Umoja is one of Tearfund’s core approaches to helping communities out of material and spiritual poverty. But what does it mean and how does it work? Read on to find out more.
THE POWER OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
Umoja started out as a small project in a couple of countries in East Africa, now it is a global movement. The word itself means 'togetherness' in Swahili, but the process has many names: Participatory Evaluation Process, Church and Community Mobilisation, Chet Tai Muay - but it always means the same thing, getting everyone in the community to lead and control their own development.
Because of the way aid sometimes worked in the past, some communities have come to depend on it. Like Mathigameru community in Kenya, where families relied on relief food instead of growing their own. When the Umoja process started there, the people said: ‘We are so poor, you can see it for yourself, so give us what you have brought instead of keeping us waiting in these long meetings.’
But rather than a top-down approach that can promote dependency - for example paying for children to go to school - Umoja is more of an inside-out approach. Helped by facilitators, the participants are asked to consider what their needs are, and what resources they already have that could address those needs.
'Author Bob Lupton... He says that when he gave something the first time, there was gratitude; and when he gave something a second time to that same community, there was anticipation; the third time, there was expectation; the fourth time, there was entitlement; and the fifth time, there was dependency.' Peter Greer, Your Help Is Hurting: How Church Foreign Aid Programs Make Things Worse
Watch this video to explore this concept a bit further: How is Tearfund different?
BUT HOW DOES THAT ACTUALLY WORK?
The Umoja process is run by facilitators from within the church, often a church leader or an elder. First they need to be trained in the backbone of Umoja: Integral Mission, an explanation of a wholehearted gospel that ties together evangelism and social action. It might sound like a complicated term, but at its heart it is very simple, following Jesus’ call to love one another, inside and out.
‘...In integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.
If we ignore the world, we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God, we have nothing to bring to the world.’
Micah Network explanation of Integral Mission
Leaders from different communities learn about Integral Mission through Bible Studies. They look at the way God provides for his people, and the way Jesus would take small amounts of resources and perform miracles with them. Once the facilitators understand Integral Mission, they then go back to their own churches and train them too. This is called ‘envisioning’ their local church, that is to say, helping them to understand this new outlook on the gospel and the implications it has for them.
WHAT DO THEY DO NEXT?
Facilitators are then trained in skills to help churches seek out and make use of their own resources. What do they have in their hands already? When Mathigameru did an analysis of their resources, they pointed out that they had a river flowing through the community. When the river was mentioned, one elderly lady angrily said: ‘This river is older than all of us here and it has never helped us. Leave it alone: it’s only useful to the Indian Ocean.’ But it went on the list anyway!
The facilitators, like those in Mathigameru, take this knowledge back to their church and create a group made up of three people from the church and three from the wider community. These six people will lead and shape the process. This group has a different name depending on where you are - in South Sudan they are called Awakeners.
The Facilitators and the Awakeners work together to gather information about their area, figuring out the neediest areas. They pore over the information they have collected, and decide which issues are the most pressing, so they know what to work on first.
When they know which issue to make their priority, the facilitators help them to come up with an action plan, with realistic goals. A Community Development Committee is formed at this point, to make sure they follow their action plan and to monitor their progress.
Mathigameru is a semi-arid area, making it difficult to grow crops. So the Awakeners there decided to have think about how they could make use of the water the river was carrying.
As they work through these steps the facilitators also have time for reflection, as the original training group is brought back together to look back on what has happened so far, and learn from others undergoing the process.
LEARNING NEW SKILLS
The Community Development Committees have now have reached a point where in order to achieve their goals they need extra instruction in new skills like how to manage finances, looking after animals, or how to cope in a disaster. This is usually provided by Tearfund’s partner.
In Mathigameru they saved money together and bought a generator to pump water from the river. They received training from Tearfund’s partner on how to do small-scale irrigation, making new land available for farming.
‘If the church had started teaching us ten years ago, the whole of this community would now be a paradise. Whether relief comes or not, we always have food for the day, and we use some of our income to buy food, pay medical bills, pay school fees for our children and contribute towards building our community school.’ Community chairman of Mathigameru
Once the community have finished the three year cycle of Umoja, then the whole process starts again in another area. Excitingly, this next three year cycle would also be run by the original facilitators, so they will be able to build on all that they have learnt, and share the incredible transformation they have seen with this new community.
Even more excitingly, just because the cycle has ended, that doesn’t mean the change stops. Because Umoja is based on the principles of Integral Mission and whole life transformation, the church and community will keep developing even once the formal process is over. And there you have it! Umoja: sustainable, local, transformational development.
FIND OUT MORE
Read stories from our partners doing Umoja: ICC
Take a look at some of the Bible Studies used in Umoja here: Bible Studies
You can even read the Umoja facilitator’s manual on Tearfund’s International Learning Zone here: Umoja Facilitator's Manual
Read more about why Tearfund works through the local church here: Why the Church?