People over projects…

We all have those friends. Those people who always think they know more than we do and always have to be right. Those people who it’s their way or the highway—either we go where they want to go and do what they want to do, or they will find someone else to do it with and ditch you. Most of us would probably agree that those kinds of people are really annoying and not true friends.

Yet though we acknowledge those behaviors as bad in terms of friendship, often those very same attitudes are what guide our development. We may not look at it that way, but often those kinds of attitudes are what drive the particular projects or programs we offer in communities.

We believe that our education and exposure to the world makes us somehow more “qualified”—so we feel justified in coming in and telling a community everything they are doing wrong and what they should do to fix it.

We feel like we have something valuable to contribute, so we jump right in, feet first ready to bring a solution. Often, as Westerners we mistake Asian hospitality and respect as them agreeing with us. Just because they are not rude like an American would be for you making assumptions about them does not mean that they believe that the project you want to implement is best for them. Instead of building mutual respect and trust, you’ve become that rude friend that always has to be right.

It’s not that the communities do not have problems—we all have problems. The issue is not the community problems; it is the attitude of those of us who want to serve those communities. So how do we get to a place where we can deal with the problems and have a good (and respectful) attitude? I think we can do this through this thing called “community assessments.”

I don’t know about you, but the term “community assessment” can be a bit scary. I mean, first of all, where do we even start? The issues the community faces can see so overwhelming it is hard to narrow the focus? Also, what if you do the survey and you find out that the problems the community identifies are not the problems you think are the most important? Or even worse, what if the problems they identify are beyond the scope of what my organization can do and then you have to tell them you can’t help after all?

I think the problem with those assumptions is that it is a wrong view of community assessment. Community assessments really are a tool to help us build better relationships with the community. They help us learn to listen to their hopes, their dreams, their expectations, and even the challenges that they face. The community assessment takes the problems from paper and gives them names and faces. It reminds us that those we are serving are real people, real souls. But if you want to move your organization from caring about projects to caring about people—using a community assessment as a guided process is a great place to start.

Some people don’t need a community assessment to get to know people in a community. I am not one of those people. I am a tad awkward. I hate large group gatherings where I don’t have a specific task or role. For me, community assessments give me a reason to talk to women in the community one-on-one and begin to build relationships with them. One of the moms I talked to for the community assessment invited me into her home the next time I was there. It broke the ice between them and me.

Yes, assessments are hard, they take time, and sometimes the tangible results don’t feel like they are helpful. But we should do them anyway. Why? Because people are valuable. Because they are worthy of our time. Because they have a voice and they should be heard.

If we want community development to be a tool for evangelism, then we need to stop bulldozing our opinions and ideas about communities and begin to listen to them. As we build relationships we earn the right to be heard and can have the future opportunities to share our faith through relationships.

People are more important than projects. Projects are there to facilitate the growth and development of people, but they should never be the end goal. The end goal should be people being transformed into the image of Christ and them leading healthy and productive lives—physically and spiritually.

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What I have I give to you – Lessons in Wellbeing Part 3

Sometimes the problems that we see in communities are so big that we don’t even know where to start working. It can be incredibly overwhelming to see the lack of clean water and realize that the project is so hard, and so huge—where do we even begin? Or maybe it’s nutrition—the kids are malnourished and the feeding program we developed doesn’t work. How do I begin to see transformation in the community relating to the food they feed their kids so that the kids are not malnourished and then stunted? Where to begin? It is often in that overwhelming moment that we freeze. We don’t know what to do so we do nothing. Or we charge ahead thinking we can solve the whole problem ourselves with our own ways.

Yet, as I have been talking to the mothers in the trash dump community, I am learning that often the solution to a huge problem is for a community to come together and everyone just do their part.

Saturday morning I was talking to a young mother, Lindawati, about what she loved the most about her community. As we were talking, she shared that she loves how within the community they take care of each other in their need. Yully, our community partner, cut in and explained what Lindawati meant. Whenever a family in the community has a huge financial need that they cannot cover themselves, a community representative (often Yully herself) goes around house to house for a collection. Each family contributes whatever it is that they have to spare, it didn’t have to be much—but everyone who could, contributed. The need is often huge and overwhelming. No one family can solve the problem. Yet they have discovered that if everyone just contributes what they can, they are a lot closer to the solution than waiting for a silver bullet solution that will magically take away the problem.

