This is my most favourite quote. “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because my liberation is bound up in yours, then let us work together”. It connects me to my work in a way that reminds me what it is all about. It’s credited to Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson.
I don’t want to travel to ‘help’ or bring my western expertise or way of doing things. I want to come to be human with people, to walk with them on their journey and in doing so, my life as well as theirs is changed.
A week or so ago I was in rural Fiji with the community we work alongside there getting Girls back to school and providing income generating projects for their mums and dads.
The German International School Sydney, one of our great partner schools had sent a group of students to visit and interact with the students at two of the schools where we support Girls. They danced and sang together, cooked together and did art together. They shared knowledge and culture and life experiences. They were equals, people from different contexts, connecting over roti and singing. It was a joy to watch.
One student said ‘it has made me realise that we are all just the same’. Or in the words of Bono ‘there is no them, only us’.
We are wired to extend ourselves, to support others and give. When a disaster strikes, or something goes wrong, the best of our human nature donates, helps people out and volunteers. Many of you generously support the work we do with Girls in Fiji.
Sometimes though, we want to give according to what makes us feel good, or in a way we think people need. We’re actually also wired to feel good when we do good, it lifts us out of ourselves, so feeling good about giving is ok, but if it is uneducated, misguided or colonial, it can do harm.
In my e-book on living in Fiji, Behind the Smiles, I wrote about how sometimes our own agendas can render us ineffective in making an actual difference when we give. People become the ‘other’ and we assume that because they are poor they don’t know what it is they need. Lilla Watson knew the damage that can be done when people come to help, rather than partner, engage, connect, listen.
The ‘other’ becomes closer when we cross over from being helpers to allowing our own liberation to be bound in the liberation of those we seek to serve.
We are all just people born in different places, with different access to opportunities. We can be changed and our humanity enriched when we listen with our hearts as well as our ears, and give in ways that are led by what people need.
Whether you are giving money, time, skill or resources, connect with organisations that are driven by people on the ground who know their own community and are creating their own solutions to change.
I happen to know one working in rural Fiji : )
“Let us work together”
Jane for team ‘a Girl & her world’