I had a privilege to work with a wonderful community in Cote D’Ivore (West Africa) to design the retirement village for elderly priests in this summer. I have spent approximately three weeks to learn about the culture, visit traditional villages, assess the needs of community, exchange ideas each other, and then design their community together. It was wonderful to sit down with elders, and other villagers in various age groups, and help them develop their ideas of desirable place that value elders’ role in their community, and translate their idea into drawing as a graphic manifestation to show them visually.
The drawing turned out to be very much resembled to the typical local villages of the tribe (Akan). This community embraces intergenerational connections, health education, and formal and informal education opportunities from the retired priest. Most importantly this community will be adapted and supported by the surrounding villages.
I must admit that the first week was quite challenging because each individual had one’s own ideas and agenda to participate in this project. Some had a misconception regarding the houses for elders, and others were looking for business opportunities. However, the honest (which can be quite difficult) discussions in the first week helped us to identify who were genuinely interested in doing the right thing for elders to live with joy and dignity, and also generated the strong consensus and solidarity for the core value of this project.
At the end of this process, all the villagers and elders were calling this community as “OUR VILLAGE,” and proudly explaining the vision of this village and Architectural plan to stakeholders in the country. Now we have just started this project, and expect to have a lot of challenges on the road before being completed. However, I am certain that we will get there with villagers, though it may take long time to raise fund, construct the building, training staff members, and figure out the operational issues.
I am so privileged to facilitate this wonderful project with such a talented group of people who are generously donating their time and expertise (some even covered their travel expenses to come to Africa). I am also so proud of the local organizations and villagers who are already taking ownership of this project as their own community.
I have learned that the most important part of developing a community is the “sense of ownership” that makes the place as their own. I almost cry when I was told from the community members that “you are invited to our community, since you helped us to create a nice one for our elders. You can trust us that we will start knocking on doors to make this project successful.”