"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Africa"

Getting People Talking When Working in Rural Africa

Every teaching or meeting situation is unique and offers its own challenges. I work in rural Africa and have found the follow seven tools especially helpful for engaging community members.

  1. Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.
  2. Agree on pre-set rules or a set the standards. Before any community meeting, facilitate a conversation about meeting rules or agreed protocol. For instance, begin by informing the group that “no answer is wrong, and no question is stupid.” Rules may include “no walking around during the meeting, no phone calls and no mini-meeting during the training.” The most important thing is that the rules come from your participants and are agreed to by everyone. Checking in on these rules from time-to-time can help keep them top-of-mind – one good time for this is at the start of each day in a multi-day event.  
  3. Manage the power in the group. Your ability to manage those with power or privilege in the community is crucial to the success and participation of others – some of these may include the chief, unit committee member, the rich, and men. Your event stands to risk being high-jacked by the most vocal or privileged unless you have strategies for equalizing this power. Some ways to do this are: solo work, pair work, small group work, and inviting in specific voices at specific times i.e. “Let’s start by hearing from those who live past the hospital, and then we will hear from a few people on the other side of the river.”
  4. Use energizers. People come to meetings and events with many things on their mind and with different levels of energy. Make use of energizers to keep participants active and engaged. They should be purposeful and easy to execute. However, sometimes it is helpful just to have some fun and be a little less focused on the goals of the day. Learning takes energy, so monitor it carefully.
  5. Schedule events at participants’ convenience. Meetings should be scheduled at the preferred time of the community members, especially to suit women to encourage their participation. As much as possible, market days should be avoided since most women go to the market daily. If market days are selected as the best time to meet, keep the discussion short and focused. It is better to have a successful 1-hour meeting than to have a half-day session with little participation.
  6. Share real-life stories. There is no better way to get people talking than through story. Invite them to share a personal story with a partner, to share through a proverb, or to create a song with a small group. Stories are powerful tools for learning and can take many forms.
  7. Ensure safety. If the community members don’t feel safe they will not want to share much with those at the event. Greet them as they arrive, check in with them often, ensure they know why they are invited and their input is of value, and engage them in meaningful ways.  

 

What tips or tools can you add to this list?

 

Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

Maximize Successful Community Engagement: Tips from Africa

Safety and respect are key to ensuring community engagement. This is as true in rural Ghana where I work, as it is in most places in the world. Here are some tips that I have found helpful for the African context:

  1. Understand the cultural dynamics. It is important that while entering a community the facilitator or community engagement person has a clear understanding of the “go and no-go zones,” as well as the totems and taboos of the community. These need to be honoured and respected during the period of work with the community and will increase the possibility of success.
  2. Stay away from party politics. In general, community members in Africa are passionate about their politics. In addition, many politicians have made huge promises and failed to deliver. They are not always trusted. To be safe, explain who you are and who you work for, and that you do not have an affiliation with any political party. Wisely and clearly decline political discussions and make relevant input devoid of politics.
  3. Know the religious dynamics. This is a sensitive area and should be managed carefully during your stay in the community. People are equally passionate about their religion as they are their politics, and therefore religious conversations or examples should be avoided. However, to maximize safety and respect honour people’s religious needs during your events as much as possible i.e. prayer time, food preferences, etc.
  4. Establish rapport. Entering the community should involve and engage all the relevant stakeholders in the project. Make sure your contact persons in the community are people respected and trusted by that community.
  5. Introduce yourself or team to traditional authority. The team/officer should introduce himself to the traditional authority on the first day of entry to the community. You will be more warmly welcomed and protected by the community when you are known by these leaders. Note: Meetings with chiefs sometimes involve you giving gifts. Find out what is expected and ensure you have exactly what you need to visit the chief or other community leaders.
  6. Know the community. It takes time to get to know a community. However, doing some research in advance can give you important knowledge about the people, their religion and culture, issues of concern and challenge, strengths and resources, as well as leadership practices. Do your homework.

 

What do you do to ensure safety?

 

Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

Tips for Successful Community Engagement for Social Transformation, in Illiterate Communities

Social change is a complex process and does not follow linear steps or procedures. And, it is not usually fast.

Recently, I met some community members in rural areas of Ethiopia where many international and local NGOs have worked for a long time. I asked the community members to tell me the positive change they have experienced as a result of working with these groups. Their response was, “We have been receiving different kinds of support for many years, but we are still the same. Our community still needs support.”

