Bread Members “In the Field”: Partnerships and Clean Water
Bread for the World continues to press for improvements in U.S. development assistance to make it more effective in reducing poverty. A top priority is to ensure that programs actually meet the needs of the local community.
Many Bread members, including Barbara Miller and Wendy Gist, have hands-on experience with such community-led projects. Miller has been visiting Dongobesh in northern Tanzania since the 1990s, while Gist has made several trips recently to Huanta in central Peru. Their experiences illustrate how a more inclusive approach to development assistance can lead to concrete, sustainable results for hungry and poor people.
In both communities, people are trying to solve a big community problem: lack of clean water.
“People [in Dongobesh] mainly rely on water from the river, but you can barely see the river in the dry reason,” says Miller, whose synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) partners with Lutheran churches in the Dongobesh area. “What is most visible instead is a bunch of hand-dug holes, the size of loveseats, which create shallow wells where people scoop up water.”
Before their first visit to Peru, Gist and others working with San Gabriel Presbytery in Pasadena, CA, received training from Living Waters for the World, a mission resource of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Living Waters specializes in helping communities clean up available but contaminated water sources. Gist learned the basics of assessing water quality and determining whether a filtration system would work in particular situations.
In Huanta, Gist said, “I enjoyed getting to know people and talking to them informally about what kinds of things they want for their community. For many people, our project was somewhat of a new experience—rather than a donor planning a program and giving them money, they themselves would be building and maintaining the water system and educating the community, with U.S. technical assistance and help in fundraising. We actually sign a covenant with each community so that we all understand who is doing what.”
Miller’s project includes a similar covenant. “In our companion synod program through the ELCA,” she says, “we’re working to break the traditional mold of ‘We are rich Americans and we will decide what you want and give you money, because you are poor and have nothing to offer.’”
Recently, a group from Miller’s church, Faith Lutheran Church in Washington, MI, committed to working with the Dongobesh community on a water project. But project planning is up to local people like Yoram, who recently wrote to Miller and her colleagues to explain what the community wants to achieve. One of Miller’s roles is to help members of Yoram’s community prioritize their potential solutions so they can focus their energy on the idea with the greatest potential.