What kind of future do you want for your children?
In 1975, while in Malawi, my fellow Canadian, Rick Sutton and I would hang out with a Roman Catholic priest from Edmonton, Alberta. Father Conor Kennedy was originally from Ireland but he hung out with the Canadian CUSO (now VSO) crowd. Rick and I were teaching high school in Nsanje, Malawi through CUSO's auspices. Rick and I had these in-depth discussions about third world development. Rick grew up in the tougher neighbourhoods of Vancouver. I was a country boy from southern Ontario. We sometimes had divergent opinions but common Canadian ideals of what development meant and did.
Father Conor Kennedy had a strong influence on those debates. We would share our CUSO discussions about how to make third world development work. Conor got CUSO funds and support regularly for his parish projects, not because it was Christian or faith-based but because he did some really good development work in his rural community in Malawi. Conor sponsored some primary schools that worked with the simplest of materials but opened doors to children without means for an education.
Conor has a Masters degree in Adult Education (from the University of Alberta, I believe). So when he talked, we listened.
In one of those conversations, Conor said something that has always stayed with me as the most revolutionary concept of what sparks and maintains development. Rick and I were talking about the difficulty of identifying and starting good development projects particularly in the oppressive and manipulative one-party state that Malawi had evolved to.
Conor listened to the conundrums of teachers who were paid by and working for the government and then responded with his solution. Conor had set up parent councils with the schools he was sponsoring. He said: " I just ask my parents what kind of future do they want for their children? Out of that conversation comes the simplest ideas for starting change in a community. We do those projects first and we keep revisiting that question to move onto the longer term, more complex projects."
Conor pointed out the powerful impulses created out of launching that perspective on development projects for the local community. How hard will parents work for the future of their children? Where does the local politician and the tribal chief want to be on those projects? Running to the front to be seen bringing value to the projects. Corruption? You might get away with stealing from me but don't steal from my children. The ferocity of mothers defending their children is not to be trifled with.
We have stopped asking that question about rural development in rural Canada. We have trouble asking that question at the international and national stage when nations and companies invest, invade and defend their futures based on their self-interests.
What kind of future do you want for your children? What kind of future do you want for our children?
Back to Father Conor Kennedy. He still serves in Malawi with the Roman Catholic Church in the Dedze district. During the civil war in Mozambique, his parish was overwhelmed by refugees fleeing to Malawi for safety.
Before you brush off the Christian overtones of this man's work, read this from his days of sponsoring rugby in Edmonton. Conor is a Honorary Life Member, Edmonton Rugby Football Club.
A final word from Conor, where a lifetime in making development happen is summed up in these words:
"Integral Christianity, integral spirituality means ministry to body and soul. You can't divorce religion from the lives of the people. No way. Isaiah said that true religion in the sight of God is to look after widows and orphans. On the final exam, as I understand the Scriptures, we'll be evaluated on one issue: "I was hungry and you gave me to eat." If we don't score well on that issue we'll fail. Feeding people who are hungry is an absolute essential of the Christian church. Christ himself fed five thousand when they were hungry - and they were only missing an evening meal. We have to integrate development with our preaching. We must show that we're active in our Christianity and not just verbal. We must link religion and daily life and not just religion and Sunday worship."