Sunday, August 28, 2011

Creative Futures in Moroto

The Karamajong people living in Moroto are so distant from the city center that their way of life is significantly independent of outside influence – including education and development. Yet some NGOs manage to establish themselves in the region and have even created something of an expectation on the part of the Karamajong.

For example, one NGO came to teach the women to make liquid soap. They gave the women supplies to begin working and reselling the soap and provided some ongoing assistance with transportation of chemicals that cannot be found in the area. Sounds perfect, right? What the people here fail to associate with this approach is that when this NGO leaves (and they are planning to leave soon) they leave the women without a way to sustain themselves in the future. The cost for chemicals and transportation exceeds the amount of money for which the soap sells. The NGO taught a great skill but not a skill that can sustain life independent of the NGO. According to the leaders I met with, and based on my observation of the resources in the region, this approach is common. Even so, these ladies still expected me to follow this pattern.

I told the leaders I’d come to help them realize the variety of assets they have within themselves as well as the assets they have in Karamoja (which are exceedingly limited) so that they could be self-reliant and not suffer when NGOs leave. I hoped to teach them how to think critically and creatively about existing assets and possibly to find some new ways of working together as a result. For those who have businesses or skills, I came to teach them how to make those businesses more profitable. The response…follow the pattern. People were not interested in learning how to think differently or to know how to make their current businesses more profitable. They just wanted to eat that day.

While the leaders discouraged holding the workshop, my introduction to the Natopojo Women’s Group revealed the absolute necessity for the workshop and the leaders soon realized the same thing. Without realizing it, the topics were addressed in an informal manner while all the women were seated under the tree in front of the pastor’s house. I love how God rearranged my mind to meet these women where they were. While the content they truly needed was only partially delivered, the door was opened for a way of working together in the future.