It begs the question: Is our work really helping?

Most of the changes we need to see in poor rural communities can happen if and only if our approaches towards community development change. The following are a few tips for helping rural development practitioners lead communities on the road towards empowerment and positive change.

  1. Monitor your attitude and behaviour. To work with communities in rural areas we need to have the right attitude. We need to know that most of these people are comfortably living their lives the way they do and will continue to live that way in our absence. We need to remember that it is their life, and they know what is best for themselves. Even in the poorest parts of the world, change is possible. The reason this change has not yet happened is due to lack of opportunity, not because of weakness or lack of intelligence. We may be able to walk along side to help enable change, but the change is about them and not us.
  2. Creating a good environment. Depending on the culture and traditions, meetings are usually opened with prayer or by an elder’s blessing. The opening process can easily determine the outcome of the meeting. Moreover, in rural areas, people sit on the ground or on small stools. Inviting people to sit in a circle can help create a sense of equal status among the participants. The facilitator should also sit in the circle and on the same type of chair, as an equal to everyone else.
  3. Set ground rules to address status-quo. In communities where reading and writing is not present we cannot ask the participants to write their ideas on Post-it notes or paper and paste them on a wall. We can however, listen to what they contribute orally. Ideally, it is preferable to have women groups, youth groups, and elderly or local leaders in separate groups. However, this is not always possible. The culture may allow elders and religious leaders to speak first and then the other group members may not have the courage to disagree with what was shared. To avoid this, we need to carefully invite people with higher status to “take off their position” while in that group. This process can create a more democratic space for all people to speak and interact freely. These processes empower the people who consider themselves inferior (or less important) in the community, and give them a voice.
  4. Number of people in a group. It is important to limit the number of people in a group to 30 or less. Having a small group ensures each participant has a voice in the group. Safety and respect need to be modeled and intentionally worked on. They are not only needed for honest and authentic dialogue during the initial learning event or gathering, but are also critical for using what they learned, implementation of their plans, and further discussions about action or adjustments.
  5. Be patient and listen. The common mistake we make as a development professional is going into a community with preconceived ideas. Too often we consider ourselves better than those we are working with and suggest solutions for a problem we think exists before any sort of deep discovery process or consultation. We need patience and practice in listening. Having skills in Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) tools as well as a dialogue-based approach are also important. Humility is key. Once the community has decided what they want to do, we can help to develop a community action plan with responsibilities for each group member. We are invited to facilitate the process, but not determine the outcome of it.
  6. Represent the idea visually. Graphic representation of ideas using symbols that can clearly represent the issues being discussed can be extremely helpful. This can allow for some record-keeping of what is decided and it may also inspire some participants to explore more literacy methods.
  7. Invite reflection and dialogue. To bring social transformation, creating a space for people to enter and feel safe enough for meaningful dialogue and idea sharing is essential. People need to critically consider their experiences and feel free enough to challenge existing practices. In one community in which I work, people call this process “a life mirror” because they look at their life and identify spots that need to change. By creating a safe, respectful and open space for reflection, introspection and dialogue, change is more possible.
  8. Community action plan. The ultimate objective is to help communities to assess their own situation, come up with possible solutions and decide on an action plan for positive change. During the development of their action plan support will be needed. There might be issues that they can handle by themselves but also ones that need to be supported by external individuals or agencies. Careful discernment will be needed about who should step in to support their work, when, why and for how long.
  9. Monitor change and celebrate success. Setting goals and objectives with success indicators is very helpful for monitoring achievements. Once results are achieved, it is important to celebrate and recognize the individual and team efforts. This helps the group to strive for a higher level of achievement, pushing them forward in their transformation.

The process of community engagement requires flexible and adaptive thinking. No two groups or situations are the same. We need to start by ensuring we have deep understanding of the people we are working with, their situation, and the desired change they are looking for (if they know that already). Social transformation is possible in any and every community. As facilitators of community engagement, we need to get out of the way, and learn to more effectively invite community members in to processes of discernment and decision-making.

What helpful tip do you practice or have you seen for community engagement?

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Yeshitila Alemu (yeshal2003@yahoo.com; yalemu@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is a Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ethiopia. He has a B.Sc. in Agricultural Extension and M.Sc. in Rural Development and Agricultural Economics. He also has over 16 years of experience working with rural poor communities and urban slum areas in Ethiopia.