Women in Malawi empowered; making tomato sauce for the lean timesThe phrase “e pluribus unum,” Latin for “out of many, one,” does not, as many believe, originate from the seal of the United States created in 1776. Though the concept of a diverse collection working in harmony for a shared goal applies to the foundational principals of the Great Experiment of democracy, it was applied to a more immediate, practical need when it first appeared in roughly 45 B.C in a work by the poet Virgil: as part of a recipe for the ancient equivalent of pesto sauce. Compatible ingredients, when combined, make something new. Out of many, one.

There is no set recipe for empowerment. Preparation is a matter of surveying available components, then carefully pairing them to ensure the elements included enhance and clarify the role of everything in the mix — highlighting strengths, shading nuances and working together to create something new.

Setting the Table

When partners from an Outreach-affiliated community in Malawi considered how to best serve their nutritional needs during annual rainy seasons, they identified a three-course remedy: First, to organize and implement fertilizer-making initiative by combining animal waste, sand and other locally available, organic materials, partners could create a steady supply of nutrient-rich benefit for their plans’ second stage and centerpiece: small homestead gardens for families that can be densely planted and easily maintained, producing crops in drier times of year.

As with any feast, there were leftovers to consider. The third course of action identified by the group was to ensure that the fruits of their labor could keep everyone fed before the next planting season. Tomatoes thrive in Malawi’s ample sunshine and rich soil, but just like tomatoes everywhere, once plucked, have a limited window of edibility. In order to keep their pantry shelves stocked, their harvests needed a longer shelf-life. Instead of tomato loss, who’s hungry for tomato sauce??

If community meetings are a melting pot, the ideas generated there help set the table for success. After that, it’s a matter of having a seat, and digging in.

The Dinner Party

With our introductory socializing concluded, let’s get a little more formal.

The procedural specifics of an Outreach-facilitated community meeting highlight the sincerity and structure that helps partners evolve their understanding, and empower the actions they take to reach their shared goals. We don’t often detail these mechanics, so consider it Today’s Special.

This particular meeting began with an opening prayer, followed by some jostling as the 50 local attendees found their seats. Roles were assigned: One person to keep time, and another to record the minutes for later review (and submission to Outreach Field folks at HQ). After reading a summary of the previous meetings’ activities, the group was asked to state, in their own words, the rationale for that day’s gathering, followed by a review of the larger, long-term objectives that provide the framework for all the community projects currently underway.

It’s important to note that Kelvin, the Outreach Malawi staff member on site for this gathering, served as the meeting’s facilitator, not an authority figure or group leader. If the community members serve as the ingredients, utensils and cooks, Kelvin is a cabinet stocked with supplies, if needed. His written report of the meeting has bullet points that include things like “Let the members outline/ explain the process/ procedures used when making tomato sauce.” Similar to a sous-chef, his job is to provide a framework for successful collaboration, not to ever tell anyone what to do.

So: Community members were then invited to outline the necessary materials for that day’s activity to the rest of the group, followed by a community-led demonstration for the assembled crowd on the specifics of making a batch of tomato sauce.

When Kelvin dropped the first tomato into the boiling pot, he did so after highlighting the importance of selecting a ripe tomato and first cleaning it in cold water. During the ten minutes it sat simmering, he explained that this step was intended to loosen the tomato’s skin, which he then proved by peeling it by hand once it was ready. Along with the instructive benefit of explaining the mechanical function of each step, Kelvin carefully contextualized his every move, so by meeting’s end, the community had an understanding of the process, and the rationale for following it as described. Here’s what this is, here’s what this does, here’s why we’re doing this; here, now you give it a try.

A few steps later, after all the other ingredients were added, stirred, poured and sealed with lids in sterilized jars, the world welcomed 50 new tomato sauce-making experts into its ranks. it’s fitting that the menu for this year’s rainy season offers new, mouth-watering options.

Complements to the Chefs

As if there wasn’t enough thoughtful care on display in Kelvin’s written report of the meeting, the minutes final bullet point reads only, “Let the members appreciate the product.” Here, have a taste.

The meeting concluded with a summary of what had just been covered, a shared reflection of the time they had just spent together, and a closing prayer, before partners returned home to digest their new knowledge.

A less-deliberate procedure might have led to a moderately successful result, but Outreach-facilitated community meetings’ objectives are always more ambitious than explaining a single task, it’s about building an understanding in a context where new insights and skills have a clear function in service of reaching a stated goal. The result benefits individuals, as well as the community of which they are a part, and the world we all share.

Like a jar of tomato sauce or the motto of an idealistic, upstart nation, preparation ensures preservation, in practice. The cooking lesson offered community partners another taste of success with a hint of the fulfillment to come, served as part of a balanced diet of purpose and reflection. Empowerment is an all-you-can-eat buffet where no one sits alone.

Dreams, goals, plans, actions. Out of many, one.

How to Help

This is just a nibble of the flavorful symphony cooked up by Outreach’s world-class staff, community partners and supporters. Plenty more where that came from! For a truly heart-y experience, treat yourself (and the rest of humanity) by making a meal out of your support. There’s no such thing as “too many cooks” in this kitchen — give a gift to Outreach today!