Ian Ramsey-North is Chair of the Natik Board of Directors. He first worked with Natik in Guatemala in 2006 following a devastating mudslide that displaced thousands. Currently, he works in northern Uganda with the Uganda Women Lawyers Association (FIDA-U). In this end-of-year reflection, he considers how Natik and the people of Guatemala not only gave him his experiential foundation, but also inspire him to approach development work as a considerate and equal partner.
I have spent the last six months in Gulu, Uganda, the now peaceful epicenter of the decades long Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency that plagued Uganda’s north. I’m getting a very different perspective on development, both at the international and the local, community levels. But I am also seeing the parallels with Guatemala and Chiapas, where years of war left millions marginalized and impoverished. The memory of the insurgency is somewhat closer here in Gulu, where peace only came in the last decade, but the legacy of war is enduring in any setting, and so there are echoes of my experience in Guatemala and Mexico, even here, a world away.
Africa (grouped together as a monolithic whole of a continent) is often viewed as the promised land for the well-intentioned development practitioner. With such great need, the thinking goes, there should also be some low-hanging fruit, changes that come easily and cheaply. But work here is hard. Those infomercials that promise life-altering change in the lives of children for just a few cents a day are, unsurprisingly, not an accurate description of what goes into making a lasting, positive impact.
So somewhat surprisingly, work in Uganda has made me better appreciate the opportunity to work with Natik in Guatemala and Mexico, where the history of war is further in the past, the governance is (somewhat) better, and the social status quo is less detrimental to the welfare of women and children.
Development requires constant self-evaluation to ensure that first, we do no harm. In Natik, I have found an organization that not only commits to that introspection, but also has the on-the-ground presence and honest communication with local partners that is necessary to ensure that our support empowers, instead of doing damage or creating dependency. Our local partners and staff are constantly working to improve Natik’s programs and strengthen their impact.
On a personal level, this has allowed me to maintain a relationship with Santiago Atitlan, the town in Guatemala where Natik works and which became my first home away from home when I lived there during a year abroad in college. It is a place of immeasurable beauty, with a people of deep generosity and humility who (like all human beings, even those of less luminous dignity) deserve every opportunity to flourish and thrive. It can be difficult to honor those people we leave behind in our privileged, semi-nomadic lives. Natik provides an anchor of commitment and relationship, a way to pay back what was given to me by the wonderful people of Santiago Atitlan.
So I’m happy this holiday season to celebrate all that Natik has accomplished this year. Among my favorite achievements:
- Our scholarship students in Guatemala and Mexico continue to advance to levels of education that no one in their families has previously achieved.
- The Traveling Library, which brings books and teachers to children who need extra literacy support, recently published a manual so that other organizations and communities in Guatemala can adopt its great pedagogical model and methods.
- After years of operating within borrowed and rented spaces, the Yo’Onik Learning Center moved its after school programs to a building constructed just for its work with Chiapas’ children.
These are just a few of Natik’s successes. Please check out our website or find us on Facebook to see even more.
Happy holidays from Gulu!