By Lydia Grace
e3 Community Transformation
I was sitting at a table outside and the sun was quickly setting. It was June 2016 and we had just finished a week of church planting In Salima, Malawi. We had finally set aside some time for those who had done the community development training three months ago.
One after another, they all told me about their projects. They were impressive. Some had to do with orphans and elderly, others with medical care and feeding. But there was one thing I wasn’t hearing. “We need _________ from you.” Money. Materials. Ideas. They never brought up a single need that only I could provide.
As I listened to each of them, a warped mindset began developing within me. I began to realize that I’m not needed here. And it honestly bothered me. I wanted to be needed. I wanted to be important to these people but they had done all this without me or my influence. Even now that I was there, they still weren’t really asking for anything from me.
Salima is an area with a very strong Islamic influence. Many Malawians are converted to Islam because they are promised jobs, food, houses, and education for their children. A lot of money that is poured into Malawi to convert people to Islam. Our church in Malawi is fighting a tough battle. In such an impoverished country, these material promises are difficult to resist.
Couldn’t these Christians living in such an area see how important I was and how much they needed my help? Why were we seeing such a different attitude in Salima than we typically saw in Malawi?
When e3 Community Transformation first began development training here three months before, we had done things a bit differently. There were no westerners present when the program launched. It was all done by Erick, my Malawian counterpart. He told them from the beginning that e3 Partners does not fund projects, but we do help with training and in other ways. (Though we share this as Americans with the people, they seem to understand it more clearly from him.)
As I sat there with these incredible leaders, I was upset. But I shouldn’t have been. I should have been overjoyed by the response in Salima. As Americans, this is a common mistake when we go to Africa or other parts of the world. We think we’re the heroes. This is partly why there is so much dependency on foreign aid in this region.
The concept is known as paternalism – an attitude or set of actions that protects people and gives to them but reduces their personal responsibilities and freedom of choice. It looks like compassion to the casual observer but it’s impact is crippling on the very people we’re trying to help.
For this reason, e3 Community Transformation seeks, prepares, and celebrates their independence! My attitude was completely contrary to everything we work towards!
It’s hard to admit thinking this way but God dealt with my heart. And as a result of their independence, we now get to make plans to come alongside the community leaders in Salima, offering specific trainings to further their projects.
True community development means working ourselves out of a job. Learn more about e3 Community Transformation and find ways to get involved by clicking here!