Unity is Strength

                Hawa, Saadah, and I finished eating our dinner of TZ and meat soup. Saadah rose to start washing dishes, and I offered to help her rinse and dry. We washed in unison, forming an effective assembly line. Hawa soon joined us, taking the start of the line as the pot-scrubber. “We are working communal”, Saadah pointed out, and it made the whole process a lot more enjoyable.

                I remember in my predeparture training in Toronto having a session about mindsets and worldviews. We spoke about how some cultures are individualistic, while others are communal. It was pretty obvious that Canadian and other Western cultures were very individualistic, and we were told to expect to find much more communal ways of thinking during our placements.

                I have seen this community-focused thinking on many different occasions over my time in Ghana. It is evident in the ways families operate and children are raised, the way meals are eaten, and the way people prioritize conversations and people over work and productivity. One obvious example of this mindset in action is the concept of “communal labour”. Around this time of year, everyone has lots of work to get done on their farm – whether weeding, planting, or harvesting. Rather than spending weeks trying to accomplish it on your own, or even hiring others to do it for you, farmers will simply call their “communal labour”. They let their family, friends, and neighbours know which day it is, and dozens of people will set aside that day to come help you with your farm, finishing the entirety of the work in one day. The kicker is that it is free! The farm owner simply provides lunch.

                However, it is expected that when each of those other farmers calls their “communal labour”, you will go to assist them. The result is two to four weeks of back-to-back communal labours, reaching to almost every farmer in town. Everyone’s work gets completed, but in a manner which exemplifies values of generosity, friendship, and community. I think it’s quite the brilliant system.

                The wives and I finished the dishes in no time, and I pointed out how fast it felt. “Unity is strength”, Saadah responded, “isn’t that so?”. “Yes, it is so”, I answered, amazed at this deep mindset of Ghanaians and wishing there was more of it back home.


Saadah and I on her wedding day!


4 responses to “Unity is Strength

  1. Hi Naomi! Interesting, this past Sunday, COTR’s sermon was on unity 🙂 We were reading Psalm 133.
    My family in Chitipa also had this system set up to harvest their maize. My Mother was over 70 though, so she never contributed to this, she only got help from everyone else. Malawians respect the older people, I can only speculate why, but regardless, it’s something else I think we need to learn in ‘the West’.

  2. Psalm 133

    A song of ascents. Of David.

    1 How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!
    2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
    running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
    3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
    For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

  3. Hey Naomi,
    loved this entry. 🙂 I think that eastern and developing nations have totally “got” a godly principle that for the most part, we in the west have rejected, to our own detriment. During my year in north China (20+ years ago), I was also struck by the “we” mentality, and often thought how in this aspect, the Chinese were much closer to the Biblical model we see in the Book of Acts than is the western Church, REGRETTABLY! Perhaps the one place where we still see a strong expression of community in North America is amongst the Mennonites ~ just witness their barn-raisings, where all of the community comes together to build one family a big new barn ~ with so many hands, and so much manpower, the job gets done ~ in a day!

  4. Hey Naomi, it was interesting that you touched on this. Personally, I think there are strengths in both individualistic and communal cultures. The most important thing is to embrace both and have an open mind so that we can take an advantage of each type to make our life better. “Communal labour” just benefits everyone in Ghana, doesn’t it? 😉

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