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Churches facilitating change

Churches have an important role to play in local advocacy processes

Written by Chalwe Nyirenda 2022

Four women wearing hats squat on dusty ground in Bolivia and wash dishes in colourful buckets close to other community members sitting in shaded areas under trees

The people of Tipa Tipa in Bolivia now have access to a constant supply of safe water and an effective sewerage system, thanks to their advocacy activities. Photo: Andrew Philip/Tearfund

A mixed group of smartly-dressed men and woman in Uganda sitting on the ground outside, partly under the shade of a tree

From: Community-led advocacy – Footsteps 118

Tools and ideas that communities can use to challenge injustice and change difficult situations

Across the world, Tearfund’s local partners are using a participatory approach to poverty alleviation called church and community mobilisation (CCM). 

Starting with the Bible, the process inspires and equips churches to work with their local communities to bring positive change. 

As the church brings all community members together to discuss challenges and opportunities, they often discover that there is a lot they can do to improve their situation. 

For example, communities might decide to use more sustainable farming techniques to reduce environmental degradation. Or they might work together to address social issues such as gender-based violence. Sometimes communities will decide to use advocacy tools to help them achieve their goals.

Tipa Tipa

The church in Tipa Tipa, a village in the Bolivian mountains, was greatly inspired by CCM and they decided that they needed to play a more active role in their community. 

As a first step, they facilitated a series of meetings during which everyone in the village had the opportunity to talk about their problems, as well as potential solutions. As a result of these discussions the community decided to take action to improve their water supply.

Recognising that water is a government service issue, the community approached their local authorities with a plan. They asked them to provide a water tank and pipeline network to supply water to all the homes in Tipa Tipa, and promised to provide time and labour for free to help complete the project. After a lot of negotiation the community was successful, and they now have a functioning water system. 

Building on this success, church and community leaders were later able to influence the local government annual plan leading to the construction of an effective sewerage system in Tipa Tipa. 

Holding governments to account

Governments have a responsibility to create a secure environment where their citizens can thrive. This includes providing access to services such as electricity, water and sanitation, waste management and healthcare facilities. 

Governments put in place public policies, plans and budgets to help them deliver the various services. And government officials implementing the plans have an obligation to act in the best interests of society. If they do not do this, they need to be held responsible. This is called social accountability. 

To bring the type of change achieved in Tipa Tipa, people need to know how to hold their local authorities to account in a well informed, non-confrontational and constructive manner. They also need to show that they accept that they have important responsibilities. These include obeying the law, paying taxes and taking action themselves to address local problems. 

Local churches can play a key role in this by listening to people’s concerns and raising awareness about rights and responsibilities. They can then bring whole communities together to speak out against injustice and call for change.

Social accountability tools

Communities can use various actions, tools and mechanisms to hold their local authorities to account. Popular tools include:

  • Budget tracking

    This involves monitoring government spending to help ensure that funds are spent well, and not lost to corruption. It enables communities to ask if public resources are being used as planned and are bringing the expected results.

  • Citizen journalism

    This tool can be particularly attractive to young people. It involves documenting and taking photographs of situations that need attention, for example sewerage leaks or damaged roads. These stories might be published in local newspapers, or they can be presented directly to government officials and service providers.

  • Scorecards

    These are simple forms used to gather household information about the quality of local services such as water, sanitation, schools, health clinics, roads and waste management. The information can then be used to advocate for service improvements.

A hand holds a simple form used to gather information about the quality of local services

Scorecards can be used to gather household information about the quality of local services such as water, sanitation, schools, health clinics, roads and waste management. Photo: Tearfund

Additional resources

Written by

Written by  Chalwe Nyirenda

Based in Zambia, Chalwe Nyirenda is Tearfund’s Social Accountability Advisor

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