Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Community Capacity Building in Burundi & Uganda

April 2010.

Jill McAllister, ICUU Program Coordinator

I’ve just finished a two-week visit to our Unitarian groups in Burundi and Uganda, where, in collaboration with the UU Partner Church Council and the International Resources Office of the UUA, we have successfully completed two Community Capacity Building workshops. The organizational and decision-making tools taught in these workshops were compiled and have been used in developing economies around the world by professor Richard Ford and colleagues at Clark University in the USA, for more than 20 years. Richard participated in these workshops, as did Cathy Cordes, Executive Director of the Partner Church Council.

The goal of Community Capacity Building is to help communities -- which can be villages, congregations, or other organizations-- understand their own structures and dynamics of in ways that enable them to organize knowledge and resources they already have, to accomplish their priorities. As part of the Partner Church program, ICUU member groups and congregations in Transylvania, India and the Philippines have made creative and significant use of these tools, and so in 2009, the UUA Funding Panel asked us to find ways to make them more widely available, beginning specifically by offering them to established Unitarian congregations and emerging groups in Africa.

The tools which are offered include exercises designed to help the community see and know itself – such as mapping, timelines, and identification of community structures and institutions. Out of these exercises a list of achievements, problems and needs emerges. The list of needs and problems is then fine-tuned and agreed upon by the group, and then priorities are discovered through an exercise in pair-wise ranking, where each item on the list is compared to each other item, to decide, without voting, the community’s highest priority needs and goals. I emphasize the part about not voting – pair-wise ranking is an exercise in concensus building – and it works! The whole process is a participatory decision-making model which avoids potential conflicts and hurts that can sometimes be produced when voting leaves losers and minorities.

In Burundi, nearly 40 members of the Unitarian congregation of Bujumbura (the Assembly of Unitarian Christians of Burundi), plus several members of a newly forming group in Lamonge, about 30 miles from Bujumbura, attended the two-day workshop. In addition, we brought observers (to learn about the process) from our Congo-Brazzaville group, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, and from a DRC-based Christian organization which has expressed interest in aligning with the ICUU. As is often the case some plans did not work out; the Kinshasa representative, Gregoire was unable to get a passport, and the Brazzaville leader, Alain Patrice Yengue, fell ill a day after he arrived, and spent the rest of the week in a Bujumbura hospital. John Ntelemwa, a French-speaking Congolese professional consultant trained in the use of these tools, came from Kinshasa to be our facilitator. (He was excellent at his work, and he learned much about Unitarianism in the process!)

Several congregation members participated as small-group facilitators, and all those who attended were actively engaged in the process and discussions. Out of the pair-wise ranking exercise three priorities emerged; securing an agreement with the government for purchase of land, building a church home for the congregation, and continuing to nurture the religious and spiritual lives of the members of the congregation while reaching out to others. An action plan was prepared for the top two goals – and the Bujumbura congregation is already half-way to the goal, as funds have been raised for purchase of the land, with help from partners in Kalamazoo, Michigan and around the world.

In addition to clarifying and strengthening these goals for the congregation, the workshop was an excellent learning opportunity for newer congregation members – to see how the congregation works, and to hear the values and goals articulated. This was also true for the observers from Rwanda and the DRC. Congregation leader Fulgence Ndagijimana closed the workshop with a worship service, preaching from a text in Hosea – ‘without knowledge, the people will perish.’ The Bujumbura and Kalamazoo congregations were also officially recognized as partners during the service.

Following the workshop, at the request of the congregation, for two evenings, I provided a short class in comparative religion and theology which was attended by 20 from the workshop.

From Burundi, Dick Ford and I traveled back to Uganda, where we had previously spent two days helping prepare for the workshop there. This workshop was held near the city of Masaka, about 2 hours from Kampala, in a village where Ugandan Unitarian leader Mark Kiyimba has built a village school and nurtured a local Unitarian fellowship. The participants were more than 100 village parents and teachers associated with the school, a few of whom are also active in the fellowship. Members of the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Kampala were also invited to come, and we had observers from partner churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and London, England. Doug Henderson, one of the observers from Oklahoma, is a professional photographer who documented the workshop and surroundings in photographs and video. Two Luganda-speaking rural extension professionals from Kampala, Concepta Mukasa and Alice Tibazulika, were our facilitators for this workshop.

The exercises once again proved engaging and fruitful, and incredibly noisy as more than 100 people conversed! From the list of eleven needs which emerged, the pair-wise ranking exercise produced four top priorities: the need for income-generating activities, support for agriculture and for schools, and the need for greater access to health car. Working with the top priority, six action plans were prepared. The participants broke into small groups according to their interests to work on action plans related to activities such as livestock production, horticulture and improving village cooperative banks. Prior to the work on action plans, the whole gathering participated in a Sunday morning worship service provided by members of the local fellowship, with singing and dancing from children of the school. Pastor Mark’s sermon included a hearty invitation to all the villagers to join with the Unitarians in aiming for a community based on openness, acceptance and unity, capable of working together to achieve their goals.

Prior to these workshops, I had seen these tools used only partially, and not as effectively, in an ICUU council meeting several years ago. Having seen them in action in Burundi and Uganda, I am convinced of their worth. These tools are in fact well- tested, and have proved to be useful for many ICUU member groups over several years. It is my hope that we will be able to share them with as many groups as possible, as part of our mission to nurture and support one another around the world, to build and maintain strong, vital and sustainable congregations everywhere, for the sake of our values and ideals. I plan to incorporate these tools in as many ways as possible in upcoming and future ICUU programs and events.

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