WWOOFing it Up in Kiwiland: organic farming in New Zealand 2012

3 years later and life brings me back to New Zealand. This time for a longer period, for a different purpose, with a different outlook on life than last time. I hope what transpires from a few years of travelling as far and as wide as possible across this beautiful country is a basic but decent knowledge and experience in organic farming, self sustainable living, and food production. Come and join me, there's loads of room in the car.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

UNPREDICTABLE: if I had to choose one word to describe Community Development Work

So I've changed the group I was meant to be working with and now I'm working with 2 but both of them don't know where they are never mind where they want to be and it's my job to support them to get there but how am I meant to do that...good question...again, that would be my job to support them with that too...

Last Wednesday was the 1st session with the Jobseekers Network, made mostly of people redundant during the recession. It's been tough working with this group as it's more a group of individuals who think independantly  of each other than a group. Tuckman would say they're between forming and storming. While they have various roles and all contribute to the group, through financial donations, bringing cakes, plants, fruit to share or by doing the dishes at the end, and while the group has grown from 1 to 20+ regular attenders since Easter 2009, they lack a structure to make decisions and take actions collectively. The group's growth is down to committed leadership however there is a power imbalance between the founder and her group, to the point where I proposed a very basic provisional programme for 4 weeks and met resistence; the founder felt that what I proposed wasn't relevant because the group already learn and support each other and function well...maybe, she said, it would be better if I do the programme as a one-to-one...yes, I said, the group does help each other get jobs all the time and learns from each other, I completely agree and it should keep doing what works, but this programme uses different methods which will hopefully support the group's development in other ways that will strengthen what you're already doing... I also had to stress that I am not a personal development trainer or life coach.

I totally understand. It's her baby. It's precious to her and she wants to be the martyr, the one driving things forward. And I know that's true but I've been there too, all community developers go through that stage of taking responsibility for a group when the power lies with everyone in that group equally. We fool ourselves into thinking we're all different, with varying possessions of power, but all we have influence and the power is how we use that influence, to the detriment or improved well-being of any group, which is another art altogether.

Anyways, I realised after that conversation, the founder holds all that power and by rejecting an opportunity to work with me, she would be the bar between me and the group. She agreed to let me work with them and afterwards give them the option of whether or not they want to continue so for another 3 weeks. It takes a leap of faith and am immense trust, to let go of a group you have a key role in developing but when you realise the group takes care of itself, you realise you never really had any power afterall and it was the inspiration, vision, or enthusiasm that was needed to light the spark...we all have our roles to play in the universe and we accept it gracefully or reject it with sever consequences to our well-being.

So after some serious persuasion, I managed to get that one day with the Jobseekers network, after serious reservations that my diplomacy might fail on this ocassion and guess what? The session went down a treat! To my surprise they group loved it, one or two said they didn't learn anything but they didn't say it was a load of rubbish.

I started off with a name game ice breaker as not everyone knows each others names and I only met them the previous week. We went round the large circle of 18 of us and I started: My name is Wishful Wing...but we got to the group of 5 men, and three of them passed, throwing the ball to the next person with a look that said 'this is childish' on their faces. At the of the session I asked everyone to do the same but add feedback on the session. Not only did everyone have praise and positive comments, the men who passed the ice breaker were joining in with incredibles and rockets attached to their names! I was so pleased.

What I found interesting is the evaluation questionnaires that only 8 returned. Some of them said the worst bits were thinking of a word to describe themselves (the ice-breaker) and thinking about the past. My goal setting activity asked them to remember times they were happy in their past and some of them found that made them unhappy... the founder seemed to realise the benefits of this method of group development. The session was far from perfect but they didn't notice, I think because this type of work is totally different to anything they've done before. Overall, it was a success and they enjoyed the experience. I'm looking forward to tomorrow now that group have 'bought into' the community development 'thing'. But as always, I hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

Then on Thursday last week, I did the second session with He Wero's Teen Parents (Mum's) Group. After the Balloon people went down a storm on Monday, I was revved up to go and do a values activity after a quick art & crafty ice-braker but the school holidays began last Friday and all the mum's wre winding down. We only did the ice-breaker, which they loved too, but after predicting that this was the group I'd work most effectively with, and that the Jobseekers' Network would be less successful, in 2 days, my judgement was proved wrong and reality was the total opposite... like I said, totally unpredictable...but I love this work precisely because of it's organic nature: it's unpredictable; you can never predict the future, the weather, reactions and responses, although humans may try until we're blue in the face, nature finds a way and never gives up.

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