Friday, May 1, 2009

Asking the Tough Questions

By Jason Schwartzman,
Director of Program Development

Note: This is the fifth entry from Jason’s trip to the Philippines.

In my last blog entry, I shared a few quotes from a retired colleague who was reflecting on how Christian Children's Fund learned over time the importance of working with families as a group, to organize them so they could do for themselves. That colleague's name is Jim Hostetler, and there he is in the photo (middle of the bottom row). This is from the 1970s in Guatemala with National Office staff.

One of the boldest efforts to learn and reflect on CCF's work came from the third president of CCF – Verent Mills. In a prior blog I shared a photo of him in his younger days with a group of young children in China who were orphans. Here he is a number of years later:

That same young man ended up being president of CCF from 1970 to 1981. You'd think that a guy who had been working in the same organization for all those years would know pretty much everything there was to know, but what was one of the first initiatives he undertook in his new job?

"We were saying we were helping these children, and I wanted to know exactly how we were helping them," he said at the time. "Was it true we were preparing the children to be better citizens in their communities, as we claimed in our literature? If it wasn't true, then we were wasting the sponsors' money." To answer this question, Mills in 1972 hired Dr. Charles G. Chakerian, a social scientist from the University of Chicago.

"[Chakerian] prompted a lot of consciousness-raising at CCF about its purpose. Their message was that you can’t effectively help a child apart from the context of his or her family, community and nation. That context includes the whole pattern of economic and social development. It isn’t just a simplistic thing: help the child."

For example, one of the Chakerian’s recommendations stated that it would be more effective if CCF focused on carefully selected countries or areas of countries, rather than trying to do a little all over the map. The choice of a location came to depend on whether by being there we could influence social and economic development as well as the immediate well-being of the sponsored children.

"Dr. Chakerian helped CCF realize how important it was to critically assess the types of programs being supported. In the past, such analysis was lacking: to some degree, good intentions on the part of those running specific programs were thought to be enough to ensure that good results would follow."

Asking tough questions and challenging ourselves is the struggle we tackle in the middle of this workshop. Are we reaching deprived, excluded and vulnerable children through our programs? Are the programs the right ones, and what evidence do we have that they are? Are our partnerships with communities maturing over time?

Today we break out of the meeting room and spend the day in a nearby community where each of us will have a host family who we will stay the night with. We hope that this immersion in a community will give us some new insights. I better go pack – I don't want to be late once again. Actually, there's little danger of that. I fall asleep early, and am wide awake by 3 a.m. One of the "pleasures" of being in a different time zone!

Coming soon: Meet the community.

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