So said a young woman I met in Belgrade last week. Living with her own challenges, she gave me an insight into how diaconal work is not simply about fixing a problem but about building people up and giving them the belief and confidence in themselves.
As I traveled through Serbia to see the work of our member Philanthropy, I could see that the people I met valued the care and compassion given by Philanthropy as much as they valued the material support they received. Sitting with a group of older ladies who gather together to do traditional crafts I realised that as much as the group existed to keep such crafts ‘alive’ the real benefit of the group was the friendship and companionship that was developed through the group – it was all about community – and having that community made the ladies happier and ultimately, more positive about life. Seeing a new residence for homeless people being built demonstrated the commitment to creating community. Going with the home care team to visit some of their patients was another view on why companionship and community are so important. Going to see one older gentleman we found one of his neighbours already there, having brought him some food, and before we left, another neighbour turned up to see how he was doing. In another home, the love and affection between the carer and the client was palpable – this was not only a professional help but a friendship, a companion and a lifeline to a world the lady struggled to participate in physically. Meeting people who were learning about IT and as a result, being able to ‘match’ their grandchildren on social media made me so happy! Seeing the deep knowledge staff and volunteers had about the communities and the people they worked with showed that actually, their work was all about relationship – relationships with the community, with people who had needs and also with each other. But they created relationships – in community groups of women, in support groups for people living with HIV, in-home care and in their disaster relief work. They were all successful because of the relationship and because of that relationship people were proud of who they were, what they were doing and how they could use their confidence to help others. Amazing.
But I also learned about the difficulties of stereotypes and fear, of the inadequacy of pensions and social assistance, of widespread loneliness, of rural communities struggling to survive, of limited resources to provide essential social services and questions about sustainability. We can get tied down in looking at the politics of everything but sometimes we need to step back and see what is going on beneath it all – fractured or fracturing relationships. Fractured economics that does not ensure equal and fair distribution, fractured social systems that do not provide adequacy of income, fractured understandings of humanity where we see some people as having more value than others. It is this fracturing of relationships that can then cause us to have policies and actions which do not achieve well-being, enable people to reach their full potential and strengthen our societies.
Diaconia constantly goes against this trend, creating positive relationships and communities where people can thrive. Diaconia aims to restore relationships that have been fractured – whether they be personal or corporate. Diaconia is increasingly counter-cultural, pursuing community and solidarity rather than individualism and isolation. Diaconia is about making people feel proud of themselves for who they are and who they will become and releasing the potential in every one of us.