Recently a co-worker and I traveled to Meulaboh, Indonesia. We visited there almost five years ago, just 11 months after the tsunami and saw the terrible destruction. Seeing the rebuilding on this last trip convinced us there is good in the world, Places which were in rubble 5 years ago now are rebuilt, painted, and used as businesses or homes. Ther's fresh paint on many buildings, improved traffic control, and more safety services available now than before.
Yet there is still the memory of the tsunami. When there is an earth tremor people quickly head to higher ground fearful of an impending wave. Though the schools are improving, the children are still sitting in crowded classrooms because there are not yet enough teachers (it is estimated 600 were killed in the tsunami).
We visited with a government official who told us there was much good brought to his region after the tsunami. Non-Governmental Organizations poured people and money into the region immediately after the tsunami. But this official said more importantly the NGO personnel brought new ways of seeing life and created new relationships among people groups. The people of Meulaboh were given opportunities to begin their lives again, and many worked hard to achieve a better life.
However, this official told us the one negative from some of the NGO's was their inaibility to understand the culture, thus they made mistakes which are still having an impact. One example he cited had to do with the concept of community service. Prior to the tsunami the neighborhoods took care of their needs, from road repair, to clean-up, from painiting houses to supporting schools. When some NGO's came in they paid people to do this same work, thinking the people there needed economic assistance. Now there is an entitlement mentality among some of the local people, and they no longer care for their neighborhoods as before.
We learned from the other side of the world we need to pay attention to the local culture instead of trying to solve issues and problems as though we always have the only right answer. When we truly listen to people we can create partnerships, give the people dignity, and make a positive impact for years to come. We saw this concept and outcome in the work of Food for the Hungry there in Indonesia. Lives are changing on the other side of the world, and we were changed as well.
Maybe we'll go back soon! You might consider joining us.