The following is a story I heard during a CHE Training. If you are interested in community development at all CHE is the absolutely first place I would recommend starting. I wandered around community development for a year and a half before stumbling on CHE and I haven’t been the same since.

Here’s the story (word of warning, it’s longer than my usual posts):

There once was a village located on top of a steep mountain. On a regular basis, as people were coming down the mountain, they would slip off the trail and fall to the valley below. A number of people were injured and some even killed.

A visitor came to their village, saw this problem and wanted to do something about it. He thought about what he could do and then decided that the best thing would be to station an ambulance at the base of the mountain. Therefore, when a person fell, a driver could rush with the ambulance to pick him up and bring him to the closest hospital 10 kilometers away. The people in the village were excited about this idea.

One day the ambulance broke down, but the people ignored the problem until another person fell off the trail and needed the ambulance to be taken to the hospital, but there was no transport available.  They then became very concerned and went looking for the outsider who had put the ambulance there. They complained that his ambulance was broken down and wanted to know why he didn’t keep the vehicle in good repair. He fixed it for them.  However, the same problem happened several more times, again with the people coming to the outsider wanting him to sort out the problem.

The outsider finally decided that there were too many repairs required on the vehicle and he didn’t have the money or time to keep fixing it. He told the people it was their problem, he had tried to help but no longer could.  The people felt sad about this, but did nothing. They were now back to the place where they had begun.

Representatives from the church diocese came, saw the problem and said they wanted to help. The diocese decided that what was really needed was a clinic at the foot of the mountain, so if someone fell they could get immediate medical care. The diocese then built a clinic, provided equipment, staff and drugs. The people were very happy that those who fell could now get immediate attention and not have to make the 10-kilometer drive to the other clinic.

This worked well for awhile, but eventually those working at the clinic wanted some time off so the clinic was left unattended. The people went to the diocese and complained about the poor service that the clinic was providing and said the diocese had to give them better care. The diocese put in extra staff to cover during the holidays.

Several times the clinic ran out of drugs and the people complained about the poor care the diocese was providing for them. The diocese ran low on money and had to stop some of their operations to conserve their money. They decided to stop staffing this clinic and providing drugs for it. They shut it down. The people were very angry with the diocese.

The people didn’t know what to do. The two ideas which outsiders had done for them, the ambulance and clinic, were no longer available and working. A respected man in the community said, “Let’s meet to talk about the real problem.”  They looked back at their original need, which was to somehow take care of those who fell off the path as they were traveling up and down the mountain from the village.  The two solutions helped somewhat, but there were problems with each solution.

As they talked, the respected man said, “I had an idea when we first talked about the problem, but no one would listen to me. The outsider was going to do everything for us for free. My idea would have taken some work and money on our part so no one was interested in what I had to offer.”

He then told them his idea, which was to build a fence along the trail to keep people from falling over the edge. It would take work on the part of the people to cut the wood for the fence and to put it up. It would take a little money to put the fence posts in cement so they would last longer.

The people responded with, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do it.”  So they raised the little money they needed and began to work. After several weeks the work was done.  Now, when someone slipped, the fence stopped them from falling over the edge to the valley below.  After a few years the wood began to rot, but instead of going to an outsider, they went and fixed the fence themselves.

Now, instead of looking to the outside for help, they began to look to their own community for solving the problem. This one project gave them confidence that they could do things for themselves. Now when someone from the outside came to give them something, they said “Thank you, but if we think it is important we will do it ourselves.


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