For three years, Flood the Nations and Life Church in Fort Collins, CO, have been visiting La Unión and surrounding villages. Last year, a team worked with the village of San Agustín to install water filters. This July, a group returned to spend time in the village again, catching up with people they'd met, seeing how the filters were improving families' health, and meeting with village leaders to discuss possible partnership projects for the future.
As a summer intern with Unión MicroFinanza, I got to witness the community partnership-based model of development as the group visited different families in San Agustín, and see how the filters have impacted their lives. Unanimously, the people spoke of improved health for themselves and their children due to the filter systems. The Fort Collins group got to see how their fundraising and trip last year have been effective. This is a crucial aspect of this development model. Monitoring the success of past projects keeps people accountable, prevents wasted resources, and informs future initiatives.
|UMF's Patrick Hughes translates as leaders|
from San Agustín present project proposals.
The highlight of my time with the group was the community meeting in San Agustín. Community leaders, husbands and wives, and children, along with the UMF team and the Fort Collins group, congregated in the village's meeting place: the church. Here is where I saw the difference in this kind of development strategy, which involves the close participation of community members. As North Americans, we did not start the meeting with our plans for the community. Rather, we offered it up to the community to present their ideas. The main presenter was an amiable middle-aged man, who professed learning to read and write in his adult years on his own. My respect for him instantly swelled. He outlined six main proposals that had been designed with general community needs in mind.
Watching this man speak and then the community members vote on a proposal, I was reminded of my readings about development theory. In his book Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen argues that freedom ought to be viewed as the means and ends of development. When one of the community leaders was presenting, I began to see how this theory works in practice. Through involving him in the planning process, he is a direct agent in the process of development. His meaningful work planning proposals is not only helping accomplish the goal of our work here, but also is the goal itself.
It is no wonder to me that people scoff when one aims at grand poverty alleviation plans or having a desire to “save the world”. These goals are too general, and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the needs. The beauty of one community partnering with another is that communities with excess material goods can narrow their focus in the developing world, while at the same time building meaningful relationships.
As one member of the Fort Collins group put it, the people of San Agustín may be poor economically, but we are poor in spirit. Through visiting year after year, these partnering communities create a relationship based on mutual respect. Rather than a give-receive based model, these partnerships foster collaboration and working together, as well as meaningful relationships for members of both communities.