Lessons Learned

Have you ever been caught by a trap-door question?
"Have you ever been to Paris?" 

Before you can take a closer look at the little red light starting to flash in your head, you answer.
You fool.

"No? Well, let me tell you about it. It's absolutely amazing..." 

For the next thirty minutes, not one time will you think "Wow, I think he asked me that question and is now answering that question himself because he really cares about me." Quite the opposite, you will be waiting for the egoist to take a breath or pass out from oxygen deprivation. You probably will not hear or remember a word he said. You will do this because you are a human. Just like the other 7 billion people on the planet, you want to be known and cared about.

Now, if this same person would have asked you "Do you have a favorite place you've visited? Some place that is really important to you? Would you please tell me about it?" Then you would respond completely differently. You would engage; your heart rate would rise slightly, you would go into great detail to describe this important place to this wonderful person that cares enough to want know you. You would be inspired to go back to this place in your dreams.

As the world stands today, the poor's quiet voices are shouted down by society's unspoken, unanimous NO, YOU LISTEN TO ME. We walk into their towns, their homes, their lives and tell them our story without ever pausing to think that they may have one to share. Maybe because they've been beaten into submission too many times, maybe because they're indifferent and bored, or maybe just because they are more polite than we are, they stand there silently, nod, and decide that their story is not worth being heard one more time. Showing them beautiful clothes, diagrams of houses, square-foot gardening layouts, and water purifier schematics, we ask them over and over again if they've been to Paris, but we never ask them where their favorite place is.

Development happens when we empower people to recognize their own resources and apply them to negative life situations. We can create hope by asking questions, but then comes the hard part. We have to shut up and let them answer.

As our world's harmony becomes increasingly discordant, the poor's simple melody is lost to the noise. Asleep, forgotten beneath newspapers with headlines highlighting the rise and fall of the rich and powerful, they constantly sing their quiet song, waiting for someone who will listen. Creative solutions and good intentions drown out what is left of these melodies, the life stories of millions. Somewhere we forgot our solutions were meant for people, not for engineering challenges and sociological experiments.

Where are the people willing to see people? The ears that are willing to take out the earphones and listen to human voice? Where are the hands that reach out to feel and hold, not to demonstrate yet another solution to the world's problems?

Where is the hope, love, and freedom we keep promising?

Unfortunately, many development and aid organizations contribute to this situation when they unintentionally suggest to the poor what they actually need. By specializing in certain types of development, aid groups can address a specific need very efficiently, and in addition these specializations normally have positive systemic effects that reach far beyond a project's obvious result. (e.g. Water improvement organization improves water which improves health, which means more income for the healthier man to improve his family's living conditions).

However, this efficiency normally comes at a price; the degree of concentration automatically denies other community initiatives the opportunity to flourish and grow. If a community health organization is going to focus all of its efforts on preventative education, it will likely perform that task very well. But by default, this organization will most likely not work on school construction projects. What these organizations are doing is not wrong, but they do often leave significant needs unaddressed. We believe that poverty can only be eradicated by taking a comprehensive approach, addressing the community as a unit comprised of holistic beings that must be addressed as cohesive individuals: body, mind, and spirit. We believe that in order to help, we must first listen.

As a result, the process of community development that we have created and tweaked over the past two years with Fredy focuses on a holistic approach that starts by listening. We believe that the most effective, sustainable, and eternally-significant projects are born within the heart of a community. We have gone to great pains to shape this process to reflect this priority. This means that a healthy community improvement initiative must start by asking the right question. We believe that question is "What is going well here? What do you have in your hand?"

The rest of the process centers around listening to the community explain what resources they have and then to what needs they would like to apply them. We work hard to resist the leading questions, suggestions, and recommendations that answer our own questions. "Have you heard of this new water technology? Do you have any ideas about generating income with eggs? Would you like to have a school? Have you ever been to Paris?" These communities learned long ago that if they are going to "get anything from these people" that they need to shift their enthusiasm to match the suggestion.

As people interested in holistic development, we must all be terribly careful how we ask questions and understand why we ask them. If we want to start a self-sustaining, community-born development fire in a community, we cannot throw water on the spark by suggesting the development path. What we must do is bring Christ into the center of the picture, and ask a community what they can do with Him. We are not here to show them the future and the road to reach it. We are here as brothers and sisters that love them and walk alongside them.

Interestingly, a couple of project types at Heart to Honduras have surfaced through this process: adobe home upgrades and pila construction. These projects are difficult for teams to complete and so historically, HTH has not been involved in large numbers of these projects. However, as communities learn that their voices are being heard, they have started to vocalize what they see as real needs. As we learn to listen, these two projects continue to rise to the top of the pile. They are fairly cheap and normally involve a great deal of family participation. The local church is a key player and often helps to execute the project. All are involved; the burden is lightened; the project is completed; God is glorified; Christ is manifested.

And the poor begin to sing a little louder.


  1. Great article. Appreciate your heart for the "least of these" and your insights. Our daughter spent time with you all last summer as an HTH Ambassador. I have learned so much from what she has shared and from following your blog. I've heard first hand stories not just of building pilas, but washing clothes on them.

    And no, I haven't been to Paris.


    Dean Morton

  2. Love this Kaleb. What a perfect illustration to help your readers identify with feeling voiceless, manipulated, or "less than."