Working for a human face on world development
"Lasting development is brought about only when people acquire confidence in their power as rational, productive human beings, have a strong sense of belonging, and are able to work together for the wellbeing of their community."
Quote from Marie Bassili Assad University lecturer in Cairo and supporter of the El Bayad Development Project.
IN 1977, the late Bishop Samuels of the Coptic Christian Church became interested in the initiation of a community based project in the Egyptian village of El Bayad.
It was a typical rural village, situated 75 miles south of Cairo, on the East bank of the Nile. There was high illiteracy, subsistence level farming, minimum communication and severe health problems. 90 per cent of the children suffered from malnutrition, and 80 per cent of the population were victims of Bilharzia, a progressively debilitating disease caused by parasite-infested water.
The domestic water source was an irrigation canal that was situated one kilometer from the village, and served for laundry, bathing and animal watering.
The project began in 1977. The process and change in subsequent years illustrates the methods by which selfsustaining development is inaugurated and continues to thrive each year and expands its influence and programme into surrounding villages.
In the first meeting of village leaders and concerned villagers, it was decided that clean water was the number one priority to stimulate the greatest amount of change in the village.
But an age-old village myth persisted that no underground water supply could be found beneath the limestone ledge on which the village was located.
The myth was challenged and a group of volunteers working in shifts with the use of a handoperated drill struck clean water at eleven metres depth just a few feet from the Nile bank.
This was the break-through. The villagers bought a pump, built a limestone tower, and hoisted a 10,000 gallon tank to the top. In the early hours of the morning, the villagers celebrated their three months of toil as they drank the first water that gushed from the taps.
Not only had they built a water system, they had learned how to work together as a village, young and old, Christian and Muslim, men and women. They had learned to make their own decisions, how to plan a course of group action, and create a time-line to finish the job.
The Institute of Cultural Affairs, an international notfor-profit organisation, was present during the development project in order to provide training, but the villagers had the responsibility of the decision-making.
Missions that have local rural development as one of their concerns face a task that is both complex and frustrating and when lessons are learned it is imperative that these be shared across the church and related voluntary groups.
The Institute of Cultural Affairs has community development experience in many third world countries at the grass roots level and is now working to make available the methods which it has found to be successful.
The Institute has analysed the results of its work in villages in Africa, India, Jamaica, South America and South East Asia and has offered them in training sessions called "Seminars for Effective Mission".
A comment from one of the Divine Word Missionary in Rome that attended one of the Seminars for Effective Mission illustrates one response to them: "Out of the 100 participants, the majority felt that the workshop was offering them an effective tool to come to grips with the often so unsuccessful endeavour of building community at the grass roots level among very simple people as well as in dealing with any group for consensus building."
The sessions of the seminars vary in length and content according to the needs of the particular groups and can also contain training and planning procedures that are relevant to needs of mission in the United Kingdom and other areas. They include:
Group Problem Solving and Strategic Village Planning. The Institute has found that the first and most essential step in
comprehensive local development is to involve the residents in a decision-making process which illuminates the issues, options, and implications facing them. This sort of consensus forms the basis for long-term motivation in village projects.
Development. Elements of leadership development that are emphasised are training in how to plan meetings to that they are productive and effective. Creative ways to lead group study are taught — simple methods with which a group of people can analyse information thoroughly and reach objective conclusions.
Geo-Social analysis. It is important for a mission that is focused on the parish level or in
villages to have at its disposal an effective means of "gridding" the geographical area that it serves. This method includes an analysis of physical and social landmarks that identifies the area to its residents.
The need for effective group action does not only face those of us directly concerned with work in the third world, the pressures of the mission in the church anywhere are increased with demands on financial and staffing resources.
It requires trained team leadership that can elicit action in the face of complex issues and guide people towards making the decisions required of them.
The experience of the Institute lies in three areas of planning and training.
Strategic Planning. This is a process of five, four-hour sessions that allows a group of people to clarify the objectives of its entire mission, discern the
barriers to those objectives, create strategic proposals and tactical actions, and build a concise and practical timeline.
Operational Planning. This consists of two, four-hour sessions and is focused on a particular issue or arena of concern of a group and gives it the possibility of making breakthroughs in their insight of their missional direction.
Leadership Training. This is a course in group leadership skills that includes group and individual problem solving, communication in groups, information analysis, report writing and presentation preparation and training in' praise and constructive criticism.
If any of these methods interest you Father Joseph Dickson or William Bonnell at 277 St Ann's Road, London N15 5RG (01-802-2848) will be pleased to hear from you.