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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.

Evaluation of ICW training

I think that first CD course at SIL definitely changed my whole way of looking at third world development. The emphasis on process and community self-help as opposed to the introduction of Western technology by outside "experts" made me see CD in an entirely new light. That course gave me a theoretical foundation on which to work. What it could not do in one summer was give me a lot of preparation for how to work with the jungle people of South America or how to be involved in ICW among them. I think that type of skill only comes from working with people, preferably as part of a team or else on an apprenticeship basis with an experienced worker who can give a person feedback and suggestions along the way.

The human relations course I found to have been very valuable for my survival. It gave me an understanding of my own values, as well as strengths and weaknesses in group situations. It gave me a sensitivity and tolerance for the differing values of others. The course emphasis on listening and responding with empathy, rather than automatically entering into a problem-solving mode, is something that has helped in countless encounters with villagers as well as fellow SIL members. I have always been sorry that so many of our older members have never had the benefit of such a course.

The various anthropology courses I have taken were valuable in giving me an understanding of culture, culture change, and investigative techniques. I would highly recommend such courses to any would-be ICW specialists. Perhaps the greatest weakness of such courses at the time I took them was a lack of practical application or experiential learning.

My main comment regarding my courses in CD at Southern Illinois University is that the focus of that particular institution and faculty at that time was almost exclusively on American inner city problems. I have never really been able to effectively use the concepts I learned there about development corporations, boycott or protest march organization, and applying for project funding grants from big corporations.

One class that was beneficial was taught by a professor from India and a professor who formerly worked with the Peace Corps in that same country. They presented a good overview of world economic history of the last 200 years that gave a good framework for understanding why the world is as it is today in terms of development and underdevelopment. I have found it extremely valuable to have this background knowledge, because it has helped me understand why conditions are as they are in South American countries. It has also helped me understand the rhetoric of growing indigenous people movements as well as the leftist and conservative groups that are vying for influence and power in those countries. Education and literacy programs are very much influenced by those philosophies depending on which group is in power at the moment.

One other valuable course I have taken advantage of more recently. This was Dr. Merrill Ewert's course on CD at Wheaton College. I especially appreciated his emphasis on the methodology of CD, the asking of various types of questions in sequential order. This is the kind of practical teaching I think we really need. We can understand the history and philosophical background of a community, and we can even establish firm trust relationships among the people, but if we do not know how to really help and motivate wisely, our good intentions will all be in vain.