Season’s Greetings 2017/18
Dear friends and colleagues,
Late in 1989 I received a card from the Zimbabwean Embassy in Bonn with “season’s greetings”. I was amazed. No “Merry Christmas”? No “Happy New Year”? Then I realised: diplomats deal with many countries in which other feast are of higher importance. And some of these countries had been strong supporters of Zimbabwe in its liberation war. “Season’s greetings” gave everyone the opportunity to interpret this time “between the years” in their respective contexts.
I have had many experiences that helped me to question my – Christian and Western rooted – understanding of our world. This year I was particularly impressed by Pankaj Mishra’s book “From the Ruins of Empire”. Mishra begins with the sea battle of Tsushima in May 1905, when for the first time in centuries an Eastern power (Japan) triumphed over a European power (Russia). Although we distinguish East and West differently today – this victory found much attention by Asian intellectuals. Japan became a centre of Asian opposition. In other parts of Asia, too, they searched for ways to counter Western dominance. Mishra describes three centuries of Asian suppression and two centuries of Asian resistance from Turkey to Japan – including the origins of islamism, and Chinese, Turkish and Japanese assertiveness, the fruits of which are now challenging the world order (taking the centre of the world slowly back to where it had been until a few centuries ago). Mishra’s book has opened my eyes for much that I had no idea of before.
I have always tried to let myself be irritated and learn from it. A consequence I drew from the book is to further widen the view and take in more perspectives. A second consequence is to be more alert where Western dominance might continue. An important field of my work is what is called “impact orientation”, certainly introduced with good intentions, but often degenerated to a fixation on indicators. It is deeply rooted in Western concepts. How other cultures see indicators and impact, and what would be important for them, seems to have been lost in the reality of development cooperation. I have mode looking more deeply at the damage caused a task for myself.
Now I want to thank all with whom I worked together this year, with whom I could discuss and see things in a new light. I wish all of us the peace that is linked to Christmas in my tradition, and the chance to reorientation that comes with the start of a new year. In that sense: Merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Season’s Greetings 2016/17
Dear friends and colleagues,
towards year-end, I would like to tell you about one of the many interesting, moving and enriching experiences that I had this year during my travels. In 2015, I conducted an evaluation with an organisation in India, which promotes the rights of Dalits (formerly called “untouchables”). They commit themselves to this cause for good reasons. Dalits are heavily discriminated against. They are denied rights to education, good payment for work, and sometimes even to enter the temple or in this case the church. This fight for rights sometimes leads to violent conflict, particularly when happening spontaneously and not accompanied by a competent organisation.
I met Dalit women whose settlement had been attacked years ago by members of a privileged caste because Dalits of this settlement did not accept certain forms of discrimination any more. Some had for example started to walk with shoes on the village street – which was not permitted. Until then they had to take off their shoes when walking on that street. The result of this disobedience was a severe attack on the settlement. Out of fear of more attacks, which fortunately did not come, the women had for months spent nights on the roofs keeping watch. I saw the fear in their eyes, which had been reactivated through telling their story. These women seemed to be traumatised. Because I have heard such stories of massive violence a lot in my time in South Africa, I recognise this stress easily. One topic of the evaluation became therefore, that the organisation promoted the rights of Dalits, but did not deal with their traumatisation. I recommended that they should also look at healing relationships and traumas, which seems adequate particularly for a Christian organisation.
I recognised during my visit that this issue found interest. A few weeks ago I could visit the organisation again, a rare privilege. Staff told me that they had implemented the recommendation. To some extent they had changed the orientation of their work. Under the concepts of healing and “do no harm”, they try to work for rights in a less confrontational manner, and find more common solutions. This is often difficult, but there are also clear successes, especially within the church. Overall they see themselves and the Dalits they work with strengthened.
It is rare that I hear from the effects of my evaluations. It is even more of a joy, therefore, when an evaluation bears good fruit. This is what we consultants from the Global North can contribute: A new perspective on the situation, if we engage intensively with the reality of partners, and simultaneously bring in experience and theory from outside: Combining closeness and distance, that is the challenge.
Finally, I send a big thank you to all with whom I could work together this year, and heartfelt thanks for all the Christmas greetings. With best wishes for the new year