Ask First, Aid Second.
Written by Josh Bastian, M.B.A. - CFO//P4H Global
I distinctly remember the red earth I sat in as I put another brick on what would be an outhouse wall. Truth is, I hadn’t much experience laying bricks let alone laying bricks for outhouses. Yet, here I was laying brick by brick in Chihuahua.
A few months after I washed the red earth off of my jeans, I heard that the outhouses weren’t being used. The community decided against it.
It didn’t make sense to me.
I shook my head and moved on.
The next year I went back, determined to try again. This year, we were going to make a bio water filter. It was something of a crusade for me. I love clean water. I assumed everyone had access to clean water. The same year I laid bricks for the outhouses, I found out that wasn’t the case. The day I realized first hand that not everyone had access to clean water, something broke within me. I had to fix it.
So a year after washing the red earth off of my jeans for the first time, I was once again sitting in the same red earth washing sand. You see, bio water filters are cool contraptions where someone pours water in the top and clean water comes out thanks to small organisms, sand and rocks. The catch was that the sand had to be washed first. So wash we did. For hours. You can imagine the reaction the locals had to a bunch of American students washing sand. It wasn’t something you see every day. But we did the job, dropped off the filter and left.
A few months after I washed the red earth off of my jeans, I heard the water filters weren’t being used. The community decided against it.
I shook my head again.
But I didn’t move on.
I didn’t understand. But this time I was going to figure out why.
I did some research. I asked some smart people. Turns out that showing up with ready made solutions whether the target community is ready or not, isn’t a great idea. Turns out, asking how to help and starting a dialogue is helpful.
Did I ask whether the community wanted a water filter? Nope. Did I ask if the community understood the good it might do? Nope. I assumed because I thought it was right, it was universally right. Not so.
Turns out the dialogue about solutions is where the power is. Because it recognizes that you are a guest in the community. It recognizes that everyone at the table has had different life experiences. It recognizes that what works in one place might not work in another.
By asking and starting a dialogue, we invite relationships to take place. And through relationships, real, lasting change occurs for everyone involved.
So from then on, I ask before taking action. I acknowledge I don’t know everything. But I do know my desire to help is helpful if expressed with humility and self-awareness.
I work for P4H because I found a group of people who also ask. When Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti last year, we showed up and we asked the community leaders how we could help. We were only the second organization to do so out of the dozens that also showed up. Instead of asking, the other organizations just did. Whether or not what they did was helpful. They seemingly ignored the people involved, dumped aid and left.
P4H showed up, asked and continues to build relationships that will help everyone long term.
We don’t assume, we ask. We don’t leave, wash and repeat. We stay.