Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Welcome Laura Taggart to Dreams Coming True to tell us about Sintaro Village.
Tell us a little about yourself. My husband and I are empty nesting and just became grandparents. We’ve been teaching in Ethiopia for about 10 years (a fun story in itself!), but never pictured ourselves in Southern Ethiopia helping an extremely impoverished village.
When did this creative dream begin? On our first trip to Ethiopia. We had been invited by the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa to teach a course to pastors and Christian workers from all over Ethiopia. We fell in love with our students and the country. While there we met a man named Zenebe who was Director of Hope Enterprises, an organization that helps the poorest of the poor all over Ethiopia. We began a conversation about what it might look like to help lift a village out of poverty.
How did this project get started? Our church decided last year to do an International Area Development Project and, knowing the amazing work Hope had been doing, they put it’s name in the ‘pot’ as a possibility. After a time of prayer and discernment the church determined to commit to the project.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd? The village, Sintaro, is truly in abject poverty and yet there are no other non-government organizations in the area to help. The village had truly felt forgotten. They have no clean water, no schools, not a clue about hygiene and sanitation.
What are the goals and intentions of this project? The goal is to, over the next 7 years, build a school, dig a well, provide medical support and hygiene and sanitation education, provide spiritual resources and nurture, and empower the people in the village to begin to help lift themselves out of poverty through education and economic improvement. We have started a school as of September 2013. We currently have 100 kindergarten students. We plan to build a K-4th grade building this winter and add 50 more children every year. If all goes well, we hope to build a 5-8th grade subsequently. We are committed to having an equal number of girls and boys in the school. We also have plans to dig a well to provide clean water to the village. We are still assessing the resources available locally, as well as the needs of the village, which will determine the direction of the project.
How does your project create community? We were surprised to find on our assessment trip in October that the community is quite disconnected. Resources are so limited that helping one another has not been a priority. There is a good deal of distrust. We discovered they rarely come together to pool their thinking and resources to benefit others. The four churches in the area are places of meeting, and we hope to strengthen their reach into the community and their effectiveness in meeting needs of the community. We gathered with a group of the women in the village to discuss their lives and needs and asked if they had ever gathered as a group to share their problems and help each other, and they reported that ‘they never had’, and after the meeting, they determined to do so. A wonderful outcome!
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Get a team of others around you that will encourage you, hold you accountable, and pray for you. It is also helpful to get others involved. A group effort helps to keep the momentum and energy going as well as multiplies the creativity.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributer have a specific role? This has been an exciting part of the project! Many people have caught the vision and offered to contribute their time, talents and treasure. One young man who loves coffee decided to import beans from Ethiopia and bottle a cold brew and use the profits to support the project. Another group of artists have agreed to paint a work of art with the theme of water and hold an auction to raise money for the project. Another group of people got excited about holding a hike to raise support. In addition to these creative fund-raising efforts, we will be sending many teams of people over to Sintaro to use their talents and gifting to benefit the village hydrologists, teachers, medical personnel, micro-finance specialists, pastors, and others who just want to lend a helping hand. How many are involved? We have 100 sponsors for the children currently in the school and hope to have hundreds involved in some capacity both here and in Sintaro over the 7 years.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground? I can’t think of one. Just had to go through normal approval processes. Working with Hope Enterprises, an indigenous Ethiopian organization, has been extremely helpful as they have worked with the Ethiopian government for all approvals and know how to get things done on the ground. They also have been instrumental in helping us develop a strong, warm relationship with the village due to their credibility and passion for the poor.
What have you learned? We, as westerners, are inclined to think we have all the answers and resources and can approach the poor with a very patronizing attitude. Our assessment team and many others at our church have been reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, which has been an invaluable tool to help us see how we can hurt the poor by our “god-complex” attitudes and by throwing our resources at them, however well-intentioned. In visiting Sintaro, I learned how hard it is not to ‘fix’ when I have the resources to do so, but to surrender my notions of what is needed and try to discover God’s intentions for these people whom He loves. It was profoundly humbling to see those with so little who loved God so much.
Have there been any unexpected surprises? Absolutely. We were incredibly surprised and moved by the reception our team received when we first arrived at the village. It was a jubilant celebration which took our breath away and drew quite a few tears. We were also surprised to find the lack of cooperation and sense of community. We came to understand that poverty can be isolating.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about starting your project? That we can take our western concepts over and make life better by our standards.
What are some ways you promote your project? Fundraising efforts also promote awareness. Hosting a ‘Sintaro Night’ at church. Website, email mailings. Promotion through the church school.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised? It takes a great deal of thought and effort to keep the project in front of people. We imagine over 7 years it will take a great deal of commitment and creativity.
What social network has worked best for you? Just beginning to get this in place!
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours? Start meeting with people who might share your dream and solicit their prayers and partnership. Since our project requires lots of participation, meeting with others, casting the vision, and hearing about their gifting and dreams is crucial to inviting engagement.
Where do you see this project in five years? The school will have 300 children, the well will be providing clean water to the entire village, intestinal illness (the leading health issue) will have decreased significantly, there will be new sources of economic growth due to micro-financing and other forms of stimulus, the churches will be caring in practical as well as spiritual ways for the needs of its people, training of educators and church leaders will be the norm, and, most importantly, the people of Sintaro will feel loved rather than forgotten and will have hope for their future.
How can we find your creative dream come true? www.sintarovillage2020.com.
If people are interested in giving to the cause of Sintaro, please write a check and send to:
Community Presbyterian Church
222 W. El Pintado Rd.
Danville, CA 94526,
Attention: Robin Aldana, Sintaro2020 project.
Make sure to write Sintaro in the memo section of the check.
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