As I reflected on this, three lessons occurred to me.

First of all, when was the last time we gave to someone in need? I don’t mean we gave our extra Starbucks money—I mean we risked not being able to feed our families vegetables that week because we gave to someone in our community that had a need? If I am honest with myself, I don’t know when the last time I gave that way was…I wonder if this is how those who heard Jesus praise the widow who gave her two mites felt in Luke 21?

Second, while the community contributions may be monetary, what they are giving is more than money. By sacrificially sharing, they are standing in solidarity with each other. It is supporting each other through the difficulties life throws at them. Wellbeing has to include this kind of dimension—it has to have room to understand that while they may not economically have much—their relationships are rich and strong.

Third, I learned that there is value in just doing something rather than sitting by. Problems around us are huge and they can be overwhelming. But what if instead of waiting for a silver bullet solution, we decided we were going to do something about it, even if it’s just a small step? I’m not talking about haphazardly going into a community to solve a problem without thinking through the consequences. I’m talking about working together as a community to take care of one’s own. Of saying that a small step forward is better than waiting for there to be a giant step. And maybe a series of smaller steps will lead us to an unexpected breakthrough.

 

Works Cited:
Lindawati. Personal Interview. 5 August 2017.

Moder-day gleaning – Lessons in Wellbeing Part 2

Ani is approximately 55 years old. She has six children and lives in a small one-room shack over the sewage canal right across from the main entrance to the trash dump. She has lived in this community for almost ten years. I met Ani for the first time about three years ago when she came to one of the free medical clinics my organization conducted in her community. She is usually one of our best participants and whenever she is around, always comes to say hello. Ani is one of those people in the community that you can tell gets a little more grace than most people.

I have found that generally people are quite guarded talking about the structure of the trash dump, but Ani was excited when we started to ask her about her life and her job.

The trash dump is owned entirely by one “big boss.” He rents out large sections of it to several “bosses,” which in turn each rent sections of their plot to a few “little bosses.” Each little boss hires approximately five to six full time workers to sort through what the trucks bring to their section of the dump. Ani explained that it is a highly organized system with lots of bosses.

However, there is a segment of people who collect trash who are “independent workers.” They do not work for any one of the bosses—rather they are allowed to pick through the leftovers that the official crews have cast aside. Generally, Ani explained, they pick one type of trash that they want for that month and then if they collect something else, they exchange it with other independent workers. For example, if she is collecting plastic aqua cups and another person is collecting toys, if she finds a toy she can exchange it for a certain amount of aqua cups so that they can more quickly reach their goal to collect the same type of item so they can get more money. In addition, if the official worker crews find fresh fruits and vegetables or items good enough to be sold, often they will give it to the independent workers for either very little or even free.

As Ani explained the arrangement of independent workers at the trash dump, it occurred to me that this sounds very similar to the Old Testament principle of gleaning. In the Old Testament, the harvesters were to leave some grain or barley behind so that the marginalized could come behind them and be able to collect grain and barley to be able to survive. Through gleaning, the gleaners were able to survive, while maintaining the dignity of working for their survival rather than just being handed free charity. This is very similar to what the trash crews do. They leave some trash to the side so that those who cannot work as official trash crew can still work to survive. The trash dump community has created their own system for caring for the marginalized in a way that retains their dignity and self-worth because they are still earning an income and providing for their families.

What an incredible lesson in development! How often do we create programs that give people free handouts, rather than work within the system already present in the community to help them, while still allowing them the dignity to provide for their own families? Work is important because providing for one’s family gives them dignity and self-worth. Ani was incredibly proud that she could provide for the school fees of her children through her trash collection. It would be easy to just give free vouchers for the school feels—but wouldn’t that rob her of the ability to have provided for her kids herself? Isn’t what the trash crews are doing, letting her go behind them to collect, more compassionate? They are showing mercy in a way that builds her confidence and self-worth.

As we develop programs in communities, this principle of modern-day gleaning reminded me that we need to be careful to in our pursuit of “help” not rob people of their dignity. This is why developing programs the community identifies as important is a good starting place. As they identify their needs and are a part of the solution, their confidence is being built as they realize that they have enough value and worth to determine their own future.

 

Works Cited:
Ani. Personal Interview. 5 August 2017.

