Tag Archives: trust

It May Take Us a While

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

Every step we take is worth it

Every step we take is worth it

The more that time goes by, the more I am starting to understand how truly enriching this whole experience has been. I have been living in close quarters with a diverse group of students for three weeks now. During my time here, these students have taught me so many things from step dancing to helping me understand the complex relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor. I have also started thinking more critically about the world around me. I find myself questioning things that in the past, I might not have. I think that I have taken in more knowledge in the past three weeks than I have in the last year. Furthermore, being around students from different disciplines has definitely broadened my view of the world. I find myself analyzing situations from new and more informed perspectives.

My favorite moments of this trip have been when I have engaged intellectual conversations with some of my colleagues. This kind of dialogue often occurs when there are only a few people around, usually early in the morning or late at night. It tends to begin with one person expressing a concern in regards to actions that were posed by the local residents, which do not concur with our beliefs and/or values. I enjoy hearing everyone’s point of view as we try and find the root of the problem together. Most of the time we do not come to a concrete conclusion because the issues that we are faced with here are very complex and multi-faceted. Nonetheless, I think that this kind of dialogue is crucial in order to try and make sense of everything that is going on around us. This collaborative knowledge also greatly influences the work we do here because it helps us better understand the local residents, which in turn, enables us to find more appropriate ways of serving their immediate and long-term needs.

In general, I have found that the roots of the issues involve both: a lack of communication and trust, which essentially go hand in hand. The lack of trust could be explained by the fact that “we in the West are deeply complicit in every crisis bedeviling Africa, that we’re up to our collective necks in retrograde practices, and that we’ve been virtually co-conspirators with certain African leaders in underdeveloping the continent” (Caplan, 2008). Keeping this in mind, who says that they should trust us?  I probably wouldn’t if the same people who were claiming to help, had in fact, betrayed them so many times in the past and continue to act in ways that are exploitative of the continent. The effects of this kind of behavior are intergenerational. We must work diligently to gain their trust back.

One way to develop trusting relationships within the community is to constantly engage in good and honest conversations. One component that is essential in developing this is time. We need to show them over and over again that they can trust us. We need to show them that when we say we will do something, we do it. We must not make promises that we cannot keep. This is one of the main problems with some of the other organizations as they work in a certain region for a small period of time and then leave. There is a lack of communication and therefore, there is no trust. Due to this, these organizations usually end up imposing their ideas on the specific communities. It makes it impossible to develop reciprocal relationships. They rationalize by telling themselves that they made a “difference” when in reality most of these organizations only help to serve specific short-term needs by donating money or building a school or helping people grow food. There are usually no long-term benefits that come out of this kind of work thus, the cycle of poverty continues. By this, I do not mean to say that what they are doing is bad. However, time, trust and communication are fundamental to long lasting change. Praxis Malawi, tries to develop this by making this project over a longer time span (approximately 15 years).

Over the years, the communication and trust has gotten better among local residents and the Praxis Malawi group. Nonetheless, we need to keep working on this. Too many issues still arise due to a fear of expressing honest opinions on both sides. A few of the many reasons that could explain this are: language barriers, differences in epistemologies, the ingrained fear of corruption on their part due to their history of colonialism and of course as was aforementioned, the way the West has betrayed them so many times in the past. We need to continually strive towards building reciprocal relationships. I look forward to seeing progress in this area in the future as I think we are on the route towards positive change.

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Berkeley.


On the Subject of Networking

By Aaron Thornell (St. FX)

Trust starts in small groups

Trust starts in small groups

Prior to my departure for Malawi, my father and I were sitting on the couch, half-watching a hockey game between the Kings (whose championship I congratulate) and Blackhawks. Our attention was sunk into the creation of a Linked In account. He assured me it would be beneficial when I attempt to begin the headache-inducing search for the ever-elusive but oft-sought “job in my field”. Few know if such things even exist for recent under-graduates, but I figured some networking would not hurt my chances. As I filled in boxes about personal interests and experience, I wondered about what kinds of networking opportunities would be present or available in Malawi.

It was not until today (June 23) that this thought re-entered my conscious. The differences are many, although I would suggest that the importance of personal or professional connections stands to be of equal if not greater here in Malawi. Even prior to putting forward my name for consideration to be a part of the Praxis Malawi opportunity, one of my professors at St. FX emphasized the importance of personal acquaintance when embarking on overseas development initiatives. The role such links play in the development of trust cannot be over-stated. Part of this relates to the inescapable visible characteristics that set me and the rest of the group apart here in Malawi. I thought that perhaps due to the nature of the work being done (one which serves to benefit the larger community) that trust and partnership would be able to be established without too much difficulty. In reality, however, the circumstances of Malawi, one of the poorest nations in the world, do not allow for such Kumbaya-esque relations all the time. That is not to say that I feel as though I have yet to establish positive relationships – although there are very few in which I feel I know the other party and their motives entirely. The complexities of such relationships seem to accumulate without pause or end.

