Last week, I spoke at a local Rotary function, on the invitation of the club president and its International Committee chairwoman. As Cura Orphanage is one of my favorite things to talk about, I happily accepted the invitation, prepared materials for my table display, and gathered thoughts to provide commentary to accompany the requisite set of PowerPoint slides.
At the event, I was given a graceful introduction, and the audience was attentive and engaged as I began to overview the work we're doing in the Home and in the village. At one point, though, a man at one of the back tables raised his hand... and when I acknowledged his question, he said: "Wait... I'm confused. Do you work for the orphanage or for all this other stuff, too?"
I had to laugh at myself a bit, since I was similarly confused when I first threw myself into this work. I remember, as I prepared myself to participate, asking for some kind of flow chart or map or hierarchy when it came to decision-making or project management in the village -- and I remember receiving an understanding smile from the Home's founders, Evelyn Mungai and Mike Eldon, in reply.
They reminded me that development work doesn't fit as neatly into linear models, that non-profit work can be a function of inspired opportunity in addition to rigorous planning, and that, especially, the leaders, like the needs, in the village are numerous and diverse.
Now that I've been doing this for a while, I understand this messy web better, and I'm working within it... some days more successfully than others, of course. But this fundamental understanding about development work wasn't coming across as clearly as I had hoped in my nicely-packaged lunchtime presentation!
What I wish I had reflected better is that our work concentrates on supporting the children under our care, of course, and to be successful we need to be sure we focus resources and attention on the Home, its residents and its employees. But supporting the children without also supporting the extended families to which they belong would be an exercise in futility. We can't meet only the needs of individual children if we expect them to mature into adults that can be productive within a thriving community.
Cura Village, as it turns out, thrives without us. But we can help nurture projects in the face of economic and resource challenges: supporting infrastructure for reliable water sources, offering low-cost, local (basic) medical care, providing tools to supplement learning in an information age, building in economically sustainable collaborative agriculture projects and even constructing a secondary school where there wasn't one before.
These projects ultimately belong to the community, and its members are the ones who will reap the rewards if they are successful. But we lend our resources and expertise to the enterprises when we can, since this is the only way we can see to help the village rebound from the devastating effects of AIDS and poverty.
It is this philosophical position that provides the connecting thread among the numerous facets of our work in Cura; it helps us determine priorities and create order where it may not be immediately obvious.
If they invite me back, this is what I'll say.