What do you see? – Lessons in Wellbeing Part 1

When you look at the picture below, what do you see? It seems like a silly question, but actually take a minute and think through what you see.

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I remember the first time I went to this trash dump community, almost four years ago. I remember getting out of the car and being overwhelmed by the heat, the flies, and the smell of trash. As I looked around, all I could see was shacks, trash, kids playing in heaps of garbage, and a sewage canal. I saw people having to slave away in the heat of the day with such a demeaning job as picking through trash. Poor community, I thought. I felt sorry for them. I thought I felt compassion, but really it was pity.

Over time, though, my perception of this community has shifted. I had not realized how much it has shifted until a couple weeks ago when I took a team from America to visit this community. After we got back to Jakarta, as I heard them make the exact same reflections I had made after my first visit, I realized that I no longer shared their observations about the community—I no longer saw what they saw and felt what they felt. As I thought about why that is, I realized it’s because over time I have gotten to know the people in the community. I have started to learn their stories. It’s not about the physical environment they live in; it’s about the people who live in that environment.

Now, as I look at this same picture, I see something completely different. I see hard work and determination. I see positive attitudes in the midst of difficult situations. I see a group of resilient people who keep pushing on, even when outside forces seem to be against them. I see a close-knit community that is constantly connected and in each other’s homes. I see fathers providing the best they can for the needs of their families. I see a clear community organizational structure that takes care of the most marginalized within their community. This community is not to be pitied—it is to be admired. Their resilience, their ingenuity, their strong community bonds are inspiring.

You see, often there is a lot more going on in a community beneath the surface. But do we take the time to ask people their stories? Do we take time to ask people what their dreams for the future are? Do we even care if they told us? When we look beyond the surface, when we truly talk to people on a deeper level, it is amazing what we will find.

That’s not to say that health and education programs are not necessary in the community—I really believe they are. But the community is a strong community and they should have a voice and an opinion as to what they want. What is their idea of a healthy community? What do they think are the next steps to a healthier place for their children? What programs do they want to see in their community? What structures are already present that can be built upon rather than reinvented? It is important to discover what the women in the community believe an ideal community looks like and help them figure out how to get to that dream.

As I’ve gotten to spend time with and get to know the mothers in this community, I have realized that true development is about this idea my grad program calls “co-powerment.” I don’t just empower them, they don’t just empower me—we empower each other. Through working together to make the community a better place we both grow and develop in the process. It is in this co-powerment that we both get closer to wellbeing.

one in three…

IMG_2972 - Version 3As I was doing research for a paper I am working on for grad school, I came across some startling statistics about Indonesia. Did you know that according to the World Bank, ONE IN THREE CHILDREN in Indonesia is severely malnourished and will be permanently stunted? When a child is stunted it means that their physical bodies and their brains will never fully develop. Can you imagine receiving so few nutrients that your hair cannot properly pigment? That from year to year in school you can hardly learn anything new because your brain is not developing properly? All because you do not have enough nutrients….

As followers of Jesus that should break our heart. That is not the reality that God has designed for them. These statistics should not just cause us to feel pity, it should move us to ACTION. 
Research shows that the window of time to reverse the permanent effects of malnutrition are in the first 2,000 days of the child’s life. That means that by the time children begin school with us in kindergarten, it is too late to reverse the permanent effects. So what do we do? We focus on the mothers. We partner with them so that together we can make a permanent difference in the lives of the students.
At Partners for Compassions we are fighting the one in three. We provide free vitamins to pregnant mothers and young children in the communities where we operate. We work with the mothers through a series of health education initiatives so that they can learn the importance of nutrition and what they should be feeding their children. We walk alongside them as they wrestle with what properly feeding their children means practically. What we have started to do is great—but I believe God has more in store over the next three years.
Would you partner with us as together we wrestle with the effects of malnutrition in Indonesia? Together we will fight the one in three!

