Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Community Development: Daring to Dream

by Aly Lewis When I began my job as Plant With Purpose’s Grant Writer I was relatively new to the International Development scene—microcredit and sustainability aren’t exactly staples of the Creative Writing major’s vocabulary. But in my time at Plant With Purpose, I’ve found the key to successful development programs isn’t based on knowledge or jargon. Success in the development world comes from being human and viewing others as such. I may not know a whole lot about development (although I’m learning), but I do know what it’s like to be human. I know what it’s like to feel hopeless and disempowered. I know what it’s like to not want to be overlooked or have my skills and talents disregarded. I don’t like to have things done for me, and the only way I actually change or grow or solve problems is when the problem solving approach is something completely unique to me. The people who’ve been most influential in my life—my mom, my best friends, college mentors—have all been people who help me unlock my gifts and talents, helping me become more fully who I was meant to be. That’s what Plant With Purpose does. Sure we work with communities to plant trees and apply sustainable agriculture techniques. We supply microloans and train church leaders to respond to the needs of their congregations and communities, but the most significant part of Plant with Purpose’s work is that the work or “development” being done isn’t Plant With Purpose’s work at all. It’s the communities’. Plant With Purpose takes a “community development approach.” In other words, we empower communities to start to take responsibility for the solutions to their own problems. Plant With Purpose views the farmers we work with as partners, not fix-it-projects or mere passengers on this development journey. Lasting change cannot occur unless people want to change—and more importantly—believe that they can change. You can’t actually force anyone to grow—just ask any mother of a teenager. That’s why Plant With Purpose conducts a Participatory Rural Appraisal before starting work in any community. During these appraisals the community decides what their greatest needs are and what needs to be done to solve them. Only if Plant With Purpose’s expertise aligns with the community’s needs do we begin to work with them. Plant With Purpose empowers hopeless communities to begin to dream again. The communities provide the vision and the dream; we provide the tools, training, and means to turn their dreams into reality.

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