In the future my husband and I want to be involved with international humanitarian work, plus my master's degree had an emphasis in international health, so I love to find articles about it.
This is a great article about a rural region in Mali called Ouelessebougou. (I love to say that name - it's pronounced ew-less-eh-boo-goo.)
Years ago, a Utah-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), set up a two-hour literacy class in the evenings for villagers in Ouelessebougou. Very few women attended the class. This frustrated the NGO's members, as they were attempting to improve women's literacy in the region. In 2006, 81% of the population in Mali was illiterate. The reason the NGO was targeting women literacy was because: "...successful cultures are ones that consider and promote the welfare of their women and girls, who in turn lift entire communities... When women are educated, they are more likely to be using better health and sanitation procedures, they have fewer health and reproductive problems, and there is a lower mortality for children. When the women are educated, the whole family benefits."
The article describes a team of BYU researchers (psychologists and sociologists) who began to study the successes and failures of the NGO from an objective standpoint.
Upon looking more closely at the culture and the role of the women, they discovered that the women in Ouelessebougou did not attend the literacy classes because they worked "long days" doing "physically demanding tasks of feeding and caring for large families" and so "they were too tired," but "even if they'd had enough energy to attend, most of their husbands would not have allowed them to go out alone at night." The NGO had great intentions, but did not understand these important aspects of the culture in Ouelessebougou when designing interventions to improve literacy.
The researchers found that it is essential for an NGO to "first become culturally literate before trying to have an influence on a foreign community." They also determined that there is a "need for the giving, receiving, and learning processes to be collaborative and mutual, rather than one-way." "In the new approach, they began with the people, so there was identity and ownership, and the people could develop confidence in themselves to solve their own problems."
Hmm, the more I write about this, the more it reminds me about mothering. If I take the time to understand my kids' perspectives, ideas, motives, and then collaborate with them to find solutions (rather than just dictate) they develop more confidence in themselves, and they are much more proactive and happy. In fact, these seem like simple and powerful ways to help anyone around us change and improve.