It’s really important as a missionary to be willing to learn, to remember as we approach things that we don’t have all the answers. This June, Leanne and I went on a short-term outreach to Manila in the Philippines with a small team of four people. As a team with a specific focus, we went to follow up and teach on biosand water filtration systems. We hoped to train people well enough that they would want to take the project into their communities. In that hope to teach, we ended up learning a lot as well.
The opportunity for the trip really came about through one of our teammates from Norway. Earlier this year, he took a team up to Manila and did a few of the water filter projects. While he and the team were there, they built good relationships with some of the people they were in contact with. He didn’t want to just say that it would be great to come back – he actually wanted to do it! Our team went to the same region of Manila that his previous team had been to just a few months earlier.
After a couple days of settling in, we headed out for our first follow up. Before going in, we prayed. During that prayer time, we felt God said to us to not have too high of expectations. That seemed kind of odd to us.
But, when we got there, we found out why.
When we teach a community about biosand water filtration, we build one filter as an example together with them. This is so that the people can learn hands-on how to build it. However, the example filter is not meant to be used by an entire community or village. They work best when used for one household. As we talked to the President of this particular village in Manila, we could quickly tell that something may not have come across the right way. The people were really happy about the filter. They said they used it all the time… all 300 households!
When we tested the water from that filter, we found what we would have expected. The filter just wasn’t able to deal with the bacteria in the ground water because so many people had been using it. At this point, the filter was basically just filtering out dirt. The people saw and felt the effects of this. They said they were not as sick as they used to be, simply because they were no longer consuming dirt. Because they realised the water was clean, they were excited to use it for things like laundry and showering as well.
The first thought that came to my mind was, “man, this project failed.” I thought we had to completely re-train and start from scratch. As we were talking with the community, I was asking God what to do.
I felt like He was saying, “point out the good that’s in this.”
The good thing was that they were seeing the benefits. I pointed this out to the President and the other members of the community. I also pointed out how much greater the benefits would be if they used them for just one household, like it was intended. We explained to them how the filter was not working to the best of its ability. We showed them again how to maintain and upkeep the filter. We reminded them that they can now build their own and teach the others in the community to do the same, since they were at the training with the previous team. We could have left feeling defeated, but that time of follow up was really helpful to us.
We learned a lot about how to teach better in the future.
During the rest of our two-week trip, we taught the water filtration project five more times. We made sure to emphasise that the filter was meant for one household. We went a bit deeper into the reason for that, too. As we were building the filter, we went over it, highlighting it to make sure it really sunk in.
We learned a few more valuable lessons during our times of teaching and follow-up, too. We got to see the importance of working with translators that understood the project well. In this case, we were able to meet back up with two of the contacts that had helped the earlier team with translation. These guys were rockstars! By the end of our week working with them, I was able to step back and let them really teach it. When people asked them questions, these guys were no longer coming and asking me for clarification.
What I learned from that is to actually sit down with whoever would be translating and going over the project until they understand it. Usually, the translator will repeat whatever we just said in their language. When they actually understand the project, though, they are not just repeating but they are following our train of thought. They know where we are going, so they know how to communicate even if the word-for-word translation doesn’t make sense. This way, our translators are also empowered to teach people on their own!
That multiplication is really what Appropriate Technology is about.
Another important lesson we learned was simply the importance of following up. We could really see what people understood as we went back to check on them. And beyond just correcting or giving input, it was great to be able to encourage people as well. We want them to know that what they’ve done with the project is great and encourage them to keep multiplying it. This is something we would really like to implement more in the future. We would love to go back to some of the other places we have taught water filtration projects and follow up as well.
I’m really glad that we learned what we did on this trip. Ultimately, we want to learn to communicate in the best way possible. It’s cool how that reflects God’s desire to communicate with us. He doesn’t just stick with one way, saying one thing, and expect everyone to get it. He knows how to communicate with us for who we are, and He desires that. He really humbles Himself in order to help us understand, and that’s why we want to be humble, too. When we go, we are wanting to learn how to get our message across in a way that makes sense. We need to learn in order to teach.