Being involved in the global community can be challenging. On one hand, you can take a deep sense of personal satisfaction from being helpful in people’s everyday lives. On the other, you may feel nervous or wary about immersing yourself in another culture. This article will explain how to identify with the people in the community you want to help and how you should approach them.
Learning the Language
As a missionary or philanthropist, it is important to learn the local language so you can communicate with people right away. If you don’t speak the language, you may be seen as an outsider and people will be less likely to want to work with you to improve their communities.
In order to take small steps toward learning the language, take classes, or use language learning apps like Duolingo. If you are working with a smaller regional language, you may not be able to find an instructor or any study materials. You may need to wait until you physically join the community before you are able to learn the language. It is hoped that you will be able to find someone to teach you.
Identifying With the Community
You will need to learn how to identify with your community. If you constantly look at them as the “other,” you will not be able to put yourself in their shoes. For example, if you are trying to build a school, you need to identify with the parents who want what is best for their children. You will also need to identify with the teachers and how they will help the children in the school.
Breaking Down Barriers
Missionaries and philanthropists should take a close look at their own personal prejudices and preconceptions. Even though you may feel that you are an open-minded and kind person, you are probably harboring some innate prejudices. You need to be honest with yourself about these thoughts and actively work toward eradicating them. For example, if you are working with people in a third-world country who are not as educated as you, you may look down on them due to their lack of education. This is a short-sighted view and discounts the concept that people are all equally entitled to your help.
Bonding with the Community
Part of giving back to the community is building a bond with the people you want to help. Don’t be afraid to make friends. If you do, people will be more likely to invite you into their homes. Have an open-minded attitude toward the people you are helping, and make sure you look at them as equals, not as subordinates.
Understand Their Cultural Background
In addition to learning the language to foster communication, you will need to absorb enough knowledge about their culture to approach problems with a balanced mindset. Do your research into the problem you are trying to solve, and be sure that you learn the local history. For example, if you are in a war-torn part of the world, you should know details about the war and how it affected the people in your community. You will want to know the reasons for the war and if there are any possibilities of it breaking out again in the future.
Adjust Your Worldview
Your worldview greatly affects your ability to communicate with the people you are trying to help. If you are able to shift your worldview from that of an outsider to that of an insider, you will be able to relate better to the people in your community. This is another facet of bonding with the people you want to help.
Try to remove all of your preconceptions about the people in your community. You may think of them as violent or ignorant. You need to let go of these assumptions and understand that they are people just like you are. Their lives have been shaped by forces beyond their control, and they have been under a great deal of stress.
It is hoped that your project will help with some of this stress, but you can’t expect that by coming into the community, you will be able to fix everything. The “white savior” narrative is damaging to missionaries’ and philanthropists’ reputations.
Understanding Your Community
Following these guidelines, you should be able to understand how your community works and how you will fit into it. You may have to do a great deal of personal work, including learning the language and letting go of your personal preconceptions.
Understanding how to relate to the local community will make your projects more effective and smooth the way for your group. Having an open-minded attitude will foster a culture of respect between you and the community you want to help.