by Ellen Foell, International Program Specialist, Heartbeat International and Faith Bohlin, Program Manager, Aid for Women
In November 2020, Ellen Foell and Faith Bohlin engaged in an informal conversation on the topic of increasing cultural competency as part of the “Power Conversation” series. This article is a loose representation of that conversation, which is available in its entirety here.
- There is general cultural competency (e.g. like exercising humility and understanding that you don’t understand) as well as specific cultural competencies related to being knowledgeable about traditions, customs, and principles of specific ethnic groups. Start with general principles and then learn about the specific cultures that God has placed you in.
- Have the humility to apologize when necessary and to seek forgiveness.
- Ask permission -- Can I hug you? Can I touch your baby? It is a signal of respect and humility.
Listen very deeply and ask good questions.
- Things like volume of communication, hand gestures, pace of interaction vary significantly. Take your cues from the person you are interacting with. As Ellen Foell described it, “Listen with your eyes. Mirror what you are seeing.”
- Here are some sample questions for your consideration:
- What would normally happen in your community / culture?
- What is customary around ____ (pregnancy, birth, birthdays, etc.)?
- Can you please explain _____ to me?
- Is there a hidden consequence for moving into our program? For participating with our organization? Does it affect your family?
- Teach me your favorite food or favorite _____.
Be aware of and celebrate differences.
- Some cultures are based in honor/shame principles which affect everything from identity, family dynamics, how I present myself in my community, and more. Having an “punishment mentality” (i.e. if you do this, I will do this) with your organizational culture may have unintended consequences for those from a honor/shame based tradition.
- “I like to use the language of ‘tribe’ (i.e. we are a tribe) for our homes. A tribe is composed of multiple family units, each with their own traditions and ways of doing things. For me, that is a much more accurate description of what we are creating in our housing program,” described Faith Bohlin. Food is an easy way to explore those differences and celebrate them as a community activity.
- One effective starting place would be to investigate the “culture of poverty.” As Faith described, “It encompasses all ethnic cultures and really is a culture all to its own that has a big impact of the vulnerable women we serve.”
Ruby Payne. A Framework for Understanding Poverty and/or Bridges out of Poverty
Duane Elmer. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility