Two weeks ago, Shanta signed an MOU with the People’s Action Forum (PAF), a local, non-profit development organization in Zambia. This agreement establishes an informal partnership with the shared goal of bringing Shanta’s Village Development Model to Zambia. Our signing ceremony was the culmination of a two-week trip to Zambia for our Myanmar country manager, Dr. Khaing Zar Oo (Nge Nge), and me. The first part of the trip was dedicated to Nge Nge teaching the village partnership model (VPM) to PAF. In truth, I was as eager to learn from Nge Nge as PAF was, and I absorbed so much by listening to a detailed account of how we initiate a partnership with a village.
This in-depth training covered all aspects and years of the VPM and was made possible by three key assets. First, Nge Nge has done every job in Myanmar. She has been a translator, project officer, township coordinator, and now, country manager. There is no dimension of our model that she doesn’t know inside and out. Further, she is an exceptional teacher, communicator, and facilitator. Second, she used a draft of our “Blueprint” to assist in teaching PAF the details of our model. The “Blueprint Project” is an ongoing effort to document and publish our development model, the VPM, as a “how-to” guide for development professionals who are looking for an empirically proven, holistic, community-led, and sustainable approach to eliminating extreme poverty at the village level. Thanks to the vision and generosity of a dedicated donor, I began this project over a year ago, and we are close to finishing and publishing the final product. The 2nd draft of the Blueprint was an incredible resource to use for teaching PAF all aspects of the VPM. Finally, we had the open minds and big hearts of PAF. Spending time with PAF is like spending time with the Shanta or Muditar staff. They are driven by compassion but steered by reason. They treat all people with dignity and never sacrifice their values for expediency.
What did I learn again on this trip to Zambia? The main thing is always the people. The people are our project, and that is true for the donors, the implementors, and our village partners. Without principled, humble, and compassionate implementors eager to learn new and better approaches, this work cannot be done, no matter how amazing the model might be. Without donors willing to take the long view rather than looking for quick fixes, this work cannot be done. Most of all, without village partners willing to risk their time, labor, and money, trusting that Shanta will come alongside them to forge a brighter future, this work could not be done. In the end, it truly is all about the people. Thank you. Thank you for being our people!