Mobilizing local faith communities to improve health outcomes

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Churches have long functioned as leading actors in healthcare provision. Today, faith-based organizations (FBOs) have a high profile within the changing healthcare landscape, both in the United States and beyond. This article assesses FBO roles in healthcare and the opportunities for FBOs to improve health outcomes for the most vulnerable. Not only do FBOs draw upon healthcare practitioners motivated by religious conviction to care for the sick, their connections with congregations and other local faith
communities provide them greater access to economically and socially marginalized communities than government or for-profit health providers often have, positioning them to positively influence healthcare outcomes in those communities.

Different factors impel individuals and groups to care for the sick and vulnerable. Historians contend that many early healthcare institutions, in contrast to profit-driven systems, were motivated by faith commitments that mandated followers to care for the poor and heal the sick (Risse, 1999). The care provided in these early hospitals prompted the Roman emperor Julian to remark: “Now we can see what it is that makes these
Christians such a powerful enemy of our gods. It is brotherly love which they manifest toward the sick and poor.”

In many countries, healthcare over the past 40 years has shifted from a social service for the most vulnerable to a trillion dollar, profit-driven industry. Amidst this shift, however, faith-based health services have continued to provide an important gateway of care for economically and socially marginalized communities around the world. In many developing countries, faith-based health services provide up to 70% of healthcare to
the most vulnerable (WHO, 2007).

Core values that drive Christian FBOs are compassion and love for one’s fellow human beings created in God’s image, human beings in whom Christ is encountered (Matthew 25). These values shape an understanding of discipleship as including “consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” (Neufeldt, 2011). These motivations for Christian health services have not necessarily changed over the years. However, the complexities for FBOs in providing access to care have increased dramatically as they not only navigate relationships with the public healthcare sector (government-run hospitals, clinics and more), but also face the rapid growth of the for-profit healthcare industry.

One response of healthcare FBOs has been to undertake more collaborations with the public healthcare sector, collaborations that build on the distinctive strengths of both partners. The public healthcare sector has financial, material and political resources that are critical to the development and implementation of health services, especially to marginalized communities. Likewise, the faith-based sector has a reputation for successfully mobilizing communities to action by leveraging their engagement and trust. As churches and FBOs collaborate with the public sector, there is an increased possibility for success. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the Congolese government
partners with faith-based hospitals (many of them initially founded by foreign mission agencies and then later turned over to the control of Congolese churches) to implement national health priorities and extend the state’s ability to provide healthcare to isolated communities: Congolese Mennonite hospitals, with support from MCC, have been part of such efforts. Public healthcare institutions and the faith-based healthcare sector need one other and increasingly recognize the wisdom in collaboration. Ray Chambers, a United Nations Special Envoy, has acknowledged that ambitious global health targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals “would simply be unachievable without the engagement of the faith community” (quoted in Duff and Buckingham, 2015).

One method of improving health outcomes at the community level is through the implementation of care groups. The care group approach is a community-based strategy for promoting behavior change by engaging local health educators. Groups are made up of ten to 15 volunteers who regularly meet together with FBO staff for training and supervision. Care groups create a multiplying effect to equitably reach targeted households with activities aimed at promoting specific health behaviors (such as getting one’s children vaccinated and adoption of breastfeeding). The community-based volunteers who are central to the care group model are enmeshed in the lives of target communities and are thus well positioned to catalyze and reinforce the creation of new community health norms.

Churches and other local faith communities are typically key sources of volunteers for the care group model. Relationships fostered among care group volunteers and their neighbors in targeted communities are activated through the care group model to create more durable change in health behaviors. A review assessing the effectiveness of community-based interventions using care groups to promote maternal and child health
and nutrition has shown the benefits of such approaches when it comes to reducing maternal illness, stillbirths and newborn deaths (Lassi, 2010). These positive impacts can be traced to changes in household behaviors and practices, such as improved tetanus immunization rates, use of clean birth kits, facility births, early initiation of breastfeeding and seeking care for newborn illnesses.

Through the new Luann Martin Legacy Fund initiative in eastern Africa, MCC is partnering with local Anabaptist groups and other faith-based organizations who are adopting the care group model to promote maternal and child health and nutrition. Projects in this initiative will mobilize volunteers in local faith communities to participate in care groups
resourced by FBOs that promote new health behaviors among pregnant women and mothers of newborns and young children. FBOs participating in this initiative will give particular attention to how the volunteer-based care group health promotion activities intersect and collaborate with governmental health departments so that care group efforts help meet national maternal and child health and nutrition goals.

The effort to build healthy communities around the world, especially for vulnerable groups and those in crisis, will require the collaborative efforts of the faith-based and public healthcare sectors. Leveraging the trust and reach of churches and faith communities is an essential element in the ongoing efforts to increase positive health outcomes for economically and socially marginalized communities.

Beth Good is MCC health coordinator and lives in eastern Congo.

