By Jeffrey Blumberg¹
“Sit by the well.” This was the guiding principle by which a friend and fellow returned Peace Corps volunteer, who served in Africa in the 1960s, conducted her volunteer service. She explained that volunteers were instructed to listen, learn, adapt and integrate culturally, and understand their cultural settings. Volunteers were given permission to not immediately “accomplish” but first understand the context of their volunteer assignments and the nuances of local players’ inter-relationships, cultural norms, and community needs. It was only after having this period of reflection that volunteers would be considered ready to roll up their sleeves and go about undertaking their assignments. This concept of sitting by the well is tantamount to obtaining intercultural competency before setting out to conduct community development work.