Despite reading Satre’s words preceding Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (keeping in mind the period of its writing) I have only felt a very strong sense of guilt on a couple of occasions while in Malawi. The struggle of coping with the past actions of Westerners is one that I have looked at many times, but that is not for this entry. Instead, it is Freire’s words that give me pause. I do not feel like a direct, conscious oppressor, although surely, indirectly the role is well played. At the same time, I attempt to rally myself with Malawians I meet, aware of my perceptions of them as the oppressed written about. I strive to gain their trust, in hopes that I may play a role in their liberation. A plethora of questions associate themselves with this initial thought. By posing this question do I inadvertently distance myself?

“To achieve … praxis, however, it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason.”

Without this valued trust, who knows where such projects can go? Shall I extend myself, and risk falling into traps – traps that could disturb far more than just my fragile conscious?

Corrupt individuals prey upon this extended trust, the innocence of the traveling Westerner, in particular those with the delicate sensibility present in so many young humanitarian workers. Learning this can, I feel, produce a certain cynicism that I have already addressed in prior blog posts. It is a matter, however, of overcoming this cynicism, or else learning to cope with it. Trust can certainly be found, but often it is a matter of knowing where to look, and keeping in close contact with those trust-worthy individuals. This form of networking, through personal acquaintance and long periods of winning trust is very different from accumulating phone numbers and emails following a conference. Very different contexts call for very different approaches to essentially the same practice. I worry, however, that the only way to win such relationships is through time – a commodity in ever-shortening supply.

On the Subject of Outsiders

By Aaron Thornell (St. FX)

Who gets to go on the bus?

Who gets to go on the bus?

Over the course of my time in Malawi, one reality has become increasingly clear. Through several lessons, very few of them easily learned, I have realized that the presence of outsiders changes things. In some instances, the outsiders are residents of other Chilanga region villages; in others, outsiders are even members of particular families. The most drastic changes occur, it would seem, when non-Malawians (such as myself and the rest of the Praxis Malawi group) arrive on a sub-Saharan scene. The rules of the game, as I initially came to understand them, have changed.

One instance of this came recently. The issue of paying the men who had been working on clearing the football pitch quickly came to the fore. After discussions with a co-learner and other members of the community, a figure of what would be appropriate wages was determined. My co-learner and I then enlisted a prominent community member to aid in the hiring, tracking of workers’ hours and overseeing of the project. At the time of writing this, the men had been working for nine days, with the understanding that wages would be doled out after the tenth. I was initially concerned about the length of this period of time, knowing that some of these men surely had other employment opportunities, or that perhaps the funds would be needed on a more regular basis. My concerns persisted over the period of time during which I was physically separated from the project, although I did learn about the reality constricted communication and the obstacles it poses (I wrote a letter for the first time in quite some time). Upon my return, I found my fears had been unfounded, as the work had continued to go smoothly. A discussion and some reflection helped me realize that perhaps the trust of the workers had stemmed from the presence of outsiders – in particular when these outsiders hold the money. Despite this, however, I also learned that some of the men had expressed concerns that, due to the position of the man we had asked to oversee the project, they would be told the work had been voluntary, as part of a community development project. (This gave me a sense of hope for the future of the Praxis Malawi project, in which voluntary group contributions would begin to assist in the development of the campus.) At the same time, it further emphasized the importance of certain power dynamics present in the region.

The realization concerning the presence of outsiders has also given me cause to pause. I believe most in the Praxis Malawi group were aware of the changes that might arise from our presence in a country such as Malawi. I am only now coming to terms with the archetype we (or at least I) are taking on in some instances. This is sometimes exemplified by children asking (not begging, mind you) for money as we pass by on the road. This does not bother me, but instead has caused me to consider what effect money might have on trust – between Praxis Malawi students and the community, as well as within the community. I have, at times, held worries that trust between me and the community may be lacking. The vision of the field, for instance, was only somewhat conceived of through “common reflection” (Freire, p. 69), although the action planning and construction has been more mutually conceived. The realistic role I hope the field can play is one I presented, pre-conceived, but I feel I failed in encouraging the community members to challenge the idea.  I feel as though there would be little opposition to the idea itself, but differences might arise in regards to the role it can play in the community. Perhaps, however, that is the beauty of this project which I’ve been so lucky to take on. Each member of the community feels at liberty to assign their own vision to it – or none at all.