“It’s all about relationships”. This is something I remember hearing from Will Allen, visionary and founder of Growing Power, many times over the years that I worked there. Breaking bread together and sharing food with people was one of the pieces of forming long lasting relationships to work together towards food security and social justice.
The word “relationships” has also come up a lot in the book I am currently reading, “Stones into Schools” by Greg Mortensen who is also the author of a #1 bestseller “Three Cups of Tea”. Mortensen is an American man who has worked with communities to build over 100 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has a staff that includes members of 3 sects of Islam, (Sunni, Shi'ite, and Ismaili), illiterate horse tribesmen, and ex-Taliban thugs. Yet together, they have achieved building schools with rocks and rubble from decades of wars to educate the most vulnerable peoples at the end of the road. The only way this has been possible is through building bridges, literally and figuratively, through human relationships.
Food systems, social justice and humanitarian projects in war torn areas are perhaps a stretch to be writing about in a child care seasonal newsletter. However, I always tend to extend my thoughts to the grand scale when meditating on why we do things how we do. Stated simply, relationships with human beings are important. Your children, your family, and our colleagues are important to all of us at LifeWays. When contrasted with images of our elderly and youngest people, commodified and institutionalized in often questionable institutions, with dissatisfied and dis-empowered teachers and caregivers, I am grateful for the relationship based model we follow.
Thankfully, though they are few, there are more organizations that are embracing a relationship based model. There is a newer trend in nursing homes, with one located in the Oconomowoc area that has created a home like environment with families of caregivers for the elders who live there. (It’s like LifeWays for old people!) They share meals at a dining table, home cooked food comes from the kitchen, and the residents spend time together in a living room. Caregivers may be responsible for multiple aspects of care, as opposed to outsourcing food and having multiple caregivers for the same person. This offers a better quality of life for all involved.
Other examples of relationship based models of care and education include Waldorf Schools, where grade school children usually spend grades 1-8 with the same teacher. At Highland Community School, a Montessori elementary school in Milwaukee, WI, they recently formed “families” of classes. As is typical in Montessori schools, the children have the same teacher for kindergarten years, then another for Lower Elementary (1st through 3rd grade), and another for Upper Elementary ( 4th through 6th grade) Because there are multiple sections of each of the levels, structuring of classes into “families”, has further ensured that the same children (and therefore families) will be together over the years. The classes succeeding each other are also in close proximity to one another. In both of these situations, the families, school community, and children are strengthened by having had the opportunity of time together to form relationships.
At LifeWays, the children's early introduction to relationship based care is just the beginning of a long life of possibility of joy and challenges, both made richer through human relationships. Though anecdotal, I am confident that I have seen the benefits that this has offered my own 2 children with long term friendships and family-like relationships.
In closing, I'll leave you with this quote:
Mountains can never reach each other, despite their bigness. But humans can.- Afghan proverb