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Due to our line of work, we at the GRCF often hear stories that both break our hearts and inspire us at the same time.   It is amazing the sorts of things that people can live through and endure and yet find ways to persevere and thrive – thus providing the rest of us with a moving example of the best aspects of human love, courage, determination and strength.

Sanah smiling, as usual!

One such example can be found in Sanah Nhlapo, a resident of rural Mathopestat. Sanah is a young, ambitious, hardworking and bright young woman who has survived and thrived despite tremendous obstacles.  Born and raised in Mathopestat, our pilot ABCD town, Sanah moved to Johannesburg in 2000 following a rape that had left her both pregnant and HIV positive.  The move was necessary as she knew that she would have to find work to support herself as she did not wish to have an abortion, despite the circumstances.  In order to keep the child and be able to take care of it, she had to find work in Johannesburg as an office administrator and sales representative.  By 2007 however, Sanah found herself struggling to keep her now two children and herself afloat in the big city.  She was coming home very late due to her job and did not have others around who could help take care of her children.  She therefore reluctantly decided that she needed to move back to Mathopestat for her children’s’ sake.  Sanah now lives in a shack in her mother’s yard with her daughter, 9, and her son, 5.  Despite having few options for a job in Mathopestat, Sanah was desperate to find something constructive to do.  There were seemingly no opportunities however – until last year, when the GRCF ran its first ABCD workshop.  Sanah says the workshop came like a blessing to her.

As a result of the ABCD training Sanah became aware of the abundance of assets in Mathopestat and in herself that she previously, along with the other community members, had not noticed.  The workshop changed her thinking and brought out her inner leadership, and soon Sanah was one of the strongest voices driving change in Mathopestat.  She is now helping lead the community forum that came about as a result of the ABCD workshop, and is involved in several small business projects.  Sanah has also realized that she would make an excellent HIV counsellor as a result of the appreciative inquiry exercise, and is so eager to learn that all she needs is a little training and she will be able to achieve great things.  To the GRCF staff that have heard her story and seen her in action first hand, always with a ready smile, Sanah is truly an inspiration.

Over the past few weeks we at the GRCF have heard many such stories of inspiration, strength and perseverance.  From a sex worker who had been drugged and raped turning into an activist and a crime fighter, to a lady who lost both of her daughters to kidnappings and murder and has now joined the Citizens Forum to make sure such a tragic thing does not happen to other mothers – it is stories and people like these that keep us all dedicated to doing what we do.  One person at a time, one community at a time, we can all help change the face of Greater Rustenburg, and eventually all of South Africa, in to somewhere we all love to call home.

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“We were rich, we just weren’t aware of it!”
Tom, Mathopestat community member

Taking the First Steps in Mathopestat

Given our background in CAMP program implementation, last October the GRCF decided to start its first pilot ABCD study in the Mathopestat community.  Over 4 days we ran workshops designed to show the community that they were in fact much richer than they think — a realization community members came to on their own as they sat in groups identifying physical, social, skill-based, and intellectual assets that they possessed.  Even over the short span of 4 days the transformation in thinking with the use of ABCD methodology was extraordinary.  Watching neighbours, who had known each other for years and yet did not know that one was actually a skilled dressmaker while the other was an apt mechanic, gasp in surprise and delight at what those around them could do was in itself a very powerful effect.

The excercise with the most impact however, seemed to be the “Leaky Bucket”.  This excercise shows a community just how much money comes in to the community from wages, benefits, and the like and how much then “leaks” out of the community again when members travel outside of town to obtain goods and services that could easily be provided and obtained within their own communities. In the case of Mathopestat, the community was very surprised to find that most of their money was leaving the community, but that a lot of the loss could be prevented with a little entrepreneurial spirit.

At the end of the 4 days several of the more entrepreneurial members of Mathopestat realized that they not only had more assets than they had thought, but also that they could grow this asset base if they pooled their resources and started to work together.  When we left, there was talk of several projects ranging from the social (home care service) to the economic and agricultural (poultry farming).  We promised to return in mid-January to track their progress and see what else was needed.  If some projects survived and thrived we would help them with whatever capacity problems they might need assistance with, as well as prepare them for the GRCF grant application procedure.

The Positive Change Endures

On Wednesday, January 20th, a team of GRCF staff along with some visitors from the Geography Department of UNISA made their way to Mathopestat for a meeting with the ABCD group leaders.  Although more than two months had passed since the ABCD workshop, a small subset of the community made up of the more entrepreneurial members, was still very much passionate about all the potential that they now saw in their communities. Several projects had been running and were doing well, while others were still in the beginning stages and needed help with business planning and other practical types of assistance. The mood was very positive however, and many members expressed how grateful they felt that the GRCF had approached them on equal terms as partners and had really put in the time to listen to them in order to help them unlock their own potential.

The next step now will be to follow up in a few weeks with a structured session for business planning and other types of needed capacity building assistance.  However, the most important learning has clearly already taken place — when a community takes a look at what it has and starts from a premise of its assets rather than its needs, the seeds for real, sustainable and empowered changed are planted, and need very little else to grow.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”
– Margaret Mead

The Asset Based Community Driven (ABCD) approach to development espouses the belief that communities can take the lead in identifying their own problems and the solutions to those same problems. Put simply, the approach argues that little is achieved by identifying needs and rather the emphasis should be on the assets in any given community. While the needs based approach tends to prescribe solutions by creating agencies that deliver services to clients, the ABCD approach focuses on empowering citizens.  One of the basic theses of ABCD is that over reliance on services creates a dependency culture which limits people’s potential and ability to exercise control over their lives. One of the key difficulties within the community development sector today is that many service driven institutions espouse community involvement but somehow still manage to engage the community on their terms only. For example they may manage their relationship with the community by setting funding criteria that focus on their own needs and not necessarily on those of the community. For organizations that truly wish to engage in community participation they must step back and enable the community to decide what the priorities are.

The Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation together with the Coady International Institute at St Francis Xavier University in Canada, the world research leader in community driven development, have formulated a practical Community Asset Mapping Programme (CAMP) approach of combining ABCD with the notion of Philanthropy of Community (PoC) or horizontal philanthropy to facilitate development in the community.  PoC is an approach to grantmaking and community interventions that acknowledges the fact that there are assets in communities, that people do share and help one another and that communities do have the ability to find solutions to their own problems as identified by them. Development agencies and grantmakers play a facilitating role in community development while the community themselves take the lead role in driving their own development, thus truly becoming empowered.