I had breakfast this morning with Michael Nyenhuis, the CEO of MAP International, a 50-year-old nonprofit that focuses on health in the developing world.
I wasn't looking forward to it, I gotta admit. You see, I so often hear people working in Africa tell me about the great things they are doing -- giving this, giving that. It's the same self-congratulatory rhetoric that we've heard for decades, essentially, we're from the West, we're here to do nice things for you. So paternalistic; such a recipe for disempowerment and failure.
So, I nearly spit my eggs across the table in shock and delight when Michael began describing MAP's work as he sees it in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Bolivia, Honduras and elsewhere. For one thing, MAP focuses on what it calls Total Health, a system of prevention and treatment that attempts to help villagers build healthy lifestyles, including economic development.
I could paraphrase Michael but let me just yank this off MAP's website:
"The goal of a Total Health Village is to build a holistic system within which a community addresses its own development issues. Strategies are adopted which facilitate social transformation over an extended period of time. Over time the community develops the resources and knowledge needed to maintain the advances that they institute over the course of the project."
Over the past few years, I've learned to listen carefully to the precise terms that nonprofits use. That's what was such a joy: "... within which a community addresses its own development issues..." In other words, villagers in the developing world being the authors of their own futures, designing their own solutions.
At another part of our breakfast Michael excitedly described a Kenyan tribal chief who with MAP's assistance had been leading the facilitation of a visioning process for his community. The chief was so determined and eager to build a Total Health Village that he wrote the vision plan on the wall of one of the buildings, a semi-permanent reference tool for building the future (You can see a photo on Michael's blog, here). How powerful the process and the actions can be.
Finally, Michael offered up the Five I's, the program for people to become healthier and empowered in the villages:
-- Identity: Without a strong sense of self, villagers can't build a solid future.
-- Ideas: "They have to be able to dream."
-- Implementation: Do it yourself (not wait for others, especially Westerners)
-- Impact: Know what you are trying to accomplish
-- Influence: Get out there and tell others, become an advocate.
As Michael spoke, I thought of the important work that our partner in Ghana -- The Hunger Project -- does in empowering villagers to create a future of optimism, growth and sense of self. A spirit of "I can be the agent of my own change" is shared currency in these two organizations.
I've been to Africa to see it. It works. Let the villagers show us how.