Lessons Learned

If you were to peek inside the workings of the Seed of Hope Centre in Bhekulwandle, you might be surprised by some of the decisions we make. I say this because often the most interesting conversations with visitors and volunteers involve our daily choices regarding how best to serve the community.

Development is about people managing their resources and skills to meet their needs and solve their problems.

Let me explain through a couple of recent examples that reflect our underlying strategy. Several years ago we stopped a long-standing practice of giving monthly food parcels to every HIV support group member. Anyone who faced a crisis could apply for food aid, but most had to search for solutions to their needs. At the time it felt harsh. Some of the members quit, angrily blamed Zama, our health counsellor for the change in policy. However, we realized our well-intentioned efforts to “bless” people had created dependency among those who could look after themselves. So we changed.

Every three months, our adult HIV support group members celebrate birthdays together. It’s a wonderful chance to affirm life and community, so the members coordinate a “bring and share” lunch on the special day. They arrived at this plan together when Zama challenged them to think of ways they could contribute to making the group meetings more significant. “They love it,” says Zama, “and it’s because they’re giving rather than just receiving.”

In 2010 we received a donation of 20 sewing machines, some of which we put to use immediately in our training classroom. We debated the best (and most ethical) way to enable our graduates to get one of the remaining machines. Should a charity sell what was originally a donation, we asked ourselves? Since we offer the year of sewing training free of charge, we eventually concluded that asking the women to pay for a sewing machine was a reasonable course. For every two women who bought their own machine, we would then be able to purchase one in the future, extending the benefit of the donated machines by 50%.

Taking advantage of a 3-month payment plan and pricing at 50% of the machines’ retail cost, the ladies have bought machines identical to those they learned on in our classroom. Emboldened by their accomplishments, several have begun sewing (and selling) items for themselves right in their own community.

These stories are highlights – successes we’re proud of and applaud – yet they’re also results of difficult decisions. What’s remarkable looking back today is how much self- confidence, dignity and joy has resulted from these hard choices.

Development is about people managing their resources and skills to meet their needs and solve their problems. Doing so is the birthright of each of us, and empowering people is always the right decision.

Sincerely, Carl Waldron
CEO, Seed of Hope