lessons learned on holistic community development…

This past week I was able to go to Bali and go through Transformational Community Development (TCD) training. The premise of this model is that health is not just curing disease, it’s about the physical, emotional, spiritual, and environmental well being of an individual and a community. The conference was about how we can incorporate that model into how we work with communities.

Though I learned a ton of different things, I thought I would share just two things that I took away that I thought you might be interested in:

1. Health is more than the curing of disease.

The foundation of TCD is that health is not just curing disease, it’s about a holistic approach to health, where physical, emotional, spiritual and environmental health are all components. In the TCD course they stated that their model is not just something they came up with on their own. The WHO defines health similarly, they say health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

As I was sitting listening to this foundational teaching in the conference, I remembered my Health 101 class at JMU my freshman year. That is where I first learned about the four dimensions of health—which were the same as the foundation of the TCD course! I remembered that for our big project we had to go to two events from each dimension of health throughout the course of the semester so we would understand the broader concept of health. I guess it worked because five years later I still remember them…and they fit perfectly into what I was learning about at the Transformational Community Development training.

So in a nutshell the theory is that the measure of success of the TCD program is not just a decrease in disease occurrences in a particular community (thought that is definitely a major component). This makes sense because if a community is physically health (less disease) but there are problems between families, problems with the environment, people have spiritual problems, or even emotional problems with themselves—are the communities really considered healthy? According to the TCD model they are not. That is why it is important to find the root causes of the visible problems and address those—because if the roots are fixed then everything else will work itself out. TCD is all about taking a holistic approach to community development, working with all four dimensions of health to have truly healthy communities.

2. Communities should define their problems and solutions to those problems – our role as outsiders is facilitation

When you first hear that communities should define their own problems and come up with their own solutions you may have a  “duh, that makes perfect sense” moment. While it does make complete sense theoretically, sometimes as an outsider it’s harder to live out in practice. What do you do when you see severe health issues in the community where you are working that they aren’t working towards solving—either because they don’t see them as problems or they don’t know how to fix them? Do you go in and fix them? Or do you just wait until they are able (or willing) to address the issue on their own? But what if that takes too long and there are people in the community dying from preventable causes? 

The principles of TCD is to actively empower communities to recognize and define their own problems and then facilitate them towards coming up with their own solutions to those problems, rather than just giving them a list of things they need to fix—or worse just fix it for them without them even recognizing that it is an important problem that they face. 

Our job as outsiders to that community is to help them through the process of THEM self-defining the biggest issues they think their community faces and then facilitate them through the process of coming up with their own solutions to the problem. I think it a good middle ground between the two extremes of solving the problem for them or doing nothing until they address the issue on their own. 

So in practice I think it would theoretically look something like this:

We would go to the community where we are working (and already have some relationships with the people there) and meet with representatives of the community and sit down together in a circle for our initial TCD meeting. We would first go through an appreciative inquiry of what they feel are good things about their community. This is essential because we don’t want them to be negative about their community, or perceive that we feel negatively about their community. They live there so there must be some positive things about that community, which you should help them through the process of verbalizing. The foundation of TCD should be build on what is already good in the community rather than starting from a point of despair.

After the appreciative inquiry you have each person at the meeting map out their dream of what they would like their community to look like in 5 years. From there you ask them to pick 3 of the biggest issues their community faces that keeps them from their 5-year dream for the community. A fun way they taught us to do this is to have each person find actual objects that illustrate the problems and then everyone lines up the objects in the middle of the circle. Once you group objects that represent the same thing, you give people 5 stones and they vote for the problems they think are most important (noting that you can give one problem more than one stone). Then you go through each of the problems, from the ones that got the most votes to those that got the least. After evaluating the voting, you discuss the three issues that received the most votes to make sure the voting represented their reality of those issues being the most important to the community as a whole. From there you can introduce TDC and what the process would look like for them and then help them develop a model of how to address the three biggest issues they just identified.

By using this method, the community is more invested in the long-term success of the plan—because they recognize that the problem is important and is something they want to commit to working towards. 

Through every step of the process it is important that we don’t tell them what to do, but rather pose questions that gets them thinking about how they should address their needs. I like this because it’s all about FACILITATION, it’s about asking questions and creatively problem solving. It doesn’t mean we can’t be involved in the community, it means that we have an advisory role rather than just coming in and fixing things, making blunders, and then our solutions not really even working anyway. 

I think that the TCD model really fits well with PFC’s style of community development. We strive to equip and provide resources to people who live in the communities and not go in as outsiders and try to run everything. It was so encouraging to learn more about how to do this better and more effectively.

It was such a great week. I learned so much and met some incredible people. I have come back to Jakarta with more passion and enthusiasm to continue working on developing ways to better work with communities.

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One thought on “lessons learned on holistic community development…

  1. Sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing your adventures and how God is teaching and growing you in wisdom. Love you!!!! Cindy and Bill

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