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Overcoming mistrust

When I first tried to list the challenges faced in creating change, it was quite a long list. However, most of them boil down to - resources, chiefly financial; and attitudes. In my experience, the process of creating change in poor communities is almost always accompanied with hefty doses of mistrust and scepticism. For a number of the communities, they have been down this road before. They often tell me that sometime in the past someone came with the same song and dance and nothing changed, so what is different this time? Then they ask, how much have you been given to implement this project? What is our share? Because they have come to believe that there is no reason why anyone should be interested in their lack of good roads, schools, potable water, jobs – take your pick, the list is virtually endless; unless it is a scheme to siphon already allocated funds, which they never benefit from anyway. In typical Nigerian speak, they often say ‘na today’, meaning this is an old gimmick.

Breaking through deep-rooted mistrust is tough. At least the challenge posed by insufficient funds is pretty much straight forward, at its simplest form it boils down to knowing how much you have and how much more you need. Building trust and acceptance for the project is another matter. Inviting community members to attend workshops and meetings where you explain implies that the chosen few that are invited are in on the scheme, and this leads to resentment along with your initial mistrust. So we hold community parleys, and invite as many members of the community as can make it to attend. We have also found that arranging light refreshments also boosts attendance at these meetings. Here we explain, and swear on as many graves as we can, that yes this time is different, no it is not some scheme to misappropriate government funds. In time, most of the community accepts the project, although some die-hard sceptics remain. So although we are usually not able to attain total community support, we have enough to ease our implementation and live in hope that our impacts are enough to sway the rest in the end.

In overcoming community mistrust, I think that online communities provide an immediate pool of resources to tap and the opportunity to learn from best practices implemented in similar contexts elsewhere. In future when I face difficulty, I can easily see myself posting a help wanted request on the forum.

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