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Why we work in communities for 15 years

World Vision
23 September 2015 by Dickens Thunde
Why we work in communities for 15 years

It’s not as easy as building a school – in order to improve education World Vision work with the wider community to understand their values and needs, and then change is possible. Photo by May Ondeng.

World Vision Kenya’s National Director, Dickens Thunde, has been working for World Vision for more than 30 years. He shares his firsthand knowledge of the challenges and breakthroughs in traditional Kenyan communities and explains why sponsorship projects are 15 years long.

Projects are given a lifespan of 15 years because development is not simple. It takes time.

As an outsider coming in, they may see a community with no schools and say “let’s build a school” – this is very easy to do. What’s difficult is making sure it’s what the community want and will benefit from it in the long term too.

World Vision work with communities to understand what it really is that they need in order to see breakthrough – and we find that the issues that matter always vary from community to community.

The Massai – understanding what will work and what won’t

I can share with you an example of a project that targets pastoralist communities – the Massai – who are constantly moving and taking their animals to places where they can find grass and water.

We started with this community thinking that perhaps what they needed at that time was education. So we set up an education project in the community, and it didn’t work for many years.

When drought came, we watched as whole communities would move; migrating together with their children to find areas that had water and the children wouldn’t go to school. It wasn’t until much later we discovered that what they really needed was water.

So when we managed to drill boreholes and supply water for them and their animals; it made the communities stay in one place for a long time – and as a result, education became possible.

With access to water, they were able to have healthy animals and sell them at better prices.

With water, they were able to wash themselves and be free from diarrhoea and infection. But it took us time to get to that.

So that is why I say it varies. It’s important to understand what it is that will trigger the other development processes to take place.

  • Children lining up for water at a World Vision water tank
    “Water is life for every child” – access to clean water is so important and keeps children in school. Photo by World Vision Kenya.

 

Life before accessible water

When I went there recently, the community told me: “For us, this has been a major breakthrough, because when we didn’t have water, we were chasing water points everywhere and then in the process we could not have a permanent home.”

In fact, some of the stories I hear are so dramatic, in a sense of how much these people‘s lives had changed.

An old man was telling me that there were times when water was just not available to the extent that they didn’t even have a bath for months, and the easiest thing they could do was follow the animals, carry empty buckets and catch their urine to use it for washing their bodies. It was as bad as that. They would say, “If you do anything else, it’s not as critical for us, but water has made a huge difference in our lives”.

World Vision Australia is currently supporting a community learning centre in this area, now that the community are aware of how important education is, they want to learn.

During the day, it’s the young students that go to learn, but in the afternoon, it’s the adults who now go to learn computer skills. They read current information and use these resources and skills to learn about health and other various issues. They’ve learned so much. Just because water is now available, World Vision are able to do start new projects that otherwise could not have been possible.

Not just empty buildings

If a community has started focusing on infrastructure then you may see the infrastructure sprouting; but the immediate impact will not be there for another five years or so.

If we build schools, you may not see the impact until the community members themselves become fully aware of the need to send their children to school, so that they are not just empty buildings.

I have been in this work for 30 years now. Infrastructure development programs are very easy to do, but it’s the attitudinal change that actually requires a lot of time. And people need time to compare and see that it actually works before they can embrace any change. Changing the attitudes of people is not a one day activity; it does require time, which is why we need 15 years to see change. The more they see the evidence that it is working, the faster they grasp that change.

Dickens Thunde

Dickens is the National Director of World Vision Kenya.

 

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