“After so many years on the job, I continue to be amazed by how neighbours treat each other like siblings,” my colleague commented to the parents who had organised a barbeque to recognise their children’s efforts at a recent street soccer tournament. The team did not win but the parents wanted to applaud the teamwork and sportsmanship displayed.
The parents listened as she continued, “There is so much love among the children and every adult is like an aunt or uncle.” In response, a parent thanked her for trusting them with a budget to get the event going. He added that the families present were always apprehensive about joining community activities because their children are regarded as “troublemakers” by several neighbours. My colleague then pointed out that the neighbourhood could benefit from their organising skills and like her, others could be amazed and inspired by the care they had for one another.
As community workers, we encourage people to come together around their hopes and dreams, their cares and concerns as well as their gifts and talents. Following conversations, work is scoped out and a list of things-to-do fills up the schedules of those who came. The work is managed and those involved garner a sense of satisfaction when milestones are reached or upon completion of the initiative. As in the nature of work, positive outcomes are praised, and work teams are built with the view of achieving the team goals.
However, as community workers, we must also care for the well-being of the whole neighbourhood and consider if the success of the project groups we have encouraged is a source of community fragmentation. This perennial tension challenges us to remember that a community is only as strong as the relationships among its people, and it is a sense of care that people have for each other that sustains whatever work that needs to be done.
Perhaps to build community we must unlearn or at least be mindful of how we have been trained. For many helping professions, we have learnt that rapport and relationships are our tools of influence. In other words, relationships are a means to an end and often an end defined by us. Without relationships, there is no community and so building community means building relationships and the work or projects put forth are simply the means of bringing people together.
In this aspect, the families who organised the barbeque got it right. The street soccer tournament was a means of deepening the care and concern they wanted their children to have for each other and the barbeque was a celebration of community.
For peace and community,
Commitment and accountability are forever paired with each other and linked with creating community. Accountability is the willingness to care for the well-being of the whole; commitment is the willingness to make a promise with no expectation of return. – Peter Block