June 27, 2018

When Cultures Walk Together

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This blog was written by Learning Leader Bill de Jager who is working alongside co-leader Peter Meerveld with Belizean educators and leaders as part of the Developing Strategic Plans Walking Together project.

How do you prepare to deliver a strategic planning process (which you know everything about) to a group of Christian school leaders in Belize (who you know nothing about)?

Well, you open-mindedly walk into the world of schooling in Belize, experiencing first-hand the educational landscape. You remind yourself to deeply listen to lots of local stories; you continually request explanations and clarifications.

And why do you do this?

Because when you are invited by others in the global village to enter their culture, it’s imperative to walk in their world and to hear their stories first. It acknowledges that their world is worthwhile; their stories are valid; that you are prepared to learn from them.

And Peter did.  Our school visits prior to the conference were eye-opening experiences. (Just check out our first blog--When It Just So Happens.) Then the conference itself allowed Peter to hear powerful presentations from passionate and committed Belizean educational leaders.

Here’s what he heard:

“Sharing and coming together was not part of our culture. Now it is”

“Dream big! Make it happen. And continually protect that dream like a mother hen!”

“Our schools can flourish; let’s plant the correct seeds.”

“God uses difficulty for transformation.  It’s just like the song says: 'What if the trials of this life—the rain, the storms, the hardest nights—are your mercies in disguise?’”

Only then did Peter begin to offer a consideration of the strategic planning process developed in Canada. When he asked for input on their school's strengths and weaknesses, the wording of his responses reflected his respect and desire for deeper understanding of their story. The planning process and implementation would be Belizean-owned, rather than Canadian-imposed.

Listen to his responses:

“Explain that to me."

"Tell me more."

"I'm trying to get a sense of what I am hearing."

“Let me understand how that works here."

"Oh, that's how things work in Belize. Really?"

He was told that in Belize, it’s okay for individuals to ask for financial support but not institutions. That family brokenness alters parental responsibility, with their children’s inappropriate behavior invading schools and learning. That, at times, the school assumes the parental role that has been abdicated; the teachers do double duty and it’s draining. That the Belizean attitude of living day-to-day contrasts with the Canadian desire for long-term planning and the North American need for constant growth.

When two cultures respectfully walk together, hopefully the best of both worlds provides an improved Christian education for both Belize and Canada. 

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