By Will O'Brien
I had been in Egypt for all of 26 hours as I shuffled back to my office dripping. My right shoe, sock, and pant leg were quite visibly soaked below the mid-calf.
Working at an international NGO within weeks of graduating from college was my definition of living the dream — a definition I likely share with many twenty-two-year-old overachieving do-gooders of the world courageously deferring college loans for the promise of adventure and the hope of filling that second page of their C.V.
Sitting in my office, attempting to shield my right leg behind my desk, I recalled the first day of Global Ministries’ training conference nine months earlier. Jim Moos, one of the GlobalMinistries Co-Executives discussed the amount of abandoned farm equipment he had seen over the course of his work with Global Ministries — “development relics.”
These relics are a common sight in the developing world, and are often the result of organizations that are less concerned with sustainable development practices than Global Ministries and its partners. Who knew the efforts of a handful of church organizations were still creating relics?
These development relics include countless empty schools, abandoned hospitals, and dried-up wells, in addition to the copious farm equipment. Tractors and combines that nobody owns, that are expensive to fix, or that need fuel that can’t be found within 40 miles.
Effective development requires faith-based organizations to go beyond their own experiences and places decision-making power in the hands of the people being helped. Efforts to limit the creation of development relics requires daily vigilance on the part of everyone involved.
This vigilance reaches from community leaders who must communicate what is best for their communities all the way to international foundations, grant-giving organizations, and investors who fund these efforts.
Within a day of arriving in Egypt my concern about the creation of development relics was moved to the back burner. I was more concerned with daily life in a foreign country — practicing my Arabic, finding a grocery store that had peanut butter, and convincing a taxi driver to turn on the meter.
I knew functioning in a different culture would create some awkward situations. What I had not expected was this; the inability to maneuver mundane, everyday tasks to the point where I was creating a slipping hazard that demanded a “CAUTION: WET FLOOR” sign.
It seemed that in my attempt to perform a simple task — in this instance flushing the toilet — I failed quite handily. The sleek, stylish, hidden button escaped my notice. What I noticed instead was the small knob that operated the bidet. The rush of water spraying out from under the lid in all directions took a number of casualties — namely everything in the stall within 16 inches of the floor.
I managed to limit the development relics on my first day of work to one — my dignity. I left it somewhere between office 211 and the restroom on the second floor of a modern office building in Heliopolis. The relic sits there in memory, paying homage to the twenty-two-year-old, overachieving do-gooder who couldn’t operate a toilet.
Will O’Brien is a member of Union Avenue Christian Church serving with Global Ministries in Egypt. Thanks to Julia O’Brien for the photograph.