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Reflections on “The Stranger’s Eyes” from the Viewpoint of ICW/CD1

by Hugh Tracy

Reprinted from Notes on Anthropology and Intercultural Community Work 20:39-42
© 1995 Summer Institute of Linguistics


After reading the article entitled “The stranger’s eyes,” what can we learn from Pierre’s unfortunate experience? How can we escape the pitfalls or the pit that Pierre dug for himself and his organization? Before we begin a CD community development project, it is a must to do our cultural research homework (to understand the people, their culture, their wants, and needs) and to ask ourselves some key questions that will enable us to structure any projects in culture-friendly ways.

The following questions (labled A) relate to Pierre and his involvement in this project. You might find some of the other questions (labeled B) useful in determining whether or how you should get involved in a CD project, the kind of project to chose, and how much time you are willing to spend implementing it. Perhaps these questions will stimulate further questions that will enable you to grasp better where the people themselves want to go and how to walk alongside them to help them to be successful.

Question 1

  1. Why was Pierre interested in getting involved in a CD project?
  2. Why do I (as an SIL worker) want to get involved in a CD project?
    • What is my motivation?
    • Do I feel guilty?
    • Do I have some other kind of personal need, that is, to help someone else?
    • Are the people begging for this kind of help?
    • Does the government require that I do it?
    • What is my real, personal agenda for doing a CD project?

Question 2

  1. Was Pierre's help really beneficial?
    • Is CD throwing money, a project, or a program at someone?
    • Did he genuinely demonstrate his interest in helping the people through his interactions with them?
  2. Will my good intentions and earnest desire to help really benefit the community?

Question 3

  1. When Pierre presented his project to the evangelical church association, they suggested that he go to the Sikasso region. Were they giving him advice out of politeness because they were bound by their culture to give him the kind of response he asked for?

Question 4

  1. Who was in control, Pierre or the local people?
  2. Am I willing to hand over the control of a CD project to the local people?

Question 5

  1. Pierre's organization wanted to give a gift, but only with certain strings attached:

    1. They did not work through missions already functioning.
    2. They wanted to work through the local church.
    3. Why did they want to work with one (Question 2 above) but not the other (Question 1)?
    4. They wanted to work only with women.
    5. They left out the men.
    6. There need to be a women's organization.
    7. Christian and non-Christian women needed to collaborate.
    8. Christian women were to be in control.
    9. Ten percent of the mill's profits would go to the local church.

    "He who pays the piper picks the tune" demonstrates how much power the gift giver has even when "the strings" of the project go against the cultural norms of a society. For example:

    1. Men customarily fix the broken machinery, not women.
    2. Men did not like being left out.
    3. Women were uncomfortable about this change.
    4. Designating Christians to hold positions of power and non-Christians to hold positions of lesser power violated the people's cultural norm. One Catholic lady was elected to a non-Christian position and this was insulting to her.
  2. Do I have strings attached to the project I would like to get started? If so, what are they? Are those strings in line with the felt needs of the community, and if not, how might implementing them impact the community?

Question 6

  1. Pierre neglected to ask the following sample questions. Another village and/or culture may need a different set of questions answered to meet the unique needs of that village and culture.

    1. What are the village norms with regard to labor and ownership? What is considered proper men's work? Proper women's work? Who makes what items? What items are made by men for the women or vice versa? What items are seen to belong to women? What to men? Who is responsible for fixing broken or worn out things?
    2. Is there more than one authority structure in the village? For example, is there a traditional chief or headman with advisors, heads of clans, and so forth as well as a modern "mayor" or political leader with his entourage that relates to the outside world? What kinds of decisions is each group responsible for? What place do women have in decision making?
    3. What part does family play in organizing the community? What decisions are left to the heads of households? What decisions do women make for their families? What decisions do men make over their domains of authority?
    4. In what way might the project we are considering be imposing Western structures and values on this "less-fortunate" society?
    5. How can we adapt the CD project so that it fits into the existing village structures?
    6. Are there any of the same or similar CD projects already existing in the community?
    7. If so, how are these projects going? If they are going well, is another needed? If they are not going well, should we start another? It is wise to follow the old adage, "if it's not broken, don't fix it." That is, if that project is not needed or wanted, what other projects could we find that the people do want?

Question 7

  1. Who benefited from Pierre's project in the local community?
  2. Who will benefit from the project I propose: a few individual families (our friends), a small group of people, or the whole community?

Question 8

  1. Did the CD project that Pierre presented to the community make sense to them or meet their perceived need?
  2. Does the CD project I envision make sense to the community or meet their felt needs?

    There are at least six types of needs (four suggested by Arensberg and Niehoff):

    1. What I know I need.
    2. What I think I need.
    3. What I really need.
    4. What I say I need.
    5. What I need, but do not yet realize it. I need to be persuaded.
    6. What I present as a need. People present a need that they think the expatriate thinks the people have so that he will come to live with them, but the presented need is not the real need the people have.

Question 9

  1. Was Pierre's mill really free to the community? What did it cost the community (in time and money)?
  2. What about my proposed project? Is it mine or the local community's [project]?

Question 10

  1. Was Pierre's project designed to be ongoing?
  2. What can I do to ensure that the project I am involved in remains ongoing?

Question 11

  1. What was the community's condition after Pierre left the country? Was it any better off, the same, or worse off?
  2. Will the community be any better off after I leave or finish my part in the work?

Question 12

  1. What technological maintenance did Pierre's project require? Did he plan for it?
  2. What technological maintenance is necessary for the project I am proposing? Can local people be trained to do it? Who will pay for the long-term costs of the maintenance of the project (the project funder or the local community)? What is the cultural way to make sure the equipment will be maintained?

These are some of the questions that came to my mind after reading "The stranger's eyes." Ask as many other culturally appropriate and relevant questions as possible. Each culture is different and undoubtedly will need different sets of questions asked and answered.

Document date: 25 April 1999