Saturday, April 30, 2011

On Parenting

The stated aim of development work is “to help people help themselves.” This is basically the same principal that goes into parenting. As anyone who has been parented can attest to, parents work and put a lot of time into helping their children, but much of that assistance is indirect. For example, parents can’t make friend’s for their children, but they can sign them up for sports teams to give them extra opportunities to make friends. They can even pack their backpack with so many sweets that their child will have no choice but to share. And if sharing sweets doesn’t buy friendship amongst 8 year olds nothing does.

By the same standard, development workers put a lot of time and effort into helping Host Country Nationals, but much of that assistance is indirect. “Handholding is what we do” as one Peace Corps Volunteer recently remarked. “We find people who want to change the status quo, to improve their lives, and we hold their hands while they do it.” Frequently the changes are something Host Country Nationals are far better equipped to accomplish then development workers, whether because of their better understanding of the personalities and politics involved or because their fluency in the local language.

Peace Corps Volunteers often are just there to stick with their counterparts and motivate them, to agree with them in the face of opposition, to give them ideas when they need them and to make them feel like its possible. In the end it is Community Stakeholders who actually bring change and benefit from it.

Still, it is always nice to have someone there to hold your hand. 

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