Learn more:

Duff, Jean F. and Warren W. Buckingham. “Strengthening of Partnerships between the
Public Sector and Faith-Based Groups.” The Lancet 386/10005 (2015): 1786-1794.

Lassi, Zohra S., Batool A. Haider and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta. “Community-Based Intervention
Packages for Reducing Maternal and Neonatal Morbidity and Mortality and Improving
Neonatal Outcomes.” Journal of Development Effectiveness 4/1 (2012): 151-187.

Neufeldt, Aldred H. “An Ethos of Faith and Mennonite Mental Health Services.” Journal of Mennonite Studies 29 (2011): 187-202.

Olivier, Jill, et al. “Understanding the Roles of Faith-Based Health-Care Providers in Africa: Review of the Evidence with a Focus on Magnitude, Reach, Cost, and Satisfaction.” The Lancet 386/10005 (2015): 1765-1775.

Risse, Guenter B. Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1999.

World Health Organization (WHO). “Faith-Based Organizations Play a Major Role in HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa.” February 8, 2007. Available at

Luann Martin Legacy Fund announcement:


Local church partnerships in humanitarian assistance

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

One question I am asked by MCC supporters is: “When there is a disaster, how does MCC decide who receives relief and who doesn’t?” This article attempts to answer that question by exploring the opportunities and challenges of working with local church partners when responding to humanitarian crises and disasters. In particular, this short piece explores the challenges in targeting, meeting minimum humanitarian standards and the potential for peacebuilding through humanitarian assistance.

At this year’s World Humanitarian Summit international humanitarian actors committed to channel more resources into partnerships with local humanitarian actors. That commitment reflects MCC’s primary approach for the last few decades: executing humanitarian activities almost entirely through local partners in recognition of their unique access and capacity to respond appropriately to people affected in their communities. MCC partners with a variety of local civil society organizations such as churches, denominational entities, faith-based organizations and community-based

In particular, MCC is committed to supporting local Anabaptist churches in responding to disaster. For example, this year MCC is working with the Brethren in Christ Church in responding to drought and acute hunger in Zimbabwe and Honduras and to flooding in Nepal. In Colombia and Ecuador, MCC works with local Mennonite organizations and churches to meet the needs of people displaced by conflict. And in eastern Congo and
India, MCC works with Christian ecumenical organizations where local Anabaptist churches are members.

One of the challenges in working with local churches is how best to target limited resources. Church leaders in communities affected by disaster and conflict often feel they should respond first to those in the family of faith. MCC was born in response to the call to Mennonites in Canada and the U.S. from fellow Mennonites in the Soviet Union to provide urgent food assistance, agricultural equipment and ultimately refugee resettlement assistance in Canada. Likewise, MCC’s current church partners are moved to assist those affected in their faith communities because they have direct relationships to church members and know their specific needs.

At times, this desire stands in tension with humanitarian principles requiring humanitarian actors to be impartial—that is, the principle that assistance should be provided based on need and vulnerability, without discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, race, ability or religious identity or affiliation. So while church partners may have the easiest access to people in their own congregations, they should also seek to support crisis-affected people outside the family of faith. Many of MCC’s church partners boldly respond beyond their immediate church family, faithfully answering the Christian call to love one’s neighbour, provide hospitality to strangers and care for the poor and vulnerable as well as and those perceived as enemies or outsiders.

Local church partners, particularly at the denominational leadership level, also face significant pressure to spread assistance across the denominational structure and a wide geographic area. At times, church leaders, with social and political pressure from the many congregations they serve, find it difficult to focus assistance. MCC is committed to
abiding by humanitarian standards, including Sphere minimum standards for disaster response that describe the essential conditions for ensuring that disaster-affected people can survive and live with dignity. People have the right to enough and appropriate food, shelter, water and medical assistance. Adhering to humanitarian guidelines requires MCC and our local partners to make difficult decisions about prioritizing the quality of assistance to a more limited number of disaster-affected communities instead of spreading resources too thin.

Working with local faith-based partners also gives MCC unique opportunities to engage in peacebuilding and conflict prevention when responding to conflict and disaster. MCC seeks to enhance capacities for peace when responding to disasters by building connections among diverse groups. In working with local church partners, MCC encourages their relationships with other local faith-based actors. In Nigeria, for example,
MCC supports the church in facilitating trauma healing with people from various religious groups, while in Syria local churches (Orthodox and Protestant) work with local Islamic charities to provide emergency assistance to both Muslims and Christians uprooted from their homes. By supporting local churches to build ecumenical partnerships and reach out beyond their walls, MCC accompanies churches in nurturing peace, reducing conflict and meeting urgent needs.

Bruce N. Guenther is MCC disaster response director.

Learn more:

Core Humanitarian Standard. Resources available at

The Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. Resources available at

Bennett, Christina, with M. Foley and S. Pantuliano. Time to Let Go: Remaking Humanitarian Action for the Modern Era. London: Overseas Development Institute, 2016.

