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How things change: a partnership manager’s journal

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“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:19

Stephanie Cantrill

Stephanie Cantrill from Tearfund’s International Programs Team shares five things she’s learned through the work of our partners.

In 18 months working with Tearfund’s International Programs Team, I’ve learned a lot about development programs, funding processes, participatory learning tools, compliance requirements. And spreadsheets. So many spreadsheets.

But I’ve also learned about change: the slow trickles and the rushing streams. It’s been a privilege to hear stories of change from our partners – stories of clean water and healthy children, of employment opportunities and access to entitlements.

I’ll be honest and say that not all the changes have been good. Conflicts and natural disasters can happen without warning, throwing the river of change off course. But somehow there are always glimmers of hope, and I’m reminded that change is possible – and that it’s already happening.

Here are five things I’ve learned about change through the work of our partners.


1. Change can be slow

If there was a formula for “good development” – input A + output B = long-term sustainable growth – well, that would be nice. However, development is about people, and people don’t always (or ever?) fit into a simple equation.

In India, I met a group of women from a marginalised tribal community. Over the years, people have taken advantage of them through financial scams or high-interest loans, and they’re understandably distrustful of outside help. When local government workers tried to show them the benefits of forming a self-help group, they were suspicious. When staff from our partner Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) made the same suggestion, it took time to build trust.

Eventually, so many women were convinced that they had to make two separate self-help groups.

Soon enough, they hit the next hurdle: the men in the community were not on board. The groups were on the verge of being shut down, until the EHA staff worked directly with the men to gain their trust as well.

Both groups are still running now, with each woman contributing a small amount each month to their joint savings account. Progress will take time, and there will probably be more setbacks. But, thanks to the strength of these women and the commitment of the EHA team, change is happening.

2. Change can be super-fast

Change isn’t always slow. Sadly though, the fastest changes can also be the most devastating.

In July last year, staff from the Diocese of Hyderabad, our partner in Pakistan, started telling us that monsoon rains were heavier than usual. These rains quickly became one of the worst floods Pakistan has experienced. Huge areas of farmland were destroyed, over 1,700 people lost their lives, and 33 million people were affected.

Flooded houses
Walking through flood water

Communities in Sindh province, where our partner works, were among the hardest hit. Many of them spent months living on roadsides, unable to return to their damaged homes. Freshwater handpumps, smokeless stoves, kitchen gardens and agricultural plots were all destroyed. It was heartbreaking to think that years of faithful development work might be erased so quickly.


3. People are incredibly resilient

There is an image that stands out as I think about change: a woman is smiling as she poses next to a fuel-efficient smokeless stove, in an outdoor kitchen decorated with sculptures and colourful patterns. This image is from Sindh province in Pakistan.

When the floodwaters subsided, families who had lost everything got on with the task of rebuilding. With bricks made from the mud after the flooding, they built homes, latrines and kitchens, raising them on platforms to minimise damage from future floods. The bright artworks were a bonus, as many women had extra time on their hands while they were unable to work. While they may not have used the term “art therapy”, I’m sure it was a big part of their recovery.

Even though I didn’t get to meet the woman in the photo, sitting amongst the cheerful colours of her newly-built kitchen, she taught me a lot about resilience.

4. Community brings change

More recently, a group of 14 women taught me about leadership, strength and the power of community. I was privileged to be part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia Awards Fellowship program, bringing women leaders from seven international partners and one First Peoples partner together for two weeks of sharing, learning and connection.

Australia Awards Fellowship Oct2023 2
Australia Awards Fellowship Oct2023

Leadership styles, self-awareness, creation care and many other topics were part of the program. But it was more than classroom learning. People learned about each other’s contexts and the challenges they face, they built on each other’s strengths and encouraged each other.

There was plenty of laughing and eating and seeing kangaroos, and lots of terrible weather. Some people saw the beach for the first time in their lives. And all of them, I’m fairly certain, were changed because of the community they found in each other.

As far as I can tell, lasting change can’t happen unless women are empowered. And it was an honour to meet this group of strong women leaders, who are already part of the change. I’m excited to see where this leads.

Change is happening. Partners, communities, Tearfund staff and supporters are all part of this change, in their different ways.

Justice Conference Oct2022 45

5. Supporters are so much more part of the change than I’d realised

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, because I was a Tearfund supporter long before I was a member of staff. Still, it wasn’t until I was on this side that I took in quite how much supporters are part of the whole thing. They’re not just there to give money so the projects can continue (although that’s definitely part of it!) – they are part of what brings the change.

Volunteers look after the garden in the Tearfund head office. Committees dedicate unpaid time to giving advice and recommendations on the programs we support. I just heard that someone voluntarily collects our hard-to-recycle items from the office. Individuals and small groups advocate for changes to systems. They raise awareness of issues that don’t make the news. Where they see poverty and injustice, they call their churches to action. Useful Gifts stallholders provide an antidote to frenzied Christmas consumerism. And thousands of people pray every day for the work that our partners are doing across the world.

Change is happening. Partners, communities, Tearfund staff and supporters are all part of this change, in their different ways.

The streams are flowing, and I like to believe they’re getting stronger.

Stephanie Cantrill is an International Partnership Manager and Effectiveness Officer at Tearfund.

Related projects have received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).