Why am I going to Africa with Hands at Work?

Our Link for Life Project Schools Team is about to set out for Africa.  We’ll be spending a week with Hands at Work and the communities they serve.  It’s been hard work getting all of us ready  - eight school students two teachers and two church members – we have had a year of orientation, training and fundraising  and now  we are just a couple of days from the beginning of our visit.  I think and hope that our team are in good shape to give of themselves and learn from the people we will meet.   It’s exciting and daunting all at the same time, it costs a lot and the preparation has been going on for months –so why are we doing it?

Lots of us want to get involved in helping people in Africa... And there are many different motivations for doing it.

Many people feel sorry for the people they hear about, whilst for some there is a sense of injustice at the gap between their situation and the issues that many people in Africa have to deal with.

But there is often a motive which is harder for us to own up to... If we come from materially wealthy nations, we may find that we feel more 'alive' amongst people who, despite their need, welcome us. The rawness of their situation and our wish to help can give us a real sense of purpose- which may be lacking in our 'regular' lives.

So with all these motives - there are many reasons to get involved...

But before we pack our bags we need to check on a few area …as sometimes unhelpful things can find their way into our ‘baggage’...

So here are some things we need to try to ‘leave out’ of the things we take to Africa.

1. The false belief that the ways we know are best- this is especially likely to get into our hand luggage if we are someone who has expertise in our home life. We can mistakenly think that our experience and knowledge will be what people need. What we really need to do is to be prepared to listen rather than speak, and learn rather than teach.

2. Pity.  This often finds its way into our bags, even though we might think we have taken it out already.  Pity tends to lead us to dis-empower or even belittle the people we meet rather than working with them... and the people Hands at Work supports don't want pity, but partnership.

3. A fix-it mentality... When we see some of the problems in communities in Africa, we can easily think that we can quickly sort out what's gone wrong. But the problems we see often have deep and hidden roots, which need to be tackled by people who know their communities really well- our 'help' may make us feel better, but it may hold back real and lasting change.

With all these complications - we might say well why visit at all?

I think the reasons are compelling...

Passion for justice and care for the poor are at the heart of what the church is called to do as these are hallmarks of God's kingdom...

Partnership brings a blessing to all not just those who may receive what is offered.

But one of the reasons that is most pressing for me is the sense of connection with people who are materially poor. If we give from a distance we protect ourselves from the pain which others may be experiencing. When we sit alongside those in need, we are shown the issues of justice which we could easily ignore. We are confronted by our part in the unjust systems which keep the poor, poor... And, if we are prepared to, we can be led to deep and searching questions - which do not have easy answers – But as we search for answers to these disturbing questions we will find our faith is fueled and we become motivated to share the faith we have and speak up on behalf of those with no voice.  

In truth, both us as visitors and those we visit, need each other.

Will our visit be effective?  Will it bear fruit?  That depends on what we do when we get back home – the answers to these questions lie in our hands.

When we unpack our bags, we must not leave our experiences in our suitcase... For everyone's sake we need to go, and return, determined to challenge & change the way things are ... And begin with ourselves –Our God invites and compels us to do no less.

Richard Westwood
Link for Life Project
8 July 2015