Resources:

“The Double Burden of Malnutrition in Indonesia.” The World Bank. 23 April 2015. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/04/23/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition-in-indonesia. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

a year in pictures…

2016 was quite an adventure! They say pictures are worth a thousand words, so as to save you reading millions of words describing this year, here are my top 10 highlights (in chronological order) in pictures:
1. Having over 40 women come to each of our community health education seminars and graduating our first group of women from the program! img_4211
2. Graduating our first ever sewing class group
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3. Working with an amazing team on the IES Search & Rescue Campaign
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4. Taking a team from IES to West Indonesia for outreach
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5. Korry and I had our first ever interns!
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6. Orphanage camp with an amazing team of IES volunteers!!
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7. Trekking through Southeast Asia with one of my best friends
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8. Starting my online graduate program in International Community Development
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9. Sharing what God is doing in Indonesia with churches and individuals around the US
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10. Spending Christmas with the family!
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2016 was exciting and jam packed of opportunity…I can only begin to imagine what God has in store for 2017!!!

the dream of a five year old…a reality?

I remember as a five year old dreaming that one day I would become a doctor and live and work among the Tuareg people in West Africa. I wanted to make a difference in their lives.
As I grew older and started taking biology classes in high school, that dream began to fade and new ideas of what I wanted to do emerged. I went to university, where I studied communications and political science, and life went on. My dreams changed…or so I thought.
The other day, as I was writing a reflection paper on vocation for one of my grad school courses, it occurred to me that I am currently living the dream of that five year old dreamer. It looks a little different than my five year old self could have pictured—but I am working in community health in a developing country doing what I am passionate about doing. I have the opportunity to minister to people on a variety of levels—primarily through health programs.
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As I am reflecting on the last three years of working in Jakarta, I realized that when I first decided to move to Indonesia, I never could have imagined how much I would fall in love with this beautiful country. I have had the opportunity to participate in and experience so many incredible things. I’ve gotten to work with an amazing team, start a health education program, develop a nutrition program for our kindergarten students in slum communities, recruit hundreds of volunteers to work in community projects, take teams to other parts of Indonesia, eat the most incredible foods, make amazing friendships, and become a part of an incredible church family.
I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve in Indonesia. And thinking about what I do now as the realization of a dream God gave me 21 years ago is pretty incredible. I am excited to see what God has in store for me and my work in Indonesia over the next years.
The last three years have had a lot of ups, a lot of downs, and everything in between, but in spite of it all, I know I am where I am supposed to be. I am doing what I am passionate about doing. I am living the dream of that five year old little dreamer….

happy endings…

The last few days I have had to stay home sick, so I’ve watched a lot of cheesy Hallmark movies. I’ve come to the conclusion that they all have two things in common—a crisis or obstacle that the characters need to overcome and a happy ending. This is true whether the movie is about family, friendship, romance, etc. There is always a conflict or obstacle, and it always works itself out.

I honestly hadn’t noticed the importance of the crisis or obstacle to a good story line until I watched a movie where it seemed that there wasn’t going to be one—everything seemed like it would be smooth sailing until the ending. I was 1 hour in to a 1.5 hour movie, and I kept thinking, “is this really it?” That’s when it occurred to me that in order for it to be a good movie, it is essential for the characters to have some conflict or obstacle to overcome. If they don’t have one, then they can’t fully appreciate their happy ending. The crisis or conflict makes them realize who they are and what is truly important to them and what they are willing to stand up for. It makes them stronger as individuals, and stronger as a family (or couple depending on the movie). The conflict is essential to them getting to the happy ending and to them fully appreciating their happy ending.

As I was thinking about it, I think the same is true of us in our lives. We are living our story on our way to our happy ending. We may think that our happy ending is marriage, kids, a good job, making a difference—but while those are great things, that’s not the happy ending I’m talking about. I was reading today in Revelation 22:1-6, where John describes the end of time when we will be standing before God and the Lamb and we will finally be able to see His face and His name will be on our foreheads. There will be no darkness at all—because God Himself will be our light for all eternity!! That right there is our happy ending.

But just like in a movie, can we truly appreciate that ending without a crisis or conflict or some sort of obstacle that we need to overcome? I would argue that we can’t. I think God allows us to have conflicts and crisis in our lives to help us take stock of who we are and what we stand for. It is the difficult times that mold us into His image and refine us and make us stronger. It is through enduring and overcoming the crises in our lives that we are fully able to appreciate the happy ending God has in store for us as described in Revelation 22. I mean, how can we fully appreciate seeing the face of God if everything in our lives were perfect and we felt that we didn’t need God? How can we appreciate God Himself being our light for all eternity if we didn’t go through times of complete darkness when we thought we would never see the light again? You see, the crisis is for a purpose…it is the part of our story that is brining us to the amazing ending when we will be with God for all eternity. It helps mold us into the people that God is calling us to be, it helps us realize who we are and what we stand for.

