I once heard a story about how development projects should be carried out at the grassroots level.
So, in this story, they tell about a project implemented in Ethiopia that provided clean water to a rural community that did not previously have access to it. As a result of this project, the community now has access to clean groundwater.
You would think the community would never refuse to use this water because, prior to this project, the women in that community had to travel long distances to nearby rivers to fetch water that was actually unfit for human consumption.
They were not only subjected to abuse and harassment while walking these distances, but they were also exposing themselves and their families to waterborne diseases caused by consuming contaminated water.
But, in the end, the project discovered the unexpected.
Despite the availability of clean water near their homes, the women still carried their traditional vases and went as a group to fetch water from the rivers.
An investigation revealed that the reason they kept returning to the rivers was that going in groups of women gave them time to chitchat and socialize with their friends that they couldn’t get at home. The long distance traveled to the rivers served as a kind of escape for them to socialize with their friends and get away from the exhausting and time-consuming household chores that did not allow them the luxury of time with their friends.
The moral of the story was that before “imposing” a “modern solution” on a “traditional” community, development projects should always be founded on a thorough understanding of the context, traditions, norms, and cultures in which a society lives.
I liked this story because it reminded me of how important it is to understand a person’s context or situation before prescribing what we believe is a solution to their problem.
In my opinion, what matters is what the other person thinks about their own situation, not what we think about their situation.
We frequently do not understand or even want to understand why someone behaves the way they do. As a result, we dismiss their situation, feelings, and thoughts and prescribe an incorrect and completely failed solution to their problems.
In a relationship between two or more people, a person may become enraged over something we consider minor and insignificant. Instead of attempting to understand and reassure them, we become irritated with them for being upset about something we consider trivial. I’ve realized that what matters isn’t whether we think something is insignificant; rather, what matters is that the issue we consider minor may be significant to the other person.
What we should do is acknowledge that it is important to the other person and try to understand why they believe it is important to them. We frequently hear about people committing suicide or falling into depression. What we see in those people is that they have everything that we do not, and we are quick to judge them.
People always have a reason for acting the way they do. Because we frequently choose to ignore a person’s true context, we prescribe solutions that punish that person for their actions.
And, in many cases, such solutions are harmful to the other person, and do not have the intended effect of “correcting” the person’s behavior. Such solutions are frequently met with opposition.
Let us not assume, as in the story of the women who prefer to make the long trek to fetch water, that we know what is best for the person we are attempting to “correct.” The individual knows what is best for themselves!