Connecting communities: The role of an NGO

There is much excitement in the indigenous community in Monte Sinai, Guayaquil where we worked last year. Just metres from the “cabanita” (a roof to provide protection from the Guayaquil sun), which the SIA volunteers helped build with the indigenous community, lies the base and columns of the soon to be completed multi-purpose hall. The community had been able to realize this project with the help of a local priest and the many hours of their own manual labour. The cost of the construction is $18, 000, and the community has been busy building for the past three weeks building the hall. Once completed, they hope to use the space for community gatherings, festivals, celebrations.

Less than 500 metres from this community is the quickly growing San Felipe Neri School, run by an order of Felipenses nuns. The two newest classrooms, which have been built since my last visit, have covered the just about the final unoccupied building space within the complex. The only remaining space is next to the pre-school classrooms. The space is large, one or two classrooms could easily occupy the space, but the school has other ideas. The mother superior of the community hopes to build a hall that could be used to give workshops for the adults from the surrounding community, in practical areas, such as hairdressing, etc. It is a novel project, but the $20,000 cost is prohibitive.

It seems that each party would like access to a community hall. I am left to wonder whether or not one community hall will suffice. It seems that their ideas complement one another nicely. The indigenous community would like to use the community hall for their own personal celebrations, but perhaps when the hall is not being utilized by the community there would be the opportunity to use it to provide workshops in various areas, including for, as the mother superior had envisioned, hairdressers?

While speaking with the mother superior, we discussed the possibility of having the two parties collaborate together, she was hesitant. She expressed concerned that the indigenous community would not be interested in working alongside individuals who are not part of their own community. She explained that she preferred to speak with the archdiocese to see if they could fund a new multi-purpose hall in the school.

The desire of both the community and the Felipenses to organize their own individual projects, rather than working together provides an example of one of the challenges that communities face. There seems to be an initial desire for communities and organizations, within developing communities, to operate in silos, closed off to others. Although the initial reaction is understandable, as like a mother who guards her young, we naturally look to protect that which is ours. However, the view limits the potential opportunities for growth. As demonstrated by this example, within these communities there are individuals, who have excellent ideas and there are those who can help mobilize these ideas.

Perhaps then the role one of the roles of the NGO and of other organizations is to help connect the stakeholders, who have these excellent ideas, with the resources that currently exist in the community, rather than placing the effort on building new resources and infrastructure.  In this way, relationships and built, projects are realized and the available resources are maximized.

Larry Shuttleworth



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