Crooks, Bill and J. Mouradian. Disasters and the Local Church: Guidelines for Church Leaders in Disaster-Prone Areas. Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2011

Related articles:

Humanitarian assistance and social cohesion in Syria

Analyzing the diversity of faith-based development NGOs

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Despite predictions of the inevitable advance of secularism, the world remains strongly religious, as evidenced by the resurgence of politically and socially active religious identities in many parts of the world. Many observers have also argued that Western secular-rational models of development (whether neo-liberal or socialist) are failing. As a result, development actors and scholars are examining the relationship of religion and development as well as the role of faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in development efforts. Yet such analysis is no simple matter, given the diverse approaches adopted and roles played by faith-based organizations. Faith-based international NGOs like MCC have long wrestled with how faith and religion, on the one hand, and development and social action, on the other hand, should be related, both theologically and programmatically.

In this article I contribute to this discussion by, first, summarizing and critiquing common typologies of classifying faith-based development organizations. Alternatively, I then propose a three-fold typology of faithbased NGOs, describing the differing theological positions undergirding these three types of faith-based organizations. As with all typologies, this framework for understanding the diversity of faith-based NGOs can be
accused of over-simplifying, yet I hope that the typology might nevertheless generate productive reflection.

Development scholars and actors have proposed various classifications of faith-based development NGOs. Almost all of these approaches adopt a ‘more-to-less’ continuum, categorizing organizations by the (declining) degree of integration of religious belief and development approaches (see, for example, Berger, 2003; Sider and Unruh, 2004; and Clarke, 2008). Such models implicitly follow a type of secularization theory, which assumes that since religion is separate from the rest of culture, it can simply be removed to leave the rest intact.

Countering such models, other writers argue that a continuum approach follows an overly narrow definition of religion, an argument I find  generally persuasive. Rather than defining religion exclusively in terms of belief in a deity or spiritual reality, these scholars contend that traditional religions are only one type of foundational belief system or worldview (e.g. Deneulin with Bano 2009 for a discussion specifically related to religion and development; Naugle, 2002; and most broadly, Calhoun, Juergensmeyer and VanAntwerpen, 2011). All cultures and people-groups hold to certain ‘fundamental agreements’ on what the purpose of human life is and what it means to ‘live well’ (and so become ‘developed’). Thus, all definitions of development (and therefore the goals and purpose of all development organizations) are rooted in faith-like commitments and
traditions. Some of these convictions undergirding differing understandings of development are held through traditionally religious faith, and others are now held through modern secular warranted belief, but all are a type of belief system. The diversity of faith-based and secular development organizations should therefore, these scholars contend, be analyzed as embodying different (religious) beliefs and commitments rather than along a spectrum of more-or-less religious belief.

As my contribution to the ongoing work of analyzing religious actors in development, I propose a conceptual grouping of (Christian) faith-based development NGOs into three categories (faith-based humanitarian, missional, and transformational), with NGOs in each grouping reflecting underlying theological understandings of the world that shape the divergent ways these NGOs approach development. I developed this typology in part based on my research over many years into different faithbased NGOs operating in Haiti.

Faith-based humanitarian NGOs understand their development work as a witness to or expression of God’s love and justice. They draw inspiration for action from religious teachings, but their programming is largely similar to other development organizations. Following the humanitarian aid principle of independence (i.e., that aid should be independent of any political objectives), these organizations do not attempt to directly create any type of ‘religious belief’ change in those they assist. Serving those in need or suffering injustice, for these NGOs, is their Christian witness, their response to the experience of God’s love and Jesus’ incarnation. Service (deed) and evangelism (proclamation) are separated into two separate spheres and roles. This separation of service from evangelism can arise from missiologies that view service as a sufficient witness to God’s love, with evangelistic proclamation of Christ viewed as inappropriate or
exclusivist in a pluralist world. Others view such separation as necessary in order to guard against un-Christ-like conditional assistance that takes advantage of vulnerable and marginalized peoples.

Missional NGOs also separate service and evangelism, but to different ends. [I recognize that some people use the term missional differently than I do here, employing it to describe what I call transformational, viewingthe mission of faith-based organizations being the integral and radical transformation of all life.] For such organizations, service ministry is important, but primarily for its role in preparing the way for the ultimately
more important evangelistic ministry of accompanying people on the path to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. This flows out of a more dualistic body/soul theology. Even when such agencies do not engage in explicit proselytizing, agency staff are expected to be able to testify to their gospel hope when beneficiaries (project participants) raise ‘spiritual’ questions and concerns.

