The first ah-ha! moment arrived for me on Day 3 as we sat with the Malawi Country Director, Rowlands Kaotcha and Team Malawi Microfinance Program Officer, Edina Chikulo preparing to the leave the reserve for our first visit into the village communities where we work.
Since joining The Hunger Project and in particular in the days following my arrival in Malawi, I was listening to the chatter in my head about my motivations. Were my intentions really centred in a desire to be a global citizen and have an impact in the world, or was there a more sinister under current of selfish vanity and white saviour mentality?
The first ah-ha! moment came when our preparation for village visits involved looking at the relationship that exists between us, the investors, and them, the village partners. The relationship is based on a long standing partnership not a temporary transaction. We have collectively forgotten our physical differences as we work together to end hunger and poverty. We are connected and related. We bleed the same blood. We are partners in enablement. We celebrate their wins and share their sorrows.
I realised I needed to shift my mindset about the foundation of the relationship being one of donor / beneficiary to one of partnership. In that moment the struggle between superior v inferior, powerful v weak, rich v poor immediately dissipated.
This was step one.
Some of us felt uneasy about entering an environment which was so very different from what is considered “normal” to us. Rowlands reminded us that in the spirit of partnership we needed to set aside our fears and self consciousness and engage deeply. Whilst the people in the villages were new to us, a long standing relationship existed between them and the many THP global citizens who had been there before. So we were not there to observe – we needed to step into the relationship, honour it, and be truly present in the moment.
I could feel the second ah-ha! moment starting to form as I contemplated the power of enduring relationships when tackling something as massive as ending hunger and poverty. The shortcomings of the the old paradigm (seeing a need, delivering temporary relief in the form of aid and exiting until the next disaster) suddenly became very apparent. Its not about the product – its about the people.
There are 3 pillars which form the foundation of The Hunger Project work:
- Start by empowering women as key change agents
- Mobilise entire communities into self reliant action
- Foster effective partnerships to engage local government
Many of us alikened this foundation to the concept of “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” however I for one, had been missing the third aspect of this, which is that you also need to enable the man to cut through the barbed fence so he can get to the pond to fish. I have heard people talk about the systematic denial of access to basic rights within the communities in which we work as being a major barrier in community led development. But the analogy of the pond unlocked this for me (thanks to Felicity – one of the three wise women on our trip… ). Rowlands spoke at length on our bus journey about building the capacity of the community to effectively demand their rights from duty bearers and how critical this was for future self reliance.
I was familiar with The Hunger Project 5 step methodology, as I had used it as part of the leadership development training we do with business executives in New Zealand.
- Effective Leadership
In Malawi, where expression through music and dance is very powerful, the 5 steps really came to life in the form of a chant used by our partners as part of their mindset development.
“The Hunger Project!”
“Ending Hunger and Poverty!”
“Is The Hunger Project going to end your hunger and poverty?”
“Is the president going to end your hunger and poverty?”
“Is the Chief going to end your hunger and poverty?”
“Who is going to end your hunger and poverty”?
“We ourselves with our bare hands and hard work!”
Later in the we we were to see this commitment in action as we witnessed over 700,000 mud bricks, made by hand, harvested from their collective land.
I realised that initially, we are investing in what you can’t see. The benefit is not immediately apparent. Aid is the hardware. Where we focus our attention is the software. And there it is – the second ah-ha! moment. Without the software, the hardware is irrelevant.