6 years, Sam did not see land.

Thailand Boats Men.jpg

His story was told directly to us with the use of an interpreter. He felt he had been sold however now feels he has been given life again.He has a family and IJM are trying to assist him to secure work. The staff continue to work with those who have been victims and now survivors for a minimum of two years.

I am writing this blog on International Trafficking Awareness Day.  Although the stories of victims are difficult to hear and to understand, know that the work done by IJM is truly changing lives.

 

Who benefits from development?

A few years ago, I was standing in a field in the coastal area of Ghana, West Africa. I was there with Irish Methodist World Development & Relief (WDR) as part of my work and had travelled with my colleague and volunteers from Ireland who had photography and videography skills that they were sharing with WDR at no expense. We were visiting work being managed by Methodist Development and Relief Services (MDRS) and farmers were planting new strains of coconut trees to replace those that had been devastated by a killer virus. In that one field, we had donor organisation staff, donor supporters/volunteers, staff from the partner NGO and beneficiaries, the farmers, all ‘doing their thing’. A nice illustration of working together to improve things.

Spot the beneficiaries: Tim West (photographer), Grace Quansah (MDRS volunteer) and Mr Addison (local coordinator).

Spot the beneficiaries: Tim West (photographer), Grace Quansah (MDRS volunteer) and Mr Addison (local coordinator).

In WDR, we have tried to outlaw the word ‘project’ as we feel it puts an emphasis on ‘things rather than people’ e.g. the number of wells dug rather than the improvement in the quality of life for the community. That’s why we use the phrase ‘People not Projects’ as a mantra at times, especially when presenting people’s stories through picture, written word and video.

As WDR thinks more and more about how we refer to people and the language we use, there is something about my description of the people in that Ghanaian field that makes me uncomfortable. Three words to be precise. The words are ‘donor’, ‘partner’ and ‘beneficiary’. In the traditional view of international development, a donor gives funds to a partner (typically an organisation) and the partner then carries out work to improve the lives of beneficiaries (typically the materially poor). This paints a rather one-way flow in the system; from donor to beneficiary. It does not describe good development practice well nor, indeed, the reality of what is really happening.

Instead of suggesting we look for new more inclusive alternatives for these terms, I offer another option; one that we at WDR, try to embrace.

Firstly, ALL are in that scene are ‘partners’. Partnership is about people with common values gathering around a common task in order to see it achieved. True partnership speaks of equality and equity, where everyone is of equal value and is treated with fairness by each of the others. The Ghanaian farmer, MDRS coordinating staff, WDR volunteers and staff; all are of equal value and should be treated as such. All are aiming to reduce poverty and improve lives and have gathered around common values such as justice, compassion and solidarity. Thus, they are all partners in the task. Together, they can each achieve more than they would on their own. Economic status plays no part in whether or not a person can be a partner. Another point to make is that WDR partners with people, not organisations. So when I think of MDRS, I am actually thinking of Joseph Donkoh, Mr Addison and so many other good people.

Secondly, ALL are ‘donors’. The ‘donor’ has usually been assumed to be the group that provides the financial input for a project. But money is not the only input required for successful development. Skills, local knowledge, labour, experience and relationships on the ground are also needed and it is usually local NGOs and communities that possess these valuable assets. WDR supporters may have the money to buy new coconut seedlings but they probably do not have years of experience in farming in southern Ghana nor the connections with local landowners in order to obtain new tracts of land. Each partner can ‘donate’ what they have.

Lastly, ALL are beneficiaries. You may have been with me up to this point and in agreement but this last claim may seem harder to justify. A beneficiary is the one to receive the positive changes brought about by the work. The farmer grows new trees and harvests the coconuts. It is clearly the farmer and his or her family that is benefitting. There is no benefit for the supporter who contributes to the fund or the staff of the NGO. Right? I would say wrong.

For example, being part of this wonderful WDR network of people has huge benefits for me personally. I get a huge sense of satisfaction by being involved in something that is good and successful. As someone with a Christian faith, I am able to fulfil my obligation to help the materially poor. Others who contribute from the ‘Irish end’ and yet do not proclaim any form of faith, will also get huge satisfaction and fulfilment from partnering with people across the world to make that world a better place. I also get to have an insight into other cultures and the lives of others; a very enriching experience. The staff of NGOs, like myself, earn a living and they also see their own communities progressing thanks to their efforts; surely a heartening and uplifting experience that does the soul good. These are all good things received and so I would suggest that everyone is a ‘beneficiary’, admittedly in very different ways.

Whether by making our contribution to the world by bringing clean water to rural villages, ensuring healthcare for a woman of a lower caste or providing education for marginalised children; if we do this well with others, we can be a partner, donor and beneficiary all at the same time.

Maybe this is obvious to you already or maybe this has made you think. Just to add, if we claim to be in partnership then we must treat our partners as our equals. If we claim to be a donor, then let us give what we can and give generously. If we consider ourselves to be beneficiaries then let us recognise the gifts we receive and receive them gratefully from those who have given them.

So, thank you to my partners in that field in Ghana. They give me purpose, meaning and fulfilment. On the surface of it, I appear to be giving them coconuts. Hopefully, if we were to scratch beneath the surface, they are receiving much more.