I find great encouragement in this. Going through challenges and crises is a normal part of life. It’s also just a chapter in our story. The crisis is not what defines us. What does define us is how we overcome that challenge. And the cool thing about real life (as opposed to movies) is that God Himself will give us the strength we need to overcome the obstacles in our lives. We know that whatever we are going through is for a purpose—it’s not random. Just like the challenges in the movies are all difficult but able to be overcome, so is whatever we are going through. God is not going to give us a challenge that we cannot overcome. We can make it to the end…and it is going to be the most happily ever after that we can ever imagine.

 

“it’s not about a cause, it’s about people.”

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As humans, we have a desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves—we want our lives to matter and we want to contribute to something meaningful and lasting. I think that is part of the reason why we love supporting a variety of causes—whether it’s sponsoring children to go to school, building free medical clinics, cleaning up the environment—we want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

The other day I heard a speaker say something that at first seamed quite simple, but as I’ve thought about it, realized it’s quite profound. “It’s not about a cause, it’s about a person.” As that quote has been running through my head the last few weeks, I’ve realized it is easy to get so caught up in planning good programs and in providing great opportunities for volunteers to be engaged and to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, that it is easy to lose sight that the reason we do what we do in the first place is because of the individual people in our communities that are affected by our programs.

It’s not about running a great school, it is about Nila, Deny, and Petra having the opportunity to go to school for the first time. It’s not just about running an amazing health education program, it’s about Nadia, Irma, and Febi learning the importance of proper nutrition so that their children can be healthy and have a shot at a better future. It’s not about creating good job training classes, it’s about Siska, Nurjani, and Patma having the ability to earn an income and be able to provide food for their families.

The programs are how we impact people—but the programs aren’t why we do the programs–because ultimately our goal should be making a difference in the lives of individual people. We run the best possible programs we can and provide the best services we can because we know that it will touch lives. Ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road, the lives of Nila, Deny, Petra, and the hundreds of other women and children just like them will completely transformed because we made an investment in them.

It’s not about a cool slogan or a catchy cause—it’s about making a difference in the lives of people who will forever be changed because we cared enough to reach out to them. And I would argue that that is the most meaningful thing we can be a part of.

search & rescue – it’s a team thing…

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I’ve come to the conclusion that you can have a great idea, but without a great team behind you—it will never go beyond your wildest imagination.

This weekend was the launch of our second annual IES Outreach campaign. Our theme this year is “The least. The Last. The Lost.” As I was meeting with my team for the event, they came up with the idea of the “Search and Rescue Campaign.” Over the last month and a half we have been working on making that idea a reality.

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It was 2pm Saturday afternoon, three hours before service was about to start and we were going to launch he campaign. It was just me and one other volunteer in the office, waiting for 800 boxes to come so we could stuff leaves in them for the gift for the first weekend…I was trying to stay calm, but was starting to get a bit nervous. The boxes finally came at 3pm, 2 hours before service was supposed to start, and one hour before I had my volunteer briefing for what they were to do during service. I was staring at the pile of boxes and leaves, and now I really was nervous. Then one by one, various members of the IES staff and my committee started coming and stuffing boxes, putting on the lids, moving them to where they needed to go. In about 5 minutes we were functioning like a well-oiled machine. We were done with the first 400 in about an hour. It so blew me away that not only were they willing to spend part of their Saturday stuffing boxes, but they did it with such joy and excitement—it made it fun!

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Once the boxes were done, we all came downstairs and launched our Search & Rescue campaign. We had the opportunity to talk to people about what it means to reach out to those who are overlooked and hidden. In true IES fashion there was such an overwhelmingly positive response. People want to be involved, they want to be part of team that reaches beyond themselves to those who are forgotten.

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If you aren’t part of a team, you miss out–because, as I’m learning, it’s in community, in working together, that we can stretch ourselves and together make something better than we could have imagined.

I am so humbled and honored to be a part of a community of people that wants to take serving to the next level… to be involved, to make a difference, to make an eternal impact.

I am excited to see what the rest of the month holds!