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People Who Value Desperate Communities

Julie Brumana  |  February 2, 2014

This irrigation canal is one of several CWS supported food security projects in the village of Mheza, Same District, Tanzania. The canal runs 1,000 meters and allows farmers to grow and harvest vegetable for home and market year-round.

Photo: Joel Cooper/CWS

In my twelve years on staff with CWS I have had the opportunity to really get to know and understand this organization.  I have had the pleasure of personally visiting CWS partners and projects in Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic and most recently in Kenya and Tanzania.  These partners and projects vary widely in their location, language, culture and focus, but in so many ways they are the same.

Everywhere we work, CWS focuses on the most vulnerable populations and on creating profound and lasting change.  Our methodologies are effective, as proven throughout our 68-year history.  But it’s more than that.  There is something special and unique about the way CWS approaches its development work and before my most recent trip I had never quite put my finger on how to describe it.

This November, I spent two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania on an overseas educational experience with five other U.S.-based CWS staff colleagues.  About half-way through our trip we got to visit the village of Mheza in Tanzania, where CWS supports the community in implementing and maintaining a variety of food security projects.

The evening before our visit to the village, the engineer and chairman of the local committee, Herieli Mjema, came by our hotel to bring his greetings. As he introduced himself to us, he said, “I am so happy to meet and to know people who value desperate communities.”

That’s when it hit me. That’s almost - exactly - who we are.

CWS is an organization that feels every community is greater than its desparation. CWS is not simply acting on a compulsion to help those in need. Our work is not driven by pity. These are not just acts of sympathy. This is not a patriarchal need to help people who can’t help themselves. We are acting because we value communities, respect and partnership.

Earlier in our trip we visited Huruma, an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi.  The Huruma Centre Youth Group is part of the CWS Giving Hope program, which works to organize orphaned youth into peer support groups in order to help each other provide for their younger siblings while improving their own lives and communities.  Giving Hope uses an asset-based approach to community development, which begins with identifying the unique and available resources that each and every community brings.  One of my CWS East Africa colleagues said that it’s like opening a refrigerator (which may be nearly bare) and seeing what IS in there rather than what is NOT.  Every community has intrinsic value and something to offer in their own development.

CWS sees value where others may not.   This is respect and it is partnership.  This is an approach to global development which I am so happy and excited to be a part of.  It is my honor to represent all of you who support these communities, with your footsteps in the CROP Hunger Walk, your contributions to CWS Blankets and Tools and all of the other ways in which you give your support to our work.  In East Africa, and beyond, you are an important partner to these valuable communities.

Julie Brumana, Field Director, California Southwest

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