As a teaching assistant for four students from Northwestern University in Chicago, I facilitated a full-immersion, for-credit program in Newington C, Mpumalanga, South Africa. These students were tasked with designing tailor-made solutions with community members, over 8 weeks with $20.00 USD start-up capital. I was tasked with blending curriculum from an institution, the Global Engagement Studies Institute, and an organization, ThinkImpact's Innovator Guidebook. I facilitated 10 workshops and 6 activities including reflection sessions and debates to aid the students in identifying and building meaningful community relationships to enable inspiration, ideation, and implementation.
HOW I USED THIS METHOD
We lived with the people. Learned what it was like to live their lives. Learned how to carry out their daily tasks. Learned to adapt, adopt, and innovate. Immersion is so important for changing your mindset. It is literally walking a mile in someone else's shoes. Without full immersion, or training someone in the principles that is fully immersed, the process is not effective.
To fully understand the challenges of a single mother who has a husband working outside of the country, we lived with her. We washed clothes with her. We made sleeping mats with the grandmother. We collected wood for the fire. We washed clothes together. We carried water for bathing, washing, and cooking together. We learned to grow vegetables, tend livestock, and care for the children. We sold bread with her. We went to the market to buy uniforms. We understood where her time was spent, where her money was going, and what challenges would be the most effective in making her daily life easier.
WHAT I LEARNED
That sometimes cultural norms supersede common sense and that's okay. That it is important to sweat together, laugh together, cry together, work together, and learn together to really create innovative ideas and unbreakable relationships.