The third underlying principle that we’ve been working with in Samoa is to start with what we do have, then move outwards, to that which we don’t have but that we want. It’s based on a biblical principle found in Exodus 7:9, and also in many other places, where Moses and Aaron did in faith what God had told them to do; take what Aaron had in his hand, then use it in faith and let the Lord do the magic.
The idea that we just use what we have may sound pretty much common sense, but it’s very hard to apply in practice, especially in the Western consumer-driven, me-me-me, now-now-now generation where we can get virtually anything we want on credit, and there is now no real need to wait. I laughed when KFC opened a new branch in Hamilton recently and as one blogger quipped “they queued up for half an hour for ‘fast food‘!” Cute.
[Pic: Butchered cow being cut up and distributed. Neighbours had a funeral and a burial next door. A dead cow arrived. This has a certain value which is all calulated and distributed as the Matai (Chief) determines. People bring what they have.]
But the temptation is always to look beyond our current situation and outside of ourselves to a thing or a solution that is somewhere else. Mother Teresa taught the idea that you just use what you have in faith when she just did what she could for those around her. She changed the world as a result. Jesus too just gave what He had and the world was never the same either.
Stopping for the one – just attending to the needs of the one in front of us is a core principle of Rolland and Heidi Baker’s Iris Ministries in Mozambique and the magic woven through their work is truly amazing. I have friends who have also sold all to work in the dust and dirt of the African heat with these guys, and while they come back for a sanity break at times, they went with nothing but themselves and every fibre in their body shows the love and determination to touch people who really need hope and help, just using what they have.
It wasn’t and isn’t some big-shot, smart-talking experts from overseas that achieved the work, it was people contributing with the resources they had available to them at the time that achieved and in both cases I mention, continues to achieve.
When I first came to Samoa, I was known back home as a relatively generous person. I didn’t overly focus on gaining wealth, especially not for myself. I did quite a bit of charity work using what I did have (a web design company) for the benefit of many churches, charities and worthy causes, and I put my own money where my mouth was and backed quite a few projects that I believed in and some that I set up myself. So in some ways you would expect that I, of all people, would naturally fit in with a people that are a naturally sharing people.
But the experiences I gained in the first few weeks in Samoa touched me at a deeper level than I expected. I’ve watched too as other Palagi have come here and been touched. Some of the tears from departing Habitat for Humanity volunteers as they left showed the deep challenge that Samoa and the genuine Samoan hospitality and friendliness has for the rest of us who have been brought up, lived and indoctrinated by the consumer-society.
People who had come to give, thinking that they could do something to help (again using what they did have – building skills) went away by the dozens saying that they had received many times more than they had given, simply because their Samoan hosts who basically nothing, had given everything that they did have. The footnote* details how it affected me personally.
One of the magical experiences for a Palagi visitor to Samoa is to be the recipient of a communally cooked evening meal, or on a Sunday, the To’onai lunch. To see a spread of bowls containing anything from six to twenty different bowls of food, fish, taro, yams, coconut foods, canned meat, chicken (wild Samoan Chicken and imported meat) and even pig, when a few hours before there was little more than a packet of salt in the cupboard and a few boys with machetes, sticks and canoes is really a sight to behold.
Of course in a communally based primarily subsistence culture, sharing of foods and duties and responsibilities is not only wise – it is essential. A bag of rice, which in the Western world would be stretched over a month or two in one family would be gone in one hour in Samoa as the entire extended family, and sometimes village would swoop and partake.
The next day however, and the next day, and the next day, food will be arriving like clockwork as others shared what they had with others around them. There are no refrigerators in most houses. There is no need for them when you share like this.
The key point for this principle however is not the sharing – yes we’ll deal with that another time – the key point is that people are giving from WHAT THEY HAVE. In Samoa there is no choice in the matter. Many cannot go to the shop to buy from a plethora of brands and options. They may not have money, and when they do have money the shops only really carry one brand and only the products that everyone here knows and wants. Forget mushrooms, broccoli, or courgettes. We have only carrots, tomatoes and onions.
So the teamwork (T.ogether E.veryone A.chieves M.ore) of the Samoan culture combined with the practicalities and cultural norms forces us to use what we have, in our hands, today and pushes out the pretentious, consumerism, one-upmanship of having or using or showing off the latest “toy, gismo or fad”.
