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Messy Meetings

Our big Wakonye Kenwa meetings always make me a bit anxious. The trickiest part comes before the meeting even starts. Unable to kick my western habit, I always arrive on time. After about 20-25 minutes, your early birds arrive. After 45 minutes its time to start guessing whether you will get enough people for the set agenda. If the goal is to pick your next big community issue to tackle, but you only get 8 people, it won’t feel legitimate…better to turn the meeting into something else. The next task is to gauge when to get the meeting started. Are more people on their way? If we delay will we lose people’s interest? When the meeting actually starts, I breathe and feel the stress slipping away.

On paper, our community organizing group has 43 members. At any big monthly meeting, we usually get between 15-25 people. Interestingly, the people that come are not the same people every time. Whats going on? Its an important question. Why is it so hard to get consistent turn up? Do people just not care enough? Is our meeting at the wrong time of day?

At first I assumed it is hard to get our members to meet for the same reason it’s hard to hold a community meeting. That is, people are used to being paid to attend meetings or at least receive a soda and a meal. We don’t give soda, therefore our meetings are unattractive. I’ve since realized I was wrong. I underestimated our members. Most of them get it. Unlike the wider community, they know what we are here for, and what we can achieve. So why is it so hard to meet together?

Here are five top factors, from my observation (in no particular order):

  • The reality is, people die here much more often than in NZ. In Acholi culture, if you are connected in any way, whether you knew the deceased or not, you are expected to attend the burial. If you live nearby, you should go. If you know any relative of the deceased, you should go. Lacor where we live is small enough that people are very connected, but big enough that there are frequent funerals. Almost every meeting, several people will be attending a burial.

  • Patient ‘attendants’. If you go to hospital in NZ, hospital staff will bring you food, change your sheets, and bring you your drugs. That’s not how it works here. You need to bring a friend/relative to do all that for you- to be your ‘attendant.’ Being an attendant is a full time job. Again, people get sick here way more than in NZ. The kind of people we get at our meetings are the responsible types that often get the job of attending the sick relative.

  • Almost everybody that lives in Lacor farms, at least part time. However, its common for people’s family farm land to be far away. Those that rent land also often choose far away land, which is often cheaper AND more fertile. Therefore, trips to the far away village to farm are frequent!

  • Life logistics. When you don’t have running water, life simply takes longer. Washing clothes, washing dishes, fetching water, cooking, walking to the market everyday for food (no fridges). Throw in childcare (most women have small babies). Sometimes the logistics of managing to complete all these tasks before it gets too dark prevents people from making it.

  • The unknown timing of any other events Last week we attended a friend’s child’s kindergarten It was scheduled to start at 8am. It started at 11:40, and finished at 4:45. Family meetings, community events, parent-teaching meetings…its pretty hard to predict the start and finish time. Therefore any other important meeting or event on the same day as our meeting can prevent members coming.


  • To sum up, life is difficult and unpredictable!