In the midst of a bitter quarrel.  a mother told her 5 children that they could leave her. The siblings aged from 12 to 20 years old took a few minutes to pack a few personal belongings and then left the flat together.  When tempers cooled the following day,  mother and a couple of the younger children called to inform us of the situation.  We then contacted the eldest sibling and she told us that she wanted to discuss the situation with us. At the meeting we were most heartened that she took charge immediately. After elaborating what the quarrel was about she expressed that staying apart indefinitely would not be good for her mother or her younger siblings. She will bring the entire family together to talk things over but not before meeting her mother and her siblings separately.  She arranged the meetings and asked us to accompany her as she found our presence comforting.


At the first meeting, this 20 year addressed 3 important issues with her mother. She discussed mom’s irregular employment, the lack of playtime for her 12 year old sibling and the bossy behaviour of mom’s boyfriend. We marvelled at the calm and authentic manner in which mother and daughter discussed these sensitive issues. We knew that If we were to simply mention these issues to mom, she would take it that we were blaming her somewhat and would aggressively defend herself. No meaningful conversation would have taken place as speaking to us would have meant washing dirty linen in public. The meeting between mother and daughter ended well with both agreeing to work at improving things.


Authenticity and sensibility also characterised the meeting among siblings. The main concern was the well-being of their youngest sibling and the consensus was that he should return home so that his school routine world not be affected.  Eventually, the group agreed that the oldest 2 siblings will return home immediately with their youngest sibling to ensure that his needs will be attended to.  The other 2 siblings will continue putting up with their grandmother until their eldest sister calls for a family meeting.


When I view the work described from the principle of helping people help themselves, this was excellent work. However, some people may ask me “If this was work, what was your contribution?”  Well, in a sense we contributed nothing... nothing that took away this family’s ability and capacity to love and care for each of its members.


Happy New Year!


A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say we did it ourselves. – Lao Tzu

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Comment by Gerard Ee Huck LIan on January 20, 2012 at 6:26pm

Thanks Rituu for introducing "accompaniment" to me. Sounds musical :). Earning trust in a community requires a continued presence and we have the advantage of being around for a long time.  I guess we also earn trust when families sense that we are genuinely acknowledging the many times we have stolen their prized problems and are doing our best not to do so again. 

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on January 18, 2012 at 11:17pm

Hi Gerard, you have ended your write with a quote from Lao which sums it up so beautifully. This is what accompaniment is about. We cannot provide solutions by just being there can give so much psychological support. How has your team been able to gain so much trust that families invite you reconciliation? Thanks! 


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