GUEST BLOG: From Partnership to Inter-dependence

The following is an excerpt from the newsletter of a sensational Church-based community development group called The Warehouse out of Cape Town, South Africa.

In reading this I was especially touched by Craig and Siya’s honesty and I think Craig’s questions are sensational for any of us to use as we work with a community whether formally (like Craig and Siya) or informally.

The following is used with permission.
(Words in bold are my emphasis)Image

“Everyone should be quick to listen” – James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ

We, Siya James and Craig Stewart, have worked together for the last five years learning to navigate the different parts of our relationship as work colleagues and friends, as well as our respective roles as community leader of Sweet Home Farm and as leader of The Warehouse. We have worked hard to listen to each other in these respective roles, knowing that relationships like these can be fraught with assumptions. Recently we’ve dealt with some difficult issues together, which got us speaking of our own partnership as well as others that we’ve experienced together.

I, Siya, find it problematic when people arrive in my community wanting to “help us” rather than coming to work with the community.  When people arrive with this attitude it locks them into patterns of behaviour and attitudes that are very difficult to shift, and which require lots of work from me. I and my friends can feel like we are observers in our own community as our hopes, experience and learning of our own community is not required or requested. One way in which I have experienced this was when an external non-profit organisation used a photograph of my child in their marketing materials without my permission and took over 10 months to respond to my multiple requests for its removal.  This has left me wondering whether they are actually using us for their purposes rather than being genuinely interested in us as a community.  

I, Craig, have had to reflect hard and honestly about our motivation for working with Siya’s community and how we have expressed that motivation over the years.  I have had to wrestle with the places where we have made mistakes and seek in humility to make right and continue to pursue relationship above all other things.  In conversation with Siya and other friends I am learning to reflect critically on my own practice in this work.  Some questions I find useful are:

  • Am I planning for or about the community rather than planning with the community?
  • Am I fundraising for our initiatives in a community without reference to them, which in turns leads to the funds being used as a control mechanism?
  • Am I using photographs of the community and its members as a form of self praise, showing my friends and constituency how cool or amazing I am?
  • Do I view disagreement and criticism from the community as rebellion or politics, or do I see it as a genuine desire for relationship and engagement? 

If we know that we are inter-dependent and are working with each other then it should always begin with time to sit down together, to relate and learn. It is here that we can discover what is in the community and what is not there. It is here that we can build trust and relationship, and it is here where the leadership and decisions can be made by the community, and not by those from outside the community. It is also in these moments that we build trust and learn to disagree constructively, and the only way to truly engage in transformational development – work that comes from mutually respectful relationships

Craig Stewart and Siya James


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