- “Bit by bit you, will get the bunch.”
- “Step by step, you will get there.”
- “Little by little will fill the measure.”
- “Slowly, slowly you will reach the destination.”
- “Patience can cook a stone.”
- “Fast, fast does not bring any blessings.”
- “Just because one is in a hurry, does not mean he will be born before his father.”
(In Bantu languages, the repetition of words represents emphasis ... so “slowly, slowly” means “very, very slowly”)
This proverb, in its many forms, is one of the first things I had to learn in Africa, and I have had to re-learn it again and again in every country on the continent where I have visited or lived. These proverbs reveal a commonality of many cultures in Southern Africa. It emerges from a traditional way of life in which hasty decisions or actions can often lead to disaster and even death. The people of Southern Africa have learned to pause before speaking. To think before acting. To look before jumping. This is a cultural characteristic which has allowed people to live in harsh and unforgiving environments and circumstances for thousands of years.
As a Canadian living in Malawi, I have all too often found my expectations and my very character to be at odds with the “slowly-slowly” culture of this place. I chuckle when a government agent tells me that my papers will be completed “pongono, pongono,” but inside I am seething with impatience. I have learned to “sit and wait” while someone tries to find the person with a key to open up the store which contains the items I need to continue my work, but inside I am condemning the person for his inefficiency. I would like to say that I have learned to drive 30 km/hr without smoke coming out my ears... but I haven’t. I often comment to my wife that Malawi would be a great place to live if I didn’t have to do anything.
Although while I admit that in my personal life I have not really fully adopted this “little-by-little” culture, I have learned that it is imperative to respect this particular cultural aspect in our work with communities in Southern Africa. The development and transformation of communities is something which is best done “step by step.” Farmers in our food security programs have a learned tendency to adopt new practices “bit by bit.” A small change in farming practice which does not succeed can lead to famine, hunger, and even death. I have often been surprised by farmers who do not adopt a new practice even when they have seen it succeed the previous year. They have learned that farming methods must prove successful year after year if they are to survive. There is no crop insurance. There are no government safety nets.
Southern Africa is littered with the carcasses of well meaning projects that tried to “hurry hurry” the community development process. Tractors are rusting in unplowed fields. Wells no longer pump water. Cattle dips are overgrown with grass and weeds. These were great ideas that did not “wait wait” for all the “bits” to be in place so that the community was ready to embrace and own the change.
World Renew is committed to culturally appropriate development that works and will stand the test of time. We have been working with local partners in Southern Africa for more than twenty years. The communities we support have reached levels of food security that far surpass national averages in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. We are now ready to take the next “steps:” enhancing livelihoods and focusing on maternal and child health in these same communities.
As you travel this long journey with World Renew, let us not lose our impatience with poverty and suffering; but let us also not “hurry hurry” our response so that we fail to create lasting change.
“Be still (and then) know that I am God.” - Psalm 46:10
Photo top: The treadle pump is a great example of a “slowly slowly” technology for farmers in Southern Africa. World Renew has introduced treadle pumps because they are cheap, easy to maintain and easy to move. Just the thing the farmer groups in Southern Africa need to plant crops in the long dry season. Photo courtesy Gloria Switzer