Serving disadvantaged communities in West Africa by empowering local leaders who have a positive humanitarian vision for their community.
This blog maps the evolution of the organization's vision through the thoughts, experiences, and collaborative projects of our team. Visit GroundUpGlobal.org for more information and how you can help!
Today is Blog Action Day 2012! At GroundUp Global, this year’s theme, The Power of We, resonates deeply with our work on the Buduburam refugee camp. The theme also raises important questions about work within a community, and the ultimate goal of “development” work in general. Here are some thoughts:
The purpose of development work is to mutually craft the social, economic, and organizational structures that bring about and sustain equality for everyone. (There seems to be some confusion in the world right now as to what “equal rights” actually entails, such as a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.)
If we set this as our ultimate goal, then it becomes vital we understand the practices and systems that undermine equality, not just at the societal level but within our own organizations.
Often when I tell people about the work I do, they exclaim something along the lines of “how noble!” This reaction both fascinates and repels me. The use of the word “noble,” however well-meaning, invariably calls to mind a hierarchical class structure: a medieval system of inequality. Embedded in this statement is the idea that I have sacrificed something significant to do this work. The reality is, I do this because I love it. I’m incredibly lucky. I work with the Liberian refugees on Buduburam because I have been given more by that community than I could ever hope to return, and this work is my way of sharing what I have to give.
I believe that by coming to the refugee camp as students, ready to learn and unafraid of the work it might take within ourselves to change perspective, we worked towards a deep sense of equality. This is necessary and foundational, although it does not alter certain facts about the situation that are hard to come to terms with. For example, I can leave the camp whenever I choose, return to the US where I have a wide and generous support system of friends and family. This same freedom does not truly exist for many of the Liberian refugees.
So the question of “noble” resurfaces - Is development work noble? Is there a place for ego in building equality? I think it comes down to this: there is greater joy in embracing the opportunity to learn each day than in only listening to one’s own inner monologue. It’s not just this tired line of ” we must ask the people on the ground what they want” - that is simply common sense. It is understanding that what you can learn from other people is of absolutely equal value to what you have to give. And finally, it is slowly and steadily building this appreciation until it transforms into gratitude.