Between these two positions, transformational faith-based NGOs reject dualistic approaches to human life, grounded in the conviction that all areas of life are and should be shaped by foundational Christian commitments. Faith cannot be set aside to make way for purportedly neutral humanitarian efforts, be they in disaster response, education, food security, health or peacebuilding. Rather, for these organizations, development efforts are shaped by and flow from a comprehensive Christian vision of human flourishing. Authentic partnerships, with both organizational and community-based partners, requires that all parties should openly dialogue on their foundational, normative sources of meaning and hope that foster human flourishing.

Typologies typically conclude with the type preferred by the scholar who produced the typology, and this typology is no different: I find the transformational type to be most faithful to the Christian calling. I readily acknowledge that the compartmentalizing approach to faith adopted by the organizations in my faith-based humanitarian category can be attractive: knowing how to appropriately, peacefully and non-coercively witness to our faith is difficult. In certain times and places humanitarian action can be our only witness. Yet authentic witness in the name of Christ should testify in word as well as in deed to the comprehensive and radical nature of God’s transforming love to reconcile all of humanity and creation to God.

Ray Vander Zaag is Associate Professor of International Development Studies at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB.

Learn more:

Berger, Julia. “Religious Nongovernmental Organizations: An Exploratory Analysis.” Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 14/1 (2003): 15-39.

Calhoun, Craig J., Mark Juergensmeyer and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Rethinking Secularism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Clarke, Gerard. “Faith-based Organizations and International Development: An Overview.” In Development, Civil Society and Faith-based Organizations: Bridging the Sacred and the Secular. Ed. Gerard Clarke and Michael Jennings, 17-45. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Deneulin, Severine, with M. Bano. Religion in Development: Rewriting the Secular Script. London: Zed Books, 2009.

Naugle, David. Worldview: The History of a Concept. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Sider, Ronald J. and Heidi Rolland Unruh. “Typology of Religious Characteristics of Social Service and Educational Organizations and Programs.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 33/1 (2004): 109-134.

The difference faith makes (Fall 2016)

[Individual articles from the Fall 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

What difference does faith make in disaster relief, community development and peacebuilding? In this issue of Intersections authors answer this question from multiple perspectives and contexts. This framing question could also be stated thus: do faith-based organizations and local faith communities bring distinctive strengths to food security initiatives, conflict prevention efforts, maternal and child health and nutrition projects and more?

The term faith-based organization, or FBO, refers here to organizations with a predominant or exclusive focus on disaster relief, development and/or peacebuilding and with varying degrees of religious self-identification and rootedness in faith communities: some, like MCC, are international, while others, like the Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM) in Honduras, are country-specific. In his article, Ray Vander Zaag sketches a typology of FBOs in the development sphere, introducing readers to the different types of actors grouped under the label. The term local faith communities, or LFCs, in contrast, points to groupings like congregations, synagogues and communities around mosques.

From its inception, MCC has been committed to partnerships with Anabaptist and other churches. Some actors in the international development sphere, however, raise a variety of skeptical concerns about FBOs and LFCs. A study commissioned in 2014 by Lutheran World Relief of senior development professionals working for USAID and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regarding their perceptions of FBOs found ambivalent attitudes. On the one hand, respondents generally affirmed FBOs as a positive force in international development efforts, thanks to their connectedness to local networks and their responsiveness to beneficiaries. At the same time, respondents voiced multiple concerns. Some of these worries revolved around the effectiveness of FBO efforts: respondents rated FBOs lower than non-faith-based NGOs and for-profit development contractors regarding responsiveness to governmental donors, ability to implement and scale-up quickly and relative levels of professionalism and technical expertise. A significant number of respondents also expressed concerns about FBOs tying their services to religious identification and to proselytizing efforts: in this issue, Bruce Guenther discusses humanitarian principles of independence and impartiality and examines how FBOs like MCC work with such principles.

Recognizing the negative perceptions some development actors hold of FBOs, several organizations (including Christian Aid, Islamic World Relief and Tearfund) have formed the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLIFLC) to promote and share evidence-based assessments of the positive difference FBOs and LFCs make in disaster relief, development and peacebuilding. In its evidence briefs, the JLIFLC echoes points made by other development actors and scholars (e.g.,GiZ, 2015; Barnett and Stein, 2012) about the particular strengths and contributions FBOs and LFCs bring to humanitarian efforts. The points include the following:

