Friday, February 20, 2009

According to Paul Wellstone, “successful organizing is based on the recognition that people get organized because they, too, have a vision.” In my mind, community based rehabilitation is just healthcare’s special phrase for community organization— the terms are really one in the same. In both cases, an organizer (community member or healthcare worker) joins a community to help that community identify their needs, organize, plan and take action. Key to both processes is the organizer’s ability to empower the community members, motivating them to take part in the process, and eventually take over the process, making the presence of the organizer no longer necessary. The goal is to establish a sustainable program that the community generates, will benefit from, can manage and will be able to support as long as it is needed. The hard part, as an organizer, is remember that you are there to be a catalyst—to get things going, keep the momentum going, and help to lay down the groundwork, not to do the work for the community or direct or dictate anything. I think the most important thing to remember is to go in to a community ready to learn as much as you teach with humility and patience, curiosity and determination, empathy and compassion. It’s too easy to go in and assume that you’ll be teaching people wonderful things and they’ll just be begging to learn everything you know and you’ll be saving them from their horrible fates. Thinking like this discounts all the resources the community has to offer and presumes its members have less to offer than you. This imbalance inhibits the community building process, creating obstacles to establishing resources instead of removing them. I have so many hopes for our trip to Ghana—I hope we are able to help, to do something that will help someone in some lasting way, I hope to connect with some people in the community. But I expect on this trip that I will learn more from the people I meet than they will learn from me. In our reading this week I think Haig said it best when he wrote, “never go into a region with heroics in mind. Instead, think of a strong and sustainable business plan.”

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