‘What is poverty?’ ‘We are rich', he said, 'rich because of our spirituality.'

Amber was introduced to the ideas of Local Response and the SALT visit by the Constellation in November 2008. At the time, she had worked in the not-for-profit sector for 8 years and she thought that she had lots of experience of visits to communities.

‘We all came with good intentions—to offer solutions to life’s problems to those who we presumed could do nothing for themselves.’

I read Amber's story as part of the Blended Learning program, and we were asked to share our reflections.

Amber’s story reminded me of life-changing experiences I had when living on the Navajo reservation (the Navajo Nation as they call it themselves, or Dine Bikeyah, the Land between the Sacred Mountains) in Northeast Arizona (USA).

My learning is about PERCEPTION: the way we look at people and their living conditions, the way we judge and compare. I remember visiting a young woman who lived with her grandparents in a little building that looked like the structures in townships in South Africa.

When I visited their piece of land with the structure to live in for the first time, I was so excited to be able to spend time on this native american reservation, see places and meet people, that I didn’t notice what could be called ‘deplorable, unhealthy living conditions’. I felt so much at home on the land, and I was so touched by being around the Navajo, that I didn’t have the outsider perspective. I looked with the innocence of a child.

Later on I noticed how white American tourists approached a Navajo friend by asking questions about poverty, and how offended he was. I still remember the intensity in his voice when he responded by asking them in return the question: ‘What is poverty?’ He said ‘We are rich, rich because of our spirituality.' In hindsight I realize that only because of my childlike wonder, I was able to build connections with the local Navajos, and I was welcomed and accepted as a long lost family member.

It is because of my openness to learn, my patience and the respect I showed, that I was invited to sacred ceremonies and family gatherings where I was the only white person. To this day I’m touched by the priviledge that was granted to me.

I intend to bring this experience with the Navajos with me, to inspire myself to bring the spirit of curiosity and an open mind when meeting new people.

The image of a painting by Harrisson Begay depicts scenery from the Sacred Mountain of the West, showing the herbs, animals, and Abalone shells that correspond with the cardinal direction of the West. The Sacred Mountain of the West is an actual mountain that borders the Navajo Nation. The beauty, interconnectedness and sacredness of all living beings is shown in Begay's painting. 

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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on July 26, 2016 at 2:44pm

I love this too- Thanks Marie and Birgitta 

"We do not ask people to describe their strengths; we interact with them in such a way so that these become obvious." 

Comment by Birgitta Schomaker on July 26, 2016 at 2:25pm

Thank you for quoting from  your father's book, Marie! Looking forward to the English version.

I love this :

"We do not ask people to describe their strengths; we interact with them in such a way so that these become obvious." 

That is when we move beyond skills/doing and generate a presence, a way of BEING with each other. 

Comment by Marie Lamboray on July 26, 2016 at 2:10pm

Hello Brigitta! Your story reminded me of this extract of my father's book:

Reflecting on the letter “A”, like Sandrine we have discovered the power of appreciating strengths. During conversations with a community, we immerse ourselves in the interaction, and the separation between “we” and “them” tends to blur and melt into “us”. Like children, we see reality as it is: what is beautiful, just, and true. When we appreciate without analysis and sense without judgement, it is almost an aesthetic experience. For example, when enjoying a beautiful piece of music, I am fully immersed in the experience. I do not analyze what makes it beautiful; although analysis is possible, it comes after the experience. Appreciating strengths is similar. We do not ask people to describe their strengths; we interact with them in such a way so that these become obvious. The process of reflection at the end of the conversation helps to name them.

Jean-Louis Lamboray, What Makes Us Human? The Story of a Shared Dream (soon to be published in English), Chapter 8.

Progressivement, nous avons, comme Sandrine, découvert la puissance de l’ « appréciation » des forces d’autrui. Cette appréciation fait appel à un processus mental différent de celui de l’analyse. Au cours d’une conversation communautaire, mon esprit est totalement immergé dans l’interaction. Je me fonds dans le « nous » : il n’y a plus de séparation entre le facilitateur et la communauté. Sans toujours y parvenir, j’essaie de porter sur la situation et les gens le regard de l’enfant. Les enfants ont cette intuition : pour eux, ce qui est beau est juste, est vrai. Les enfants voient ce qui est, ils ne portent pas leur attention sur ce qui n’est pas. Je tâche donc d’apprécier sans analyser, de sentir sans juger. L’appréciation me paraît se rapprocher de l’expérience esthétique. Si je suis pris par un beau morceau de musique, je suis entièrement immergé dans l’expérience. Je n’écoute pas en analysant ce qui fait la beauté du morceau. Cette analyse est possible, bien sûr, mais elle est structurée après l’expérience esthétique. Il en va de même de l’appréciation des forces. Même si la conversation ne porte pas directement sur les forces, elles apparaissent au cours de l’interaction. Elles seront structurées lors de la réflexion en fin de conversation.

Jean-Louis Lamboray, Qu'est-ce qui nous rend humain? Editions de l’Atelier, 2013, Chapitre 8.

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on July 18, 2016 at 10:40pm

I admire your spirit to learn and appreciate. You were genuinely interested and community understood that and welcomed you amongst them. Bravo Birgitta! I can't wait to meet you. The picture you have shared is beautiful.


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