  • FBOs have networks of connection and partnership with LFCs that give initiatives carried out by FBOs and their LFC partners greater geographical reach (offering access to remote areas) and longer-term sustainability.
  • LFCs are often a source of volunteers who are highly motivated to care for their
    neighbors and who can ensure the durable impact of particular initiatives. The care groups described by Beth Good in her article are composed of such church based
    volunteers, volunteers who promote vaccination, breastfeeding and other health behaviors among pregnant and new mothers in order to improve maternal and child health and nutrition outcomes.
  • In contexts in which government institutions are weak and lack popular legitimacy, religious leaders and institutions often retain authority and trust within targeted communities. Working with LFCs is thus often essential to the success of project interventions.
  • Churches, mosques and other LFCs are often best positioned to be first responders in times of disaster or other crises, investing their own resources in such responses, and can be mobilized as part of larger, longer-term disaster preparedness and risk reduction efforts.
  • LFCs foster hope and resilience in communities devastated by disaster and violent conflict (Ager, 2015).
  • Trusted religious leaders are often better placed than governmental or other actors to help shape and change community norms. So, for example, pastors, imams and other religious leaders can play essential roles in campaigns against gender-based violence by articulating religious arguments for why violence against women is wrong and why respecting the dignity of women is theologically mandated (Le Roux, 2011). Similarly, religiously-grounded arguments can often prove more persuasive in local communities than arguments made in supposedly universalist language. In this issue Vurayayi Pugeni and Dan Wiens offer an example of this dynamic in their article analyzing how presenting conservation agriculture practices as “farming God’s way” helps overcome farmer resistance to adopting non-traditional, labor intensive methods.
  • While religion is often deployed as a frame to justify various types of conflict, religious leaders can, as Wade Snowdon and Mark Tymm explore in their articles, prove essential to conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. At the same time, as Lindsey Frye shows in her article, practical efforts like kitchen garden promotion that bring members of different religious groups together around concrete projects can foster and strengthen bonds across religious divides, in turn contributing to longer-term conflict prevention.

Does faith make a difference? As an organization that has served for nearly a century “in the name of Christ,” MCC is convinced that the answer to the question is yes. The articles below reflect ongoing attempts by MCC and other FBOs to reflect on and articulate the what and the how of that difference.

Alain Epp Weaver directs strategic planning and learning for MCC.

Learn more:

Ager, Joey, et al. “Local Faith Communities and the Promotion of Resilience in Contexts of
Humanitarian Crisis.” Journal of Refugee Studies 28/2 (2015); 202-221.

Barnett, Michael and Janice Gross Stein. Sacred Aid: Faith and Humanitarianism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

GiZ. More than Anything: The Contribution of Religious Communities to Sustainable
Development. Bonn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit, 2015. Available at

JLIFLC. Evidence for Religious Groups’ Contributions to Humanitarian Response. Evidence Briefs Submitted to the World Humanitarian Summit, May 2016, by the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities. Available at

Le Roux, Elisabet. Silent No More: The Untapped Potential of the Church in Addressing Sexual Violence. Teddington, UK: Tearfund, 2011. Available at

Corporal punishment and “positive discipline”

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Part one (by Claire de Brun)

Multiple studies have shown that corporal punishment is injurious to students, teachers, schools and the community at large, yet many teachers fear giving it up as it is the only form of control they know. Helping teachers move toward a non-violent, positive approach to discipline is good for everyone, but takes time, hard work, determination and patience.

In 2013 we spent a year at Maphutseng Primary School in Lesotho, working with the MCC pilot project to move from corporal punishment (CP) to positive discipline (PD). We found four important ingredients that helped teachers make this shift:

  • Taking time to build trust and “walk alongside” teachers;
  • Helping teachers understand the negative effects of CP;
  • Empowering teachers with alternative strategies for responding to inappropriate student behavior and establishing a positive classroom
  • Equipping teachers with more effective instructional techniques that prevent misbehavior by engaging students more successfully in learning.

In settings where CP is widely accepted and practiced, it is imperative to establish a climate of trust and openness in order to have a meaningful conversation about change. It takes time to create trust with teachers and a safe place where issues can be discussed, change can be challenged and fears and doubts can be expressed. We worked with teachers at Maphutseng for months to develop this trust. The keys were partnering with the school, leadership and vision from the school principal and bonding with the faculty (respecting, observing and listening to them and showing an understanding of the issues in their world).

One sign that teachers feel safe is when they honestly share their struggles and failures. At one meeting a teacher shared that she had thrown her punishment stick away and had been working hard to implement PD, but one day she became very angry with her students and in frustration she stormed out of the room to find another stick. When she returned the children were singing quietly as they waited for their punishment. She was moved to tears, threw the stick to the ground and sang with her students instead.

Corporal punishment cannot be eliminated by simply writing it into the school policy manual. Change is born from the passionate care of adults who understand the harm CP can cause children, adults who are moved to make a commitment to non-violence toward children and to respect their dignity. Change comes from talking about the harmful effects of corporal punishment, including its crushing of students’ spirits and a stifling of students’ desire to learn. We spent a great deal of time listening to the teachers, having open discussions and presenting research on the negative effects of corporal punishment.

To be sustainable, child protection policies must be embraced by teachers and parents. Most parents and teachers want to be seen as protectors of children. Many still use CP because they do not know another way to control students. Teachers with whom we worked were open to hearing alternative ways to deal with behavior and class management, but it was a journey for educators who desired to move from a strictly authoritarian teacher model to a shepherding one.

