Lesson #1: Community Potential

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on February 19, 2018 | Print

I used to underestimate what people can do when they’re motivated. I probably still do.

I remember learning to work with the poorest of the poor when we first went overseas. I confess to having somewhat of a “savior” mentality in that I believed people in need were pretty helpless and somehow needed me to come to their rescue.

However, the longer I worked with people, and especially communities, I began to see that I needed as much rescuing as they did.

I needed rescuing from my own self-sufficiency. I needed deliverance from my superiority complex. I needed rescuing from my pride– my lack of willingness to show those that I came to help that I needed help as well. In fact, we all need a savior and His name is Jesus, not Jeff.

I distinctly remember one project with an animal distribution. I had worked with the community and had held several meetings in which the members identified improved breeds of goats as one thing that could quickly improve their lives. I was tempted to jump in and set the parameters of the project thinking that the agreement should be if we distribute one goat to a family, they should pay back one goat. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with all those goats being paid back but I wanted them to have buy-in and ownership in the project.

It was one of those God moments that I resisted my urge to tell the community how to do their project. I stepped back and let the community decide the project design and even the obligations of participation in the program.

What they came up with shocked me and taught me that communities working together can truly do amazing things.

The community, in a series of meetings, came up with several requirements for a family to receive a goat in the distribution project. For one, any family receiving a goat had to be a member of the community and participants in the community meetings where they decided on their project. They also required that the recipients had to provide several things before they could get their goat: an area of forage planted so they could feed their animal, a simple shed (that they designed and agreed to) that would house the new animal, and a family that had other goats so they could start a breeding program.

The thing that amazed me was that where I was going to suggest the “repayment” of one animal for every animal dispersed, they all agreed that two animals should be paid back. And these two animals should go back to the community and be used to distribute to the others in the community who had yet to receive their goat or participate in the project.

Even though we started out with only about 10% of the families in the community receiving a goat (that’s all the money we had to start with), by the fifth year, almost 80% of the community had received a goat! I was amazed at the success. I knew that if I had designed the project and dropped it on the community, the success rate would have probably been low. However, by giving the process over to the community and letting them take the lead, it was amazing to see how successful they were.

And, even though this was only one experience, as the years went by, I saw this similar story repeated over and over when we allowed communities to take the lead in solving their own problems.

The reason people working together can succeed? They are people created in the image of God just like you and me, and God meant for us to be community from the very beginning.