Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Mission and Structure of Hands

The question we most often receive surrounds what Hands at Work does and what its purpose/vision is. We now realize that, in our initial attempts to answer this question, we really didn’t do it any justice. To some, this may be a boring or dry read but we felt it prudent to include on our blog. Why? Because the heart and vision of Hands is at the very core of why we are here and so incredibly fundamental to what it does. It would be a disservice to those that have participated and are invested in us being here not to explain it.

The Hands Mission (straight from the Hands at Work website):
Hands envisions the local Church in Africa effectively caring for the dying, orphans and widows, and unified in this mission with the Church outside Africa.

Its mission is to, through relationship with the local Church in Africa, challenge, encourage, develop and support the ministry of servanthood among those in need in their community through the replication of the Hands at Work community intervention model.

Everything that Hands does serves to fulfill this mandate. Below, is a summary of how Hands puts this into practice.

Step 1 – Identifying the Poorest of the Poor Communities
Hands is deeply committed to identifying and aiding the poorest of the poor. Hands will do an internal assessment to identify communities within the 8 countries that meet the criteria of the poorest of the poor.

Step 2 – Identifying the Poorest of the Poor Individuals and the Mother Teresa
Once a community has been identified, Hands will send local individuals that it has partnered with to walk the community and to speak with the locals.  This includes everyone from children to mothers to grandmothers to pastors in order to understand their stories and their needs and to identify which individuals within that community are really the poorest of the poor. While this does include those that are living in the worst physical living conditions, Hands is really seeking to identify the most vulnerable and wounded children which, on the surface, may include those living in relatively affluent situations. During these conversations, the locals also help identify a “Mother Teresa” – a local individual who is widely recognized as someone deeply committed and has already demonstrated an ability to care for the orphaned and vulnerable children within her community.

Step 3 – Rallying the Local Church
Numerous churches exist within each community throughout Africa. Despite this, the needs of the orphaned and vulnerable remain largely ignored. In order to rally the local church, Hands identifies a “Man of Peace” – a well-respected leader within the community that identifies with Hands’ mission and vision.  This Man of Peace aids Hands in bringing together the local church leaders and pastors.

Step 4 – The Meeting
The local church leaders and pastors, together with their wives, attend a meeting where Hands representatives and the Mother Teresa tell the stories of those they seek to serve. These church leaders and pastors are then called out and challenged with the biblical mandate to serve and care for the poor, the orphaned and the widowed. At this point, the response is often varied. Some walk out of the room. Others stay. Deeply affected by these stories, it is often the wives that spur their husbands to respond.

Step 5 – Mobilizing the Local Church
The local church leaders and pastors committed to aiding Hands go back to their local church to create awareness and raise support. The congregation, often made up of poor individuals in their own right, comes together and contributes in any way they can. 

Step 6 – Forming a Community Based Organization
Backed by the support of the local church, a registered charity is formed by a collection of local individuals committed and devoted to reaching the most vulnerable children in their community (Careworkers). In South Africa, virtually all Careworkers are women.  Often, the Careworkers come from broken backgrounds and are deeply wounded themselves. But because these women have lived out the stories themselves, they are able to reach and relate to vulnerable children in ways that we simply cannot. Despite not receiving any financial compensation for their time and energy, the Careworkers are devoted to changing the future of their community. These newly formed organizations are referred to as Community Based Organizations (CBOs).

Step 7 – Service Centers
Service Centers are comprised of local leaders that Hands has invested in and partnered with (Coordinators). Although many Careworkers possess an amazing amount of compassion and dedication, they often lack the necessary knowledge and capacity to carry out their roles in the most effective way. Service Centers are created to counsel, mentor and support the Careworkers and the CBOs within a certain region and to journey through life and faith with them. Ideally, several different CBOs will be set up throughout any one community (the communities in Africa are quite large in geographical area).

Step 8 – Regional Support Teams
A Regional Support Team (RST) is comprised of leaders and volunteers within the Hands organization. Its role is to counsel, mentor and support the Coordinators and Service Centers within its region. Currently, there are 4 RSTs within Hands – 1 in Nigeria, 1 for the DRC, Malawi and Zambia, 1 for Mozambique and Zimbabwe and 1 for South Africa and Swaziland.

Step 9 – the Hub
The Hub is the essentially the head office in South Africa. It serves as a base for all Hands at Work volunteers and workers and is responsible for coordinating the RSTs, amongst many other things.

Step 10 – the International Church
Hands is set up internationally in 5 different countries – Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Australia. These international offices coordinate with churches in their local countries to partner with and support Hands.

The most important thing to take away from this structure is the emphasis on local community ownership. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it cannot be emphasized enough how imperative the local community and its individuals are to what Hands does. Hands is merely the support structure. It is the local people that take the lead and it is truly their dedication and commitment that enables them to be difference-makers in their community. The ultimate goal is that each CBO will eventually graduate to become completely independent of Hands and fully self-sufficient. I (Byron) remember fondly Hands’ partnership with one-such CBO, Masoyi Home Based Care, from 4 years ago. Today, Masoyi Home Based Care is fully functional as an independent organization. Through God’s amazing work, many more will follow!

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