While CP is a violent and retributive reaction to inappropriate behavior, positive discipline is a non-violent, restorative response. PD also includes positive strategies for prevention and, when used consistently and appropriately, is highly effective. It is critical in PD that educators believe that the child who behaves badly is not inherently “bad.” PD allows the
educator to focus on restorative, not retributive, goals, understand the causes behind the children’s behavior and hold students accountable for their actions with non-violent consequences rather than physical punishment.

Numerous PD alternatives to CP exist that teachers can use to restore and guide students rather than punish them (see, for example, the writings and videos of Doug Lemov and Harry Wong). PD is not only a method of responding to misbehavior—it is equally important to prevent misbehavior by establishing a positive classroom culture from the beginning. Procedures, expectations and consequences for not following the rules need to be made clear to learners. Specific praise, encouragement and affirmation are also key ingredients for positive classroom culture and are good deterrents for unacceptable behavior.

The most important lesson from our experience was that for educators to be in control of their classes they must use effective teaching methods first. When students are bored, confused or feeling incapable of learning they are more likely to misbehave, but when they are truly engaged in learning and feeling successful discipline issues are reduced.

There are of course very real challenges to effective classroom management, including large classes and a lack of books and other educational resources. Such challenges must be addressed to help teachers and students be more successful. However, even with those challenges, an intentional two-pronged strategy of implementing best-practice teaching
strategies and introducing PD techniques can create more effective classrooms in which learning can take place without CP.

When PD is implemented, it leads to a more caring classroom environment and less anger. Teachers feel more empowered with a relational, restorative approach to their students based on respect, not fear. But this change is not easy: the race to stop CP is a marathon, not a sprint, and necessitates that teachers have a safe space to discuss challenges and receive specific training in PD and encouragement for their efforts.

Part two (Me MaLintle Mantutle)

In 2011 our school, Maphutseng LECSA Primary, was identified as one of the pilot schools for the Child Friendly School (CFS) project. Pillars of the CFS project include safety, protection and psycho-social care and support. Positive discipline practice is one of the components of this pillar.

In 2013 when we desperately needed assistance, MCC nominated Claire and Harlan de Brun to spend a year at Maphutseng to introduce the strategies and methods of positive discipline in our school. The de Bruns organized meetings and school-based workshops to equip our teachers with various classroom management techniques to use in different
situations. They also visited teachers in their respective classrooms to help implement the strategies, provide guidance and encouragement and practice patience with the process.

The teachers visited other schools that already practiced positive discipline such as The Leseli Community School in Maseru and Samuel Johnson Secondary School in Zastron. Our school in Maphutseng reciprocated and hosted the principal and several teachers from the Samuel Johnson School later that year. It was during these visits that we learned from
other educators how successful they have been in administering positive disciplinary measures in their schools. We learned how records of misconduct are documented and kept for each class so that educators are able to monitor student progress and report to parents and school boards.

Thanks to MCC support, I attended a three-day parenting conference with the de Bruns. Then together we disseminated this knowledge to educators and parents in Maphutseng by conducting two all-day seminars. This training was also extended to the villagers in the seven surrounding villages in Maphutseng. The seminars helped both teachers and parents to realize how important it is for us as adults to conduct ourselves as good role models for our children. The training equipped us with skills and knowledge to nurture children so that they develop self-discipline in the long run.

We also had a large group talk with learners about the concept of a child friendly school and acceptable behavior and practices that they are expected to display in their daily studies and other activities. Claire gave reading lessons in some classes and taught composition. During her lessons she demonstrated various techniques that can be used to call learners into order. Harlan visited and modeled positive discipline and appropriate
teaching methods with math, history and reading lessons.

At two different points in time learners and teachers completed questionnaires that helped gather information to see how we teachers were progressing in implementing positive discipline measures. These surveys assisted us in identifying what issues needed to be addressed and what strategies to implement to help teachers deal with those identified areas of concern.

We work hard to promote positive discipline in our school because we have learned that corporal punishment promotes animosity between educators and learners. Learners tend to lose trust and respect for their teachers when they are disciplined with corporal punishment. Now we look at misconduct displayed by learners with a different eye. We know what steps to take when we come across such challenges. Positive discipline helps us to focus on behavior rather than on viewing the child as “bad.” We work on changing students’ behaviors to help them grow as learners.

Children who are physically and emotionally abused become abusive and stubborn in turn. They do not have self-respect and as a result they do not respect others. Children are looking up to us for their protection and if we fail to love and protect them they get frustrated and become depressed, leading to failure in their studies and their future lives. However, the change is not easy. There are still challenges for both teachers and parents, including the risk of losing hope when a child repeatedly displays unacceptable behaviors. There are times when the adults think that a stick will prepare the child to be a more responsible being. We still educate one another and encourage one another to always opt for positive discipline regardless of challenges.

