SIL International Home

My role and training as an ICW specialist

by Steve Mann

Reprinted from Notes on Anthropology and Intercultural Community Work 18:16-22
© 1995 Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc.

Training and background

In examining my training and background as preparation for the roles that I have mentioned, I think that experiential learning has been my own best teacher. My undergraduate training in agronomy at a northeastern US university did not give me much experience at all in preparation for working with third world agriculturists. The greatest advantage of that degree was to provide me with status that would give me rapport with government agencies concerned in some way with the indigenous peoples.

My familiarity with chores and life on a dairy farm, acquired as a child in western New York state, has helped me relate to the care of animals, management of crops, and basic maintenance of simple machinery. That knowledge has definitely helped me in some of my roles, especially that of farm manager. However, I do not think it gave me skills for working with groups of people and community leaders. A skill that is valued in rural areas, such as knowledge of first aid or mechanics, can give an entrance into a community. This ability can foster trust and appreciation for a person and even legitimize his or her presence. It can also, on the other hand, foster dependence if not handled in a way that trains the people to eventually take care of the need themselves.

Before becoming a member of SIL I had two short-term work experiences in South America. I worked for seven months in Colombia at the SIL farm and Indian training center near Lomalinda. While there, I took an overland bus trip to Ecuador and was able to visit that branch's Limoncocha center, where I briefly viewed their CD efforts. Several months later, I began a two-year term with the Brazil branch at their Porto Velho center as a CD worker. From Brazil, I was able to visit the Bolivia branch's Tumi Chucua center and to get acquainted with their farm operation.

What the quick visits to Bolivia and Ecuador taught me was that one cannot learn much in a brief visit to any program. It takes time to get to know what is really going on. I did have the impression, though, that farm operations helped mainly the local ranchers, not really the indigenous ethnic groups. This limitation seemed true for the Colombia farm as well. Of course, such operations seemed most useful for their public relations value, while attempts to introduce better breeding stock and farming methods met with very limited success. In my mind, the experimental farm model is not really a wise use of human and financial resources for helping ethnic communities. I am not sure if I really learned much from these experiences about what CD ought to be, as much as I learned for sure what it should not be.

It was after being in South America and visiting the SIL centers that I began my first formal training in ICW. I had the CD seminar and human relations courses at SIL in the summer of 1978. That same year, I began a Master's program in Community Development at Southern Illinois University. Other SIL courses related to ICW followed that.

Previous | Next