In over 50 years of working for holistic development, Tearfund and our local partners have seen time and time again that tackling poverty requires long term, sustainable solutions more than quick fixes. Good development takes time – something that Tearfund staff member Hedda noticed on a recent trip visiting partners in a remote mountainous region of Nepal.
During our four-hour ride from remote mountainous villages back to our partners’ district headquarters in northwestern Nepal, my colleague asked me what had made the biggest impression on me during our field trip. I said time.
The time and logistics that we had experienced just a taste of travelling from Kathmandu to the project region: including a 19-seater plane that landed dramatically on the edge of a mountain (or a 19-hour bus ride if it happened to be too windy or cloudy for this leg); hours of four wheel driving on cliff-edge roads, dodging cows and other livestock along with their accompanying humans; negotiating one-lane roads with another vehicles of equal or greater size.
Then there’s the time it takes to walk on foot to the schools and villages where there are not yet roads, however bumpy. The same villages where the average person may spend a days’ time walking to the next village to get their weekly supplies. We saw one young man do just this - we passed him on our way to Bhiyee village in the morning and again in the late afternoon as we left, his donkey packed with goods.
We tackled this journey as a one-off, but it gave a glimpse into the time it takes for our partners to get to their “office”. Then there’s the time and investment in building relationships and trust in the community, time to establish networks with local government, or to engage people in disability groups, children’s clubs or other self-help groups. There’s the time it takes to get approval from the authorities to implement projects, to conduct the teacher training, to set up the classrooms so that students can have tables and cushions to sit on and activities to motivate learning.
Community life is also bound in time. Life revolves around the seasons, to plant and sow, to nurture and grow, to harvest and reap. But we also saw first hand how all that hard work can vanish overnight, as we saw the impacts of the landslides that happened in the area six months earlier. Fields scattered with bits of rock everywhere, no longer able to be productive. Houses with giant holes in the walls where the storms had come through. With one weather event, a family might have to start again, plant again, build again, wait again.
Community development takes time. Especially in the hard places.
There’s also the time that is lost, that our partners spend away from family and loved ones, as they choose to work in these hard places, and certainly hard-to-reach places, because they want to see those with the least access and the most marginalised thrive. And when you hear that the life expectancy has increased from 36 to 56 years in one area where our partners have tirelessly served over two decades, you know that none of that time is wasted.
Community development takes time. Especially in the hard places. And that’s why I found it so encouraging to hear of all the long standing work of our partner organisations, many who have been working in their communities for 20, 30 years or more. What a privilege it is, that Tearfund and supporters of Tearfund can and have been standing alongside these partners, faithfully walking the road to lasting transformation.
The last few years have shown that the trajectory of global poverty is not set in stone. After decades of decline, the rates of global hunger and food insecurity are on the rise, driven by COVID, the climate crisis and conflict. At moments like this, the fight to end poverty can feel like one step forward, two steps back. And yet transformation still takes root – yes, slowly, but also surely – and lives are changed in meaningful, trajectory-shifting ways.