In a project a very difficult issue is the issue of ownership. How can we design things so that its not the foreigners or the staff who own the project, but rather it is the beneficiaries who have ownership? It is a hard question. In the end, if we are merely doing things for the beneficiaries, then it will not grow the desired result of sustainability, but rather it will most likely create yet another dependency.
On Monday I got a couple of glimpses of ownership in action.
One is that when one of the children died a month ago, the project was asked to step in and buy the burial site for the child. On the surface It is not a big deal really. The plot cost $18 USD. However, there was a nagging question for me. By paying for the burial site were we taking the place of something that typically the community would do?
Culturally a large percentage of Ethiopians are part of something named an E’der. It is like a community association fund which people pay into and then when there is a death the fund pays for the funeral expenses. Many Ethiopians belong to multiple E’ders in their neighborhood, their workplace, their family, etc. It makes a funeral a time where the community really gathers around someone in a significant way.
However, the mother of this child was so disconnected from community that she was not part of an E’der and therefore did not have others to help her with expenses. As our staff polled the mothers in the project, they found that only a couple of moms were part of a community association fund. That gave us an idea – “What if we helped the moms form their own E’der?” “What if we helped Moms help each other in providing a fund for when the unthinkable possibly happened for their families?””What if this is a way we can help provide community for those who are community-less?”
So, our social worker, Sisay, set out to help them. Yesterday was the E’der meeting and 16 moms showed up for the second month to put 5 ETB each into the fund. This fund is administrated by 2 of the Moms and they are the ones who remind other moms that it is time to pay in. Even Sisay is part of the E’der. And this morning one of the moms who administrates the fund came to him and reminded him that he needed to pay in his 5 ETB. That to me is a sweet sight, when the Moms are coming to Staff to remind them that they need to pay in their fair share. I love it.
These moms are wanting to move toward sustainability and they want to care for themselves, but also care for those around them. Ownership is happening.
And then, this afternoon I got another glimpse as one of the Moms came into the office to talk to the staff. She went on her own this morning and opened her own savings account with 200 ETB that she had earned. She had heard everyone talking about savings and she wanted to start. So, she asked the staff if we would hold her bank book for her as she starts learning to save. How cool is that?
Moms, children and staff all owning this project together…each of us in need and each of us embracing hope. It is a glimpse of even greater things to come.