Evaluation of the Community Engagement Workshops and Immersion

Monday was devoted to a detailed evaluation of the PPS’s work with the Brothers for almost a month.  The strength of their work was the fact that they were able to connect the Brothers with a community in a village.  The fact that they had been working with this community made it easy to invite the community into a process that was run by the Brothers under supervision from PPS.  It would be fair to say that many Brothers were not fully satisfied with the quality of the teaching from PPS and Mrs Mgula accepted this criticism graciously.  Overall, the Brothers have benefitted  greatly from the time with PPS and certainly are well-prepared to enter into the ministries of the cluster.

A Day Out!

Saturday saw the Brothers departing from Limulunga for a day a the Makapaiella Lodge, some 16 kilometres away.  Because of the limited transport facilities, David made three  trips to the Lodge, taking four Brothers each time.  The day was most relaxing in a beautifully scenic setting overlooking Lake Makapaiella.  This was a moment of community recreation after the intensity of the previous three weeks.  Everyone enjoyed the day, especially the meal at lunch time!


Immersion at Imalyo

From February 26 through March 1, the ten Christian Brothers of the Advanced Skills Training, together with our two TST members, Brothers Chris Meehl and David Gibson, joined community organizers and drivers from the Peoples’ Participation Service in a three-car caravan that drove for three hours to the village center of Imalyo, for an immersion experience with the people of that far-flung set of villages.  The last hour of that traveling caravan was off-road, cruising through sand and swamp and hundreds of overhanging branches on a two-track, snaking path that seemed to disappear at times.

The arriving team was welcomed warmly by a committee of the villagers.  The PPS had been working with the people there for more than a month, inviting them to gather to plan a future for the enormous extension of their village area, a zone that has no electricity, no water, no sewerage, no medical post.  The schooling offered locally seems to be in a developing stage with few educational materials.

The villagers arrived at the appointed time, some having walked for two or three hours to reach the village center.  Minutes before the meeting began, four of the Brothers were surprised to learn that they themselves would be conducting the opening session, based on the study we´d done the week before.  We had thought we were there only to observe the community engagement process!  So, Brothers Moy Hitchen, Leo Liyungu, Áckim Simasiku and Bonaventure Muunga hurriedly gathered for five minutes to plan the inicial session, which actually came off very well, the villagers responding enthusiastically to the invitation to dream of a new future for their village and map out how it might appear in the future.

Key to the success of that opening session, and to following sessions when other Brothers from the AST were thrust into leadership roles, was the skill of several of the Christian Brothers who speak the Silozi language.  Although a number of the thirty-five villagers present could speak English, the ample majority live and work in Silozi, and so our Brothers´ ability to invite and explain and illustrate in that native language, as well as to sing and laugh and dance with the people, set the stage for a workable, warm relationship with the people in our three days of working with them.

The accommodation offered to the Brothers were more than adequate, two Brothers to a bedroom, and three in the main room, in a simple, well-built four bedroom facility.  The PPS team slept in tents.  The food was ample and delicious, prepared by a talented chef and his team of people who lugged canister after canister of water from the pump, and warmed an adequate supply for showers in the morning.  Very gracious was their service.

Not all went smoothly.  There was some annoyance among the Brothers at being told only a few minutes in advance that one team or another of us was expected to lead a session.  And the Brothers were angered that no provision had been made to feed the villagers who had arrived from long distances and stayed the whole day, through lunchtime.  These and other frictions will be debriefed with the PPS the following week in two days of review of the immersion experience.

The final work day produced two climactic moments, one of which was the participants´ work in the morning to finalize their action plan.  The villagers chose to concentrate their efforts on the establishment of a medical center in their village center, so one group got down to the gritty details of collecting building materials by certain dates.  The other group planned the Who? When? and How? of connecting with government and NGO officials, seeking financial and consultative support.  At our final plenary session the two groups proudly presented their action plans developed after two and a half days of work, to the applause of all present.  Then representatives of the villagers, the Brothers and the PPS offered heart-felt speeches in which they recognized the fine work and determination of all involved and the warm relationships we´d developed after only a few days together.  A final prayer closed our planning work.

