Five years ago we landed in Burundi. Around the small capital I noticed signs everywhere – signs of other NGOs present in the city with logos plastered on their large Land Cruisers, big placards at their local offices and signs out in the countryside wherever they had a project. The rampant self-promotion turned my stomach sour. No one could do any good thing without erecting a sign to mark it, to prove their worth and claim their territory.
For the first season I nursed a secret sense of pride over our unmarked cars that criss-crossed the city, often full of Burundian friends who shared in this development adventure. We didn’t need signs to validate our partnership or announce our project; we just did the work that needed to be done with our friends.
We managed to work in one community for three years without a single sign, but watched thirty families move steadily toward a viable and vibrant community.
Right about that time we began work with another community of 660 families in a different province. We started planting hundreds of trees together, advocated for identity cards for all the adults and birth certificates for the children. Soon we began constructing an elementary school. And somewhere amid all this activity the local officials made a strong recommendation – that we put up a sign.