“[All our motivations] start with the desire to be seen, to be treated with respect, to receive the dignity we each deserve.” Seth Godin
“I see you!”
Wikipedia describes the word Sawubona as an African Zulu greeting meaning “I see you.” It has a long oral history and it means much more that our traditional “hello.”
Sawubona says, “I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity and respect.” In the African village context, where everyone knows one another, it’s an exceedingly powerful representation of genuine understanding of another person.
Dignity feels like a missing word in our lexicon of character virtues. I just don’t seem to hear or read much of dignity in society today. And yet, it may be one of the most preferred human attributions any of us can receive or achieve.
Let me take you to a rural village in Eastern Uganda…
Wells of Life, the charity for which I devote much of my time, drills water wells for those living in rural villages in Uganda. Each well provides access to clean water for 1,000 people for up to twenty-five years. We have been around for a decade and have provided access to clean water for more than 600 villages, serving more than 600,000 people.
In our early days we were primarily focused on “providing a well.” We drilled the well, but left village community members little responsibility for the maintenance and hygienic care of the well. It was a “Wells of Life” well. And when we did this, we missed our mark. But soon on we realized that our “call” has to do with more than water. Today, we are called to change and impact the whole person in the communities we serve.
When Giving Hurts
In their book When Giving Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert make the point that when charities simply “give” but offer no sense of empowerment or responsibility we miss a grand opportunity. Without also providing a sense of community responsibility, we leave the disenfranchised just as disenfranchised as they were when we began our interventions.
The point is this: The role of charity or any “giving institution” is largely to (1) provide a service or tool to save lives and improve the quality of life, and (2) to empower the people it serves with the responsibility of taking ownership of the service provided. For Wells of Life, we began by educating, empowering, and mentoring communities to “Own” their well and therefore manage how their water is distributed, collect payments for eventual repair, and keep the well site sanitary and hygienic.
Dignity: The Grand Opportunity
The Grand Opportunity we now focus on is all about restoring the divine right of personal as well as community dignity of all people. Today Wells of Life is all about offering dignity to the disenfranchised. Each community and various community members have taken to the responsibility for managing “their” well, not a Wells of Life well.
Let us not forget that dignity is a basic human need; a primary need. My experiences in Africa only raise my awareness of the human passion for dignity, for self-reliance, and for self-value for everyone I encounter.
My role: respect the inherent value of dignity for every person created in the very image of God.
Dignity is All Up To You
It’s When Earning It Meets Giving It Away
Photo courtesy of Gilles_Paire at istockphoto