On the Audacity of Hope*

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On the Audacity of Hope

            *Shout out to my main man, and fellow Luo, President Barack Obama

I don’t usually enjoy writing solely about emotion, without critical analysis of community development, but it seemed necessary this week.

I’ve been back for about a month now. It’s been rough. I try to start each day with gratitude. Gratitude for the friends who welcomed me with love, for housing, for EBT, for the part-time job I walked right into, for my breath, my legs, and my beating heart.

Without fail as the day proceeds, niggling insecurities creep in. That I have a lot of money left to fundraise, that it is improbable that I’ll reach the goal. Moments of doubt and fear, and wanting to give up pervade.

Last week, we started harvesting tomatoes at the greenhouse we built while I was at the farm.

A moment, a connection with someone, or a problem solved enters, and my heart and smile beam, and I remembered the power of hope, and why I do this. 

I have never accomplished anything positive by focusing solely on the constraints of a situation. I’m not saying we ignore the facts, but remember there are always assets in a problem, even if they seem few stacked against the odds. What makes the seemingly impossible possible is the power of illogical hope. Hope that I have for my future, hope that mamas have for their children, that is what gets the impossible done. 

Dream and hope with us. Give here: www.stayclassy.org/ritarose

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Rocky’s 30 Shillings and Other Lessons in Community Development

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     The Kisumu team went on a fact-finding mission last week to visit Rocky Murri, environment coordinator for Comfort the Children International in Maai Mahiu, Kenya to see what things we could work on implementing in our own Rita Rose Garden and Sustainable Farm.

     Rocky’s been working on teaching local schoolchildren how to make sack gardens for their households—a garden that can grow 80 plants out of a large sack with holes poked into the sides. After some kids were so interested in the sack gardens, he also began gauging interest in backyard drip gardens. Drip tape with small holes allows a small amount of water to irrigate the base of each plant, addressing the challenge of water access.

     As we asked loads of questions about cost, feasibility, and sensitizing the community, Rocky showed us one of his backyard garden hacks—instead of buying another connector to plug the end of the tape, he cuts a piece of tape off the end, folds the line in half and uses the other piece to seal it, and says, “There’s my 30 shillings saved”—the cost of one more connector.

     Talking about the need to ensure whatever intervention you may be working on is one the community actually wants and will use, he emphasizes the need to “go deep, don’t spread wide” in your project. People are resistant to change, he says, go slowly, in Maai Mahiu people have always grown beans and maize, they say you can’t grown sweet potatoes, but here at the farm, I’m growing them.” Don’t tell people-show them.

We owe Rocky some tremendous gratitude for demonstrating what can work,  and for his great hospitality.

Help us sensitize, train, and provide drip kits to our own caregivers by donating here:

http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=249512

Beyond Good Intentions

 

            At the heart of most ventures in international development lay a sense of good intent. I believe that this is generally a good thing.  However, responding “but they meant well”, as some projects have gone awry, is far too common for my comfort. Good intentions aren’t enough for me. After spending a year in Ghana, and a few years in university reproducing criticism of development work, I found it difficult to figure out where I stood within this field, where I wanted to go and most importantly if I should.

As I ventured further into the field I found that there were many likeminded well-intentioned white women such as myself, but thought how often in this space do we examine whether we should be the ones doing this work? I have also found that jaded criticism of development work is just as prevalent as well-intentioned idealism, if not even more rampant.  Whether one falls on either side of this spectrum, there is still work to be done, and with or without us others are doing it. 

            The single most important quality to have in this line of work is humility.  Us people– we’re proud creatures. I’ve watched others, and myself, claim a small patch of a distant place, a whole country, a piece of work, or a group of people. I’ve wondered why is it so easy to stake a claim on something that is not ours, but much larger than ourselves? To go forth into a community as a guest, we should offer our hands, our head, our heart up in supplication, asking “help me and let me help you, and how shall I do it?”.  And in our enthusiasm, to remember to always stop and listen for the response.  We must apply lessons learned before and after venturing into something new, and to be ever aware of the implications of our part in this work.  Someone shared with me an attractive phrase recently. Heart + Head = Hustle. In the case of international development, perhaps heart + head + humility = responsible hustle is appropriate. Not quite as catchy, but I’m working on it.Image