Building Trust with People in Extreme Poverty

Building Trust with People in Extreme Poverty

In order to stand alongside people living in extreme poverty, members of the ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps maintain a regular presence among those individuals and their families.

This article reveals the challenges faced by Shahidi Muhigirwa Muharabu and the solutions he devised with Annociata M’Kachiko, a member of the Families in Solidarity group in Burhiba (Bukavu) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By Shahidi Muhigirwa Muharabu, a member of the ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps.

Missing an appointment may seem a trivial matter. However, there are times when failing to show up can have disastrous consequences. In this article, I explain how, in 2022, a missed appointment with Annociata M’Kachiko shook her trust in me. I then describe the steps we took to rebuild our relationship.

Building relationships of trust

Home visits are special occasions that offer us unique opportunities to establish strong relationships with families living in extreme poverty. Through these meetings we achieve a better understanding of the realities experienced by each individual. These visits are greatly anticipated and can be complicated, as Annociata’s story shows. There are times when not everything goes as planned. Lessons can be learned from these setbacks, even when they end in disappointment.

Commitment and respect

Every Wednesday I would visit at least three families, which required time and a sense of commitment. During these home visits, members of the Volunteer Corps grow closer to the families. These are the times when they share their joys, sufferings and hopes, and tell us about their daily lives. Each visit is seen as a special occasion: evidence of respect towards the family and the importance that members of the Volunteer Corps attach to such visits.

The missed appointment

On the Wednesday of my eagerly-anticipated meeting with Annociata and the other three families, I got up at 6 in the morning to meet Papa Emile, a member of the Families in Solidarity group who was coming with me. I was looking forward to a number of fruitful conversations.

However, the route to Annociata’s house was complicated, and we got lost. Tired from the long walk and unsure which way to go, we decided to return home.

A short time after we had parted company, Papa Emile bumped into Annociata, who had set out to meet us on a different path from ours. It immediately became clear to him that the missed meeting had shaken her trust in us.

Regaining lost trust

Despite what had happened, we still managed to make another appointment the following week. This time we prepared our route more carefully. To reach Annociatia we would need to walk 7 km uphill, and then follow a downhill path.

On the day of our second appointment, we made it to Annonciata’s home. Our reunion, however, was rather tense. Annonciata wanted to know why we hadn’t turned up the previous week.

“What are you doing here? And where are you coming from anyway?” she asked.

These words expressed her disappointment and distrust. Because we had failed to turn up the first time she was feeling disrespected. We were able to talk about this openly. I acknowledged that the missed visit had shattered her trust in me and deeply affected our relationship.

“I felt so joyful and respected when we arranged that visit, but sadly you completely let me down,” she told me.

Understanding expectations and rebuilding trust

It took time and empathetic listening before Annonciata trusted me again. Between us, we agreed to keep on talking as a means of rebuilding our bond of trust. Our next meeting was crucially important. Annonciata was able to speak to me openly about her situation and describe the health problems she was facing.

Annonciata’s reactions underlined the fact that these visits provide opportunities to build strong human relationships and to understand any accompanying difficulties and expectations.

During these meetings, families share what they experience and how they feel. By listening to them, we learn how to stand strong in the face of social injustice. In order to gain the families’ trust and ensure their emotional security, our behaviour must be conscientious and fully engaged. Missing an appointment creates uncertainty and stress, adding to everything else they endure each day.

Each of these visits teaches us the path we must follow in our efforts to overcome poverty and build a more just and peaceful future.

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