‘If we believe we can do it, we can!’ – Imbasa Community Services reflects on an ABCD workshop

Imbasa Community ServiceImbasa Community Services (Imbasa) is a small grass roots organisation based in rural Eastern Cape, a 50 minute drive from the town of Idutywa. The community there has sought to address its most desperate problems by establishing a development organisation, spearheaded by two ambitious young men. There is a very pronounced community spirit or “Ubuntu” among the people and an unwavering trust in “their” organisation, Imbasa.  After many strategy discussions and training in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), the organisation seems to have found confidence in its ability to deliver and sustain community-driven programmes.

We therefore decided to partner with Imbasa to learn more about rural models for change. Our grant is to support Imbasa’s youth and elderly programmes for one year and document their journey towards sustainability.  We are interested in learning from the practical implementation of ABCD in rural areas and we believe that access to information technology among young people (such as what is provided by Imbasa) is crucial for digital literacy, instilling hope and creating resourceful school leavers.

Following is a reflection by Bonga Gwengula, one of the leaders of Imbasa, on a recent project development/ABCD workshop (hosted by the Ikhala Trust) that Imbasa attended along with a number of other grass root organisations:

“As we left our homes on 9 February 2014 in the early hours in the morning (1:00 am), leaving our families asleep, different expectations and desired outcomes of the coming workshop ran through our minds. We had anticipated this journey three months ago already, to see the beautiful Port Elizabeth and learn how we can develop our community further. On the other hand, I must be honest, at some point I asked myself, what is it that we are going to be taught or shown that we have not yet come across? But I left that question unattended after reminding myself that we have to be open-minded and allow ourselves to be coached, guided and further capacitated by those who have been in the non-profit sector before some of us were even born.

The first day of the workshop turned out to be the opposite from what we expected. We expected a serious facilitator, dressed all formal, a formal setting and written tests to see whether we understood. The setting of the workshop was informal, which allowed each individual to be free and relaxed. We covered various topics throughout the four days; I share a few that stood out.  The first topic to be covered was development. We analysed the word ‘development’, its content and its relevance to our societies. The main lesson from this topic was that development within our communities can never be enforced; it is the society that must be willing to develop and act on that willingness.

Numbers and many zeros with commas can overwhelm an individual and an organisation. The topics we covered the following day included activity-based budgeting, cash flow, basic book-keeping and monitoring progress. We realised that an organisation, whether at grass-root level or well established, needs to adhere to simple basic book-keeping principles to run a sustainable and well managed organisation. By the end of these sessions we were able to do our own budget.

A service delivered well can be an accomplishment to both the service provider (NGO) and the donor, however the pivotal question that we need to answer is: can we document and report to the donor about the success of the project? To address this, topics like reporting, proposal development, fundraising, sustainability, running an AGM, managing volunteers and conflict resolution were explored. A long standing worry (amongst many) of grass root organisations such as Imbasa Community Services, is what happens post funding? Can we sustain ourselves? This was relevant to all stakeholders attending the workshop and through discussion we came up with practical ways to sustain ourselves.

We mostly do not really realise that we are wealthy. We are wealthy in spirit, in assets and skills. We are so convinced that the only way out of our situations is if government pulls us through to the other side. But what about the assets we have in our villages? What about the carpenters? What about the born farmers? What about the land we have? And what about the social assets such as churches? Can these assets not pull us through to the other side? This was the question we were left with as the ABCD aspect of the workshop started.

In this part of the workshop, we realised that we are wealthy, in our own way and that being wealthy is not defined by the money one has in the accounts. Money is a financial asset amongst many assets. This part of the workshop kicked-off with the concept of a paradigm shift from the needs-based approach to an asset-based approach.

For example, we currently operate in a mud building; we have skilled builders in our villages, what if we could work together to build a better building for Imbasa? We realised that we had a huge task, a task of showing the community members the concept of an asset-based approach. We could not wait to get home and call a community meeting to sell this idea. We understood very well, that there were going to be challenges, but we were ready to take it on. We had a vision of what our village would be like should we all understood this concept back home. As much as the task seemed easy, we knew it was going to be mountain climbing. But, importantly, this part of the workshop made us realise that Imbasa is not ours. It belongs to the community.   

The final day was amazing and sad. It was sad that we had to say goodbye to the other organisations that were there. The positive energy that was circulating amongst all of us in this workshop has not only served as the fuel to drive change in our communities, but it served to restore hope that our societies will one day be what we wish them to be”.  

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