Claire de Brun taught school in the United States and Lesotho for thirty years and served with MCC in Lesotho.
Me MaLintle Mantutle is principal of the LEC Maphutseng Primary School, which was awarded Child Friendly status under her leadership.

Learn more:

Lemov, Doug. Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to
College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014.

Wong, Harry K. The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2009.

Vulnerability and protection in settings of violent conflict

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Children in Palestine (here referring to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) are more vulnerable than children who do not live under occupation or in conflict situations. Child protection efforts in Palestine and in other conflict settings should focus not only on safety within the walls of schools and other organizations working with children, but must also provide children support to survive the hostile world beyond and help children heal from the trauma they have already experienced.

Factors that increase Palestinian children’s vulnerability include: military detention and arraignment before military courts; violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers; home demolitions and forced displacement; restricted movement; and compromised access to education, healthcare, housing and play. Whereas Israelis and Israeli settlers fall under civil courts, Palestinian children as young as twelve years old can be prosecuted in Israeli military courts, often for crimes such as stone throwing. According to Military Court Watch, as of the end of February 2016 there were 438 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention as “security” prisoners, the youngest twelve years old. [“Child” here refers to all under the age of 18, following the United Nations definition of child.] The process of arrest, detention, questioning, trial and imprisonment violates Palestinian children’s rights and can leave them traumatized. Palestinian children are often arrested
in violent, purposefully intimidating, nighttime raids. They may be physically harmed while being transported and during detention. They are interrogated without an adult present and often see a lawyer for the first time when they appear in the courtroom.

Many Palestinian children, especially in areas with heavy Israeli military or settler presence such as East Jerusalem or Hebron, must daily pass through militarized checkpoint crossings on their way to and from school. Other children in refugee camps around the West Bank experience heavy tear gas exposure from frequent, often unprovoked, incursions of Israeli soldiers into the camps. Clashes between Palestinian youth, who throw stones, and the soldiers who shoot bullets and throw tear gas, sound
bombs and stink water often end in injury, death or detainment for Palestinian children and youth.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that the demolition of Palestinian homes has dramatically increased in the West Bank in 2016. In February alone 330 people were displaced due to house demolitions, half of whom were children. Home demolition and forced transfer leave families extremely
vulnerable, homeless and robbed of savings, possessions and security. The Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem provides a variety of educational and support programs for children, including: psychosocial support and trauma healing; opportunities to play soccer, learn music and dance dubka, the traditional Palestinian line dance; growing food on rooftop gardens; workshops on children’s and refugee rights; and more. It is a place where children are allowed to play and to dream alongside a community of supportive staff.

Last year Lajee, with support from MCC, trained its staff to work with children to learn about and heal from trauma, including daily traumacaused by the occupation. Lajee staff then asked the children about trauma in their own lives and even possible traumas or problems they were experiencing at Lajee. Based on this experience Lajee realized that
children must be able to heal from trauma and get help in any situation and decided to join a pilot project with the organization Defense for Children International, Palestine (DCI). This project, implemented with 70 organizations in 12 cities across Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was designed to help organizations provide increased protection for their participants, both within their programs and within the children’s
families, schools and communities.

Each organization chose six to eight children to be trained as liaisons, mediators, advocates and mentors for their peers. These children and a few staff learned how to respond to concerns. For example, if one of their fellow participants at the Lajee Center comes to them with an issue that involves the staff or members of the Center, they should report the issue to another local area organization that participates in the project, or, in
serious cases, alert DCI itself to be able to step in with more professional capacity and provide support for the child.

The trained children also help the other children learn about their rights and ways they can protect themselves from the occupation, including how to get themselves a lawyer if they are detained or arrested by Israeli forces.

The DCI project is very important because it is not common for Palestinians to accept and discuss their trauma. Often children do not want to talk with adults about trauma or problems, but they are more able to share their experiences with other children. In Aida camp one of the Lajee Center’s trained children recently helped a fellow student who was being hit by a teacher at school. The child alerted DCI and was able to make sure that the teacher, who had been physically punishing children for years, was fired and not allowed back into any other schools to teach.

One challenge encountered by the Lajee-DCI initiative is that, even though children are often more willing to talk to one another about problems, many are still inclined to hide their troubles. Children also fear repercussions for speaking or standing up for themselves. This is especially true for those who have been arrested by the Israeli army because they are afraid of being detained again or that the threats made against them
while they were detained will come true. The Lajee Center wants to give the children the space to speak about their traumas, but the children fear it will cause them more harm from Israeli soldiers.

The Lajee Center believes that participating in the DCI project offers children an outlet to express concerns, fears or problems within Lajee. Participation in the DCI initiative has resulted in children who attend Lajee being more open about their feelings and their opinions about the center, which in turn helps Lajee learn ways to better serve and protect
these children.