The other climactic moment was the invitation to the Brothers and PPS to play that afternoon in a community soccer game arranged by the local teachers.  The steady rain did not stop over a hundred local people from watching several of the younger Brothers and the teachers and several PPS members sludge through the wet sand, taking on the local young adults.  Brother Bonaventure was secured as the Brothers´ coach, but his reputation as a defensive specialist suffered gravely in a 6-0 rout.  But everyone enjoyed the show, a fitting and enjoyable conclusion to engaging the community.

Back home in Limulunga, the Brothers gathered for a quiet morning of reflection and sharing about their immersion experience, and on Saturday, March 3, traveled to the Ikithe Lodge to appreciate the lake view, to enjoy some soccer on TV, and to relax with a wonderful meal, all of this arranged by Brothers Bonaventure and Dominic Kargbo.

Chuck Fitzsimmons



Ready for the Immersion…almost!

At morning prayer on February 23, Brother Dominic Kargbo and Leo Liyungu led the Brother on an examination of our community life: how do we really live together?  Do we support and love one another?  At evening prayer a beautiful ritual of washing each other´s hands focused the Brothers´ attention on service and forgiveness.

Our professors for community engagement, Mr. Fine Nasilele and Philip Kaunda, of the People´s Participation Service, began the morning of their final day of teaching by instructing the Brothers about the activities and timelines needed make real the services we imagine that will bring us to our dream.  The Brothers retired to their two groups to answer the What? Who? When? Resources? questions of their proposed activities.  With Philip guiding one group and Mr. Fine the other, the two groups finalized their interventions and presented them in full group session.

After this, two groups of Brothers, one to complete the morning and another in the afternoon, playacted conducting a meeting with villagers to begin an intervention process with them.  These tools may come in handy as the Brothers are immersed next week, for three days, in a village they have never seen, guided once again by the People´s Participation Service, who have taught us for the last two weeks.

Chuck Fitzsimmons

Struggling with Dreams!

The Advanced Skills Training group celebrated the birthday of Brother Peter Malama, this 22 of February, with a morning prayer that focused on thanksgiving for the gift of life.  Brother Alysious Sefoi created a beautiful centerpiece for the prayer and offered a striking prayer/poem by John O´Donohue, while Brother Chuck Fitzsimmons offered a video celebrating life, and a birthday song celebrating Peter.

The ten Brothers of the program struggled with the logical presentation of their programs.  The community dream in an intervention must lead to practices that emerge from the needs of the community and follow in a logical sequence toward achieving the dream.  The community affected and the Brothers need to make a clear-headed evaluation of where they are in their practices: aware of the problem, or jolted into a response, or acting regularly, or advancing to the point of fulfilling their dream by turning those practices into actions that now flow naturally from the community and affect its life and destiny.

Chuck Fitzsimmons

Focusing on the ‘Wants’ of a Community

On this Wednesday, February 21, Brother Ackim Simasiku invited the Brothers to reflect on their lives, getting in touch with their feelings, their bodies, and realizing the goodness of God in their lives.

Our professors, Mr. Fine Nasilele and Philip Kaunda, of the People´s Participation Institute, returned the ten Brothers of the Advanced Skills Training to their study of Community Engagement, today focusing on “visioning” and “planning.”  A central question: where is it we would like to be in two or three or five years?  In this context, the vision describes our hopes, and can be poetic and imaginary, full of possibilities, something we strive for.

The vision is the “what” we want, as contrasted with the plan, which is the “how.”  The plan analyzes, is a prose, reasoned mapping of policies: the plan is something we implement.

Then we assess our progress.  How well are we advancing: from awareness, to reaction, to acting occasionally, to acting regularly, and finally to acting naturally.

The Brothers once again split into the two groups which worked yesterday, intending now to apply the lessons of the day to their developing plans for community engagement.

Chuck Fitzsimmons

The Savour of S.A.L.T.

