In this world, the ‘basic building blocks’ of life are relationships, not individuals. Nothing exists on its own or has a final, fixed identity. We are all ‘bundles of potential.’ Relationships evoke these potentials. We change as we meet different people or are in different circumstances.
– Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science
It seems so obvious what Margaret has written. It almost seems silly to talk about it. But isn’t that true of all the profound statements? We are changed by the relationships we are in. I don’t grow emotionally or intellectually just sitting here by myself. I grow as I interact with others. The dearest people in my life help me be more of who I am.
As I read Margaret’s statement I began to think about the people and communities that Reading Village is in relationship with, how mutual potential is fulfilled through these relationships, and what relationships have been formed because of Reading Village’s existence.
I thought it would be a fun conversation to have with Reading Village staff while I was recently in Guatemala. Over fresh tortillas we started brainstorming relationships that had formed or been transformed because of our presence in three rural communities. At first pass, here is what we came up with:
- Boy teens with girl teens
- Teens with the children they read to
- Teens with their parents
- Teens with the teachers in whose classes they read
- Teens with adult leaders in their communities
- Teens in one community with teens in others
- Teens with other organizations
- Teens with visitors from the US
- Children and their teachers
- Children and their families
- Alumni with other alumni
- Alumni with current teens in the program
- Alumni with other community leaders
- Reading Village staff and teens, their families and the broader community
I’m sure there are more. The point is that we were left with our eyes wide open. All these new and transformed relationships that exist in no small part because of us! All this potential being unlocked in each relationship. All the social fabric being woven that’s serving as the foundation for each community to transform itself.
The potential of boys to be respectful men, husbands and fathers is unlocked as they work alongside girls. Children’s potential for a brighter future is unleashed as teens read to them and serve as new role models who are educated, confident and committed to their community’s betterment. The power of youth is manifested as local elders see them as useful, capable, peers and local leaders. The potential for regional development grows as teens across communities form strong bonds. The potential for the work to sustain itself into the future grows as an alumni network forms because Reading Village graduates want to remain connected to each other, the teens currently in the program, and the community development projects they started.
And our being in relationship with all these people sets into motion our potential to do more and more as they show us what is possible. Those of us who have had the privilege of getting to know these youth, children and communities are changed forever.
I’ve struggled for years to put my finger on exactly what it is that Reading Village does. Yes, we offer scholarships. Yes, we provide kids with brighter futures because they love to read. And, yes, teen leaders are creating vital community assets. But what is it really that we do, at the micro level? How is it that we are unlocking the potential of individuals and communities? Is it the structure of the program? Our methodology? Our core values? Though these elements are important, I think the answer boils down to:
Potential finds expression through the new relationships we create.
– By Linda Smith, Founder & Executive Director of Reading Village