The importance of listening to communities

I decided to attend the community organising course mainly out of curiosity, but also to get some understanding of what community organising was all about.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was hoping to get out of it, but was interested to find out what makes a good community organisation, what are the best practices and what could make community organisations fall apart or go wrong. The course was very participatory, we worked together, so it was almost like it was like a community – like the class was a community.

Everybody came with their own ideas of what it was like to have a community organisation. We did a roleplay based in a village. There were villagers, a charity organisation and a multinational company – a mineral company – and it was about how companies or organisations who are running things need to stay in touch with the needs of people. If you’re not on the same page, things could go wrong.

In this exercise I went with the multinational organisation group. I felt a bit like “what am I doing?” because they weren’t very caring about the environment, about the people and the village. They were digging all the minerals so there was not going to be any left, but they didn’t care, they just wanted to get it going because it was all about money and they forgot the purpose of why they were really there.

If organisations are really into communities, they would listen to what the communities say because communities do have the answers. If organisations do not work for the communities side-by-side, things fall apart, because in the end it’s the communities who have to keep on living in that situation when the organisation has gone. You should work with them, rather than telling them what they need.

It is important to always keep evaluating the process and the dialogue. When something is started by an organisation it’s about having dialogue outside with the community. Things will change and it’s about getting that feedback – “Is this going right? Are we doing it right? Are we staying on the same vision?”

For me, that showed that organisations can have good will, everybody has good intentions, but somewhere along the line those good intentions might get a bit lost along the way and if you don’t keep on evaluating what can go wrong, if you don’t keep on questioning yourself, searching, then you can go off track.

I would recommend the course to everybody who’s interested to find out about community organisations. It was one of those courses where you lead rather than be led. Although it was only one day a week for three weeks, it was very informative and makes you want to go on to a longer course.

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