More Than Good Intentions

“They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill.”

  • Edmund Burke

There are many opportunities in the world of aid work for good intentions to have negative effects. Give everyone in a vulnerable population a pair of free shoes, for example, and before you know it you’ve bankrupted the local cobbler. Bring in a western-style agricultural program, and you might just discover that local resources won’t support it and you’ve created a cycle of dependence.

That’s why we at SIL LEAD take very seriously our mission as a faith-based nonprofit to help local, community-based organizations use their own languages to improve their quality of life.

It isn’t that we believe we’ve figured out the best way to do things. It’s that we are aware that the only way we’re going to be able to effectively plug in and help meet the diverse needs of people around the world is if we engage those people in the process. Who knows better what the inhabitants of a small village in Thailand need than the inhabitants of a small village in Thailand? Who better to make a plan for the future of Madagascar than the people of Madagascar?

But what of the language communities that are not part of the dominant culture of their given countries? There are times when a lack of education and the marginalization of these smaller language communities means that their valuable voices cannot be heard.

We are grateful, therefore, for the opportunity to listen to what people in these marginalized communities are telling us is important to them, and then to step back and do what we can to enable them as they shape their own futures. More specifically, we are excited today to be able to tell you that, thanks to the generosity of SIL LEAD’s friends and supporters, we’ve raised the funds we need to help launch the  Community Based Language Development projects we announced back in November of last year, during our first ever #GivingTuesday drive.

Although a few elements of this initiative have changed since November, we’re thrilled to announce that the following projects are nearing launch:

  • In Pakistan, Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (the Institute for Education and Development) in the Torwali community is hoping to start as soon as possible on their creative program to promote local language and cultural heritage. This cross-generational effort will engage children and adults in literature festivals to produce animated comics based on selected folktales and poetry.  In cooperation with local media companies, these Torwali language materials will be distributed through social media, cell phone apps and local cable TV stations.

  • In March, the awardee in India is bringing together speakers from ten language communities in a series of workshops to produce bilingual dictionaries and websites. They will use software that makes it easy to publish in digital and print formats in each of the ten languages represented.  These bilingual resources will standardize spelling and terminology for writing original materials and for translating works published in the national and state languages.  

  • Also starting in March, an association of indigenous churches in Peru (FAIENAP) will begin training local facilitators to produce vernacular materials and form reading clubs for newly literate youth and adults.  Representatives from 16 different indigenous language communities scattered throughout the Amazon region will learn how to establish reading clubs in their villages. They will also revise local language publications and produce new books, games, and recreational materials to attract and engage new readers.  

  • The Language and Social Development Organization (LSDO) in Myanmar is preparing to launch their two-year project on May 1st. They will build the capacity of trainee teachers and local writers from three minority language groups. This project aims to produce 80 culturally relevant books and a number of interactive games and learning tools. The newly trained teachers will use these resources in mother tongue literacy classes. This will enable primary school students to begin their education in the languages they understand and speak.

Learning Circle facilitator Tin Tin Myint leads a session in Myanmar.

Learning Circle facilitator Tin Tin Myint leads a session in Myanmar.

These community based organizations are focused on benefiting the lives of today’s language speakers and setting a stronger foundation for future generations.

It is perhaps the glib aphorism of a modern, self-help mentality to say that “true change comes within,” but in the case of larger cultural change this has been born out time and time again. By going directly to the people we wish to serve and engaging with the directives that their community organizations provide, we have the best possible chance of helping them to even out the playing field so that their voices, too, may be heard.