At morning prayer on Monday, February 19, Brothers Emmanuel Allieu and Joseph Kapalu focused the Advanced Skills Training community on our need to reach out:  “…for I was hungry…I was naked….I was in prison…”

Mr. Fine Nasilele and Philip Kaunda, our new instructors for this second week of Community Engagement, led us through a study of the stakeholders in any intervention we may enter: besides the usual suspects, like the traditional leader, and civic and church leaders, etc., the teachers urged the Brothers to take into account the “opinion leaders,” people in the community who can be a force on your side, or a formidable foe if opposed to you.

The Brothers must be aware of “social capital,” the networks, social ties and support systems within the community that can fortify their efforts.  Indeed, “Participatory decision-making can uncover and mobilize community assets and resources that would otherwise have been overlooked.”

Any good community organizer will employ the SALT system: S, for stimulate, support and share; A, for appreciate; L, for listen, learn and link; and T, for Team, Transfer, and Transform.  The Brothers should look to mobilize the community, to build dreams with them, to assess their findings, and finally to prioritize and execute an action program.

Integration Day

Saturday, February 17, to assist the Brothers in their Integration Day, a time to reflect on the five weeks of their training and sharing.  The day began with morning prayer as Brothers Leo Mboo and Dominic Kargbo led a morning prayer prepared by Brother Chris Meehl, in which they asked the Brothers to “enter into the mystery”: to contemplate, to listen to the silence: that we not be afraid of reality, that we not be locked into ourselves.

The ten Christian Brothers of the AST had signed up for various appointments with the three visitors, three appointments each for Sister Miriam and Sister Maimbolwa, and four for Father Francis.  Throughout the morning the Brothers visited with these spiritual companions and reflected, too, on their own:  1) what had been your learning over these initial weeks?  2) How much effort have you put into your recent spiritual development?  3) What have you struggled with in your time here in Limulunga?  4) What benefits have you gained from the AST program?  5) How do you feel about joining the cluster here in the Western Province? and 6) How do you feel about this new approach to ministry as outlined in Journeying Together?

Gender Equality

Brothers Leo Mboo and Dominic Kargbo offered a video at morning prayer on Friday, February 16, that presented a river, with its smooth flow and its obstacles, with its rapids and even with its drying up, as a metaphor for the course of our lives, an insight for our Lenten journey.

The Brothers of the Advanced Skills Training then turned to an analysis of the four videos presented the afternoon before by our teacher, Ms. Ngula Ikafe Mubonda, with their emphasis on gender equality.  In three of the videos, actual village men spoke of their life as the male in the family, a life apart, drinking up their salaries and leaving “women´s work” to their wives.  But in each of these cases a breakthrough forced the men to reconsider their position: for one, it was the advice of friends and his church; for another it was the clear misery of his wife and children; for the third it was the increased profits that accrued when he and his wife began to cooperate in his work and their family life.  In all three videos the men were believably converted to a gender equality that increased the livability of their lives.

The class then turned to an exercise of defining the tools available in community engagement, envisioning the circumstances in which these tools might be of use, and imagining what disadvantages might arise in their employment.  For tools like art and creativity, workshops and focus groups, and web-based internet the Brothers, in two groups, filled several sheets with their findings and presented them in plenary session.

Community Engagement Skills

Brothers Alysious Sefoi and Chuck Fitzsimmons led morning prayer this Thursday, February 15, letting the Lentan scriptures resound in the assembled Brothers: “Happy the man who fears the Lord,” and “Take up your cross…”

The first morning session of 1.5 hours was taken up by a special visitor, Ms. Nomathemba N. Muhali, a social worker of the Department of Social welfare.  Ms. Noma, through many stories experienced in her career, insisted on a collaborative model for social welfare, not depending on government alone, but involving many sectors of the community to look out for “the best interests of the child,” and the best interests of any vulnerable sector of the population.  Particularly noted were the Area Coordinating Committees of many local areas, volunteers who serve their community by being aware of problems and following up the measures decided by the Agency or dictated by the courts.

In the second part of the morning, our instructor Ms. Ngula Ikafe Mubonda led the Brothers through a consideration of Community Engagement skills: communication, process, planning and evaluation.  Flexibility is a key ingredient as an intervention responds to changing circumstances.  Ms. Ngula used the afternoon session to show a series of fine videos featuring local families in the Mongu area responding to the challenge of changing gender awareness and the value of neighbors learning and working together as a group.