On first arrival here it is enormously frustrating for Palagi to HAVE to put up with less and just work with what we have in our hands. I know this very well, as I’ve struggled and struggled with losing all my assets such as construction tools and household gismos and so on. I’ve also had to just accept that construction must continue with handtools only for a day, or two or three because the power is off EVERY day for the best part of a week, and the skillsaw and dropsaw and electric concrete mixer don’t work without power. I’ve spent many hours driving backward and forward to multiple construction supply companies trying to find out how they do things over here because they don’t have the BOWMAC fittings or the electrical fittings or whatever that were always in my hands back home!
The principle again: We use what we have in our hands.
Another way of thinking about this is “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. I spent hours and lots of money designing and preparing for a lovely well designed cyclone-proof unit for installation into villages here only to find on arrival that there were cheaper, better materials and designs that suited the local conditions. Rather than bringing in overseas technology and ideas, it was far better to work with what we had here (local knowledge), and bring in what WE had better, which was a greater understanding of what could be done with those materials and local designs.
So we apply this principle to a general business model – and the objective to build Samoan toursim post-Tsunami through Internet Marketing, Social Media and working with other businesses. We know that there are thousands of people who would LOVE to help Samoa, IF ONLY THEY KNEW HOW TO, and IF ONLY THEY COULD USE THEIR OWN SKILLS and expertise and interests and resources.
We want people to bring what they have, and use what they have to help. This is the Samoan way – “just bring what you can and give it to the party! It’ll be OK!” And it always is!
In my own case I was floored and felt totally out of kilter when I found myself unable (for quite some time) to DO anything. I am a DOer. I am multi-talented and able to turn my hand to many things – construction, design, team motivation, visionary, planning, project management, music, technical and more. Without getting too spiritual or deep on this, I know now that it is my one and only role to lead the team by sharing the vision. And that’s it! That’s my role in life – think, pray, type and talk! Wow!
The day I lift my hand to drive a digger, is that day that we’ve lost the plot.
It’s not that I can’t do a great job behind the controls of a digger – I can. It’s not that I can’t do a bit of digging AND vision-setting. It is that I deny someone else the opportunity to give, when I butt in and do what someone else would love to give to the team. You see, there is bound to be one digger driver possibly a Samoan who would love nothing more than to have an excuse to return to his homeland to help out for a while and make a difference to his motherland. When we let HIM give of what HE has to offer, he has increased meaning and purpose in his life, and feels part of the team.
This idea of using what we have is deeply contrary to standard Western thinking. I remember the pain in the Habitat for Humanity’s CEO’s eyes as he shared about having to pull out of Samoa early, and not being welcomed into Rarotonga after the Tsunami. Samoa wanted to get the job done – fast – and they could do that with local labour (using what they had) and even though the local construction standards were not a patch on Habitat’s high quality Palagi construction methods, Samoa just wanted to use what they had to do it their way. Same thing with Tonga. They just wanted to use the local boys to do the job – they had the builders and labourers there itching to do the work, so the guys fronm offshore, basically weren’t wanted. Thanks but no thanks!
What is needed in these situations is the understanding that when we all use what we’ve got, in our hands, today, in faith – Ahhhhh, then things truly hum!
Our volunteer programmes and investment opportunities and businesses will be targeted toward helping people come, give and share what THEY want to – not what WE want them to do for us.
This is the heart of the modern Internet driven business renaissance – where the consumer, the customer, is the decision-maker. Creating systems where they can bring and give and participate in their own preferred manner. It’s a Samoan value and it’s a biblical value too that we share.
- Barter – exchange – collaborative commerce – whatever you want to call it, the principle we are working with is that of exchanging and sharing the assets of two parties, for the benefit of both.
- It’s not about money. It’s about people; sharing a vision and building relationships.
- Use what we have in our hands (exercising faith), as instructed to do (obedience).
Experiencing a generous, giving culture that had comparatively nothing but gave everything, opened me up like a can of sardines. At a personal level what I believe was the last strand of the chord of “mammon” was broken at that point and from there, I was privileged to experience a series of encounters, visions, revelations, and insights that set me on my current course. It was life changing.
The Fourteen Principles:
- 1. What’s yours is mine
- 2. Vision > relationships > money
- 3. Use what you have
- 4. Use only the Best
- 5. Take Nothing Home
- 6. Giver’s Gain
- 7. Cross Cultural Partnership
- 8. Financial Equivalence
- 9. Everyone loves a winner
- 10. A biblical value-base
- 11. Work Smarter, Not Harder
- 12. We should empower others
- 13. Do The Right Thing
- 14. Walk the land