If we’re going to solve big, complex, and difficult problems, we’re going to have to think outside of the box to do it. For far too long we have attempted to solve complex problems with simple solutions. That’s just not going to cut it. The complexity and creativity of our solutions must match the complexity of the problems we’re trying to solve.
One moment, one day, one step at a time, our work is moving forward in Ghana. Sometimes, okay most times, it doesn’t move as quickly as we would like. But we’re getting more and more comfortable with that. The pace of life in Ghana sometimes makes us crazy, but it’s also a great teacher for us. We need the reminders that our frantic pace here in America may be more efficient, but it’s not always better. There can be something good and right about slowing down and just taking the days as they come.
Our work on the lake is at an in between right now. First group rescued, rehabilitated, mostly reintegrated with the last few returning home very soon. We have started conversations in a few new fishing villages, but as mentioned above, their pace of making decisions and agreeing to partnership isn’t quite as quick as we would like. But we’re learning to be okay with that. We’re going to be in Ghana a long time. We won’t dawdle, or delay, but are becoming more patient and letting the process come to us. One step at a time.
But we have loads of great news to share! We rescued our first group of 24 children at the end of September, and about half of them have already been reintegrated back into their families. I was in Ghana last week, and it was absolutely incredible to visit some of these children, meet their parents, and actually see them attending school for the first time. From slavery to school in 4 months — wow!
One of the unique challenges of a work like ours is that progress can sometimes be difficult to measure. There are certainly tangible benchmarks like hiring Ghanaian staff, placing aquaculture cages in the water, and rescuing children (coming at the end of next month!), but these are often so infrequent in the early stages of a work that you must find other ways to measure progress. Here are some of the ways we’ve worked to measure progress over the last two years:
- Are we gaining a better local understanding of the problem?
- Are we gaining a deeper trust from the people?
- Are the people buying into the process with us?
- Are we sharing ideas & collaborating rather than telling others what they should do?
- Are we being honest about our progress and adjusting our goals as necessary?
Measuring progress, even when it can be challenging to do, allows us to constantly focus on and sharpen the task at hand. In short, it helps us do what we do better than we could if we only measured progress as those big, dynamic moments.
Africa is a hard place to work. Very hard. If someone, or some non-profit, tells you otherwise, they’re either a) telling you what you want to hear, or b) telling themselves what they want to hear! But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it’s not important. In fact, I would argue that it makes it even more important to work there, because there are many groups who are unwilling to do so because of the unique challenges that Africa presents.
I am going to expound on these soon, but I want give you three reasons that I find working in Africa to be difficult:
- Africa is not America. American things and ways don’t work there like they do here
- Non-profits currently working there have created a terrible climate for real change
- Africa is not America. American things and ways don’t work there like they do here*
*Yes, I know I posted the same thing for number 1&3. It’s so true that it deserved two of the top three places on this list.
What do you think? Surprised? Disheartened? Don’t be. Challenges can be overcome with persistence, patience, and good choices. Let’s make it happen together!
I had the opportunity to speak to a mostly older group of Texas A&M graduates yesterday, and one thing really stood out to me during our time together. They were moved by the plight of the children. They were interested in fishing as a means to help them. But above all. I mean, FAR above all, they were excited to hear that we were working in partnership with the fishermen instead of just handing them something. Several of the attendees came up to me after my time to speak and simply shook my hand and said, “Thank you for partnering with the people. Thank you for working toward sustainability.”
Something about this kind of partnership, collaboration, and teamwork really resonates with people. I think it’s because so many of us have watched projects fail because they didn’t have the buy in from the people. We’ve watched good ideas crash and burn because they were “our” ideas rather than shared ideas.
Even if people aren’t passionate about our particular issue, and we know that not everyone will be, people seem to really connect with the idea of partnership. It just seems to make sense to them. We agree.
Every day brings us one step closer to rescuing our first group of trafficked children from Ghana. And we can’t even imagine what it’s going to feel like when we walk out of that first village hand in hand with 25 precious and free children. It’s going to be an unforgettable day in so many ways.
Even as I try to imagine how sweet that day will be, I can’t help but think of all the people who won’t be there with us in person but who have helped make that day possible. There are at least a thousand invisible people who will be there with us in spirit the day those kids are rescued. People who have participated in events, donated, prayed, worked alongside of us, invited us to speak, and dreamed with us over the last two years. There’s an old saying that goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I think it’s even more accurate to say, “Behind every successful organization stands many people who poured their hearts into that success.” That’s certainly the case for us, and we thank each and every one of you who have made it possible for us to be where we are today. When we walk out of the village with those children, you’ll be on our minds. And we hope you will celebrate that day alongside of us, because it wouldn’t be possible without you.
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I’m speaking tonight at a local church. This is one of my very favorite things to do, and speaking to different groups of people is something I have the opportunity to do between 15-20 times each year.
Depending on the audience age, background, etc., I always try to vary the ways in which I present my message. But one thing always remains the same: I always want to challenge people to become world changers. To look around them, see what’s broken, and then be the kind of person who acts to fix it. I believe every one of us has been gifted with talents and passions that can change the world around us. Do you???
I want to say a word or two today about collaboration. About ownership. About empowering others rather than handing something to them.
Just a few weeks ago we implemented our first aquaculture project in a small village in Ghana. The men in this village have been depending on the labor of young boys and girls to do the “heavy lifting” required for this kind of work. But we are partnering with them to give them the tools and training they need to be able to grow fish in cages rather than fishing in the big lake with the labor of the children. So we work side by side with the men from the village to build the cages. And you should have seen the way they jumped in there after we showed them what to do. It was absolutely incredible to watch. We showed them one time, and then about 15 of them immediately started grabbing materials so that they could start together on the second large cage we were making that day.
A few hours later, the cages were done and ready to be moved out into the water. Two large, wooden boats of Ghanian men went out with us about 100 yards off the shore. For an hour, maybe longer, we worked to get the cages anchored, set at the right depth, and filled with the baby fingerlings that will eventually grow into large, healthy, and income generating tilapia. And to watch the men take ownership of the project, to claim it as their own, to advise us adamantly because they had something at stake, was a beautiful and blessed thing to be a part of that day.
When we collaborate, share ownership, and empower, the people we’re working with will respond brilliantly. Because it’s no longer just a gift from us to them, it’s actually their project.