Efforts to protect children in school and informal educational programs in Palestine must be supplemented by legal and political advocacy against military detention, violence and torture faced by Palestinian children. Military Court Watch, for example, acts as a witnessing presence for children in Israeli military detention and, when necessary, litigates to uphold children’s rights under international law. The No Way to Treat a Child campaign calls on the United States to put all available pressure on Israel to stop its abuses against children in Israeli military courts and prisons. MCC’s advocacy office in Washington, D.C. has supported this campaign, calling on MCC’s constituency to urge members of Congress to curb Israeli violations of Palestinian children’s human rights.

Child protection efforts in Palestine must thus respond to the increased vulnerability of living under Israeli occupation. In this context, MCC partners are attempting to provide more hope, healing and protection for Palestinian children through social and educational programs, psychosocial support, legal protection and international advocacy campaigns.

Amani Ashad works for Lajee Center, an MCC partner. She wrote this article with Catherine Keating, a former MCC worker.

Learn more:

Military Court Watch website:

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories website:

East Jerusalem YMCA website:

No Way to Treat a Child Campaign website:

Lajee Center website:

Defense for Children International-Palestine website:

UNICEF booklet on children in Gaza:

Gideon Levy, “Israel Sentenced a 13-Year-Old Girl to Prison,” Haaretz (April 14, 2016).
Available at:

Grounding protection in the local context

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Child protection efforts must be shaped according to the unique challenges and opportunities of specific contexts. Eastern Europe provides many examples of how contextual realities can both facilitate and hinder the process of accompanying partners in implementing their own child protection policies. In Eastern Europe, the history of communism and socialism has left a legacy of legal frameworks, local regulations and social institutions which govern child protection policies and practices. In this context, one would imagine that these laws and institutions should facilitate the quick and simple adoption of child protection initiatives; however, this very history of imperialism complicates these efforts due community distrust of authorities and top-down policies. A history of authoritarian governance requires MCC to encourage community-driven processes for the adoption of child protection policies.

Most of the places MCC works in Eastern Europe have been the borderlands—areas conquered, claimed and held by many vast foreign empires. These empires have imported and enforced laws and regulations without fully incorporating them into the local culture, traditions or norms. As a result, the peoples of Eastern Europe can view cooperating with the ruling authority as a betrayal to one’s family, neighbors and broader community.

Another challenge is a relatively narrow understanding of protection: many authorities see protection as simply taking children out of harm’s way, without considering the value of prevention, education or sensitization. This may be partly due to lack of knowledge: for example, government departments of social work and police may not know about different types of abuse, especially emotional and psychological abuse. Another factor is simply a lack of resources in the face of many pressing social problems.

Finally, many places in Eastern Europe are dealing with the relatively new transition from a socialist and communist past. This new reality has stripped the well-ordered social organization of the past and left room for corruption, exploitation, unemployment and the erosion of social services and stability. As a result, apathy and conflict have increased. In light of these challenges, MCC East Europe has been conscious of not imposing our agenda from the outside, by allowing for flexibility and grace. At the same time, MCC has also been clear that child protection is a priority that we expect our partners to pursue.

Working at child protection with partners begins with a series of conversations that take into account different norms and values and different understandings about how those values can be expressed. For example, one common norm in Eastern Europe is that corporal punishment is an appropriate and expected way to discipline children. Some MCC partners are connected to churches that interpret Proverbs 13:24—“Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them” (NRSV)—to reinforce the idea that corporal punishment is required.

While some partners in the region support the use of corporal punishment within certain guidelines, others denounce this form of discipline. The partners who explicitly avoid it have procedures in place for selecting staff, clear guidelines of defining acceptable and inappropriate behavior and have instituted relevant training for staff. These partners emphasize how important it was for them to generate their own procedures and guidelines
and caution that standards imposed from outside funders would not be successful in sensitizing people to make a change.

Keeping in mind sensitivity to the local context, there are two possible, though non-exclusive, ways MCC’s partners can participate in effecting social change to establish meaningful protections within their societies. The first way is to integrate with strong local campaigns that include widespread sensitization involving training for police, social workers,teachers, clergy, politicians, parents and children about their role and
responsibilities in this system. This model builds upon work done over the past decades in North America. It is not something one person or small group alone can fully implement, but there are some indications that Ukraine may be starting to engage in this sort of process with some assistance from the United Nations.

Another possible approach builds upon the work done by some of MCC’s peacebuilding partners, who work subversively to provoke social change when public leaders and society at large are not already on board. These partners work on empowering individuals to be engaged citizens who question social problems of nationalism and ethnic division. A similar approach could also be used to increase protections for children, by working with adults and children to explore their values and find ways of interacting in more peaceful ways. This model sees protection not as avoidance of abuse but as building up individuals and communities: not as policing laws, but as empowering strong local people. This model runs counter to the authoritarian past in which a population’s role was to wait for solutions to come down from the top. It is a challenging model, but is also arguably an approach that leads to longer-term, more lasting solutions.

Krystan Pawlikowski is co-representative for MCC East Europe.