During an NGO sector meeting during Mid-Service Training (MST), we spent some time discussing integration. Each of us went around and discussed how integrated into our communities we felt. Most said they were "integrated"and stated that people knew who they were and said hello to them as they passed them in their villages. Our Program Manager then posed to the group that "integration" is a two-way street and asked how well we knew our neighbors. The group was mostly silent after she said that. Although I feel that I have always been open and genuinely cared to know the people in my community, I took this to heart. I internalized it and I made the conscious decision to really get to know the people that I work with and that I see around my community.
Since I made that vow with myself, I feel increasingly more integrated. I truly and deeply know the people that I interact with and have a newfound respect and empathy for them. I know about their home lives - the good and the bad - and their children's and grandchildren's lives. In many instances now, I have been asked to accompany them to medical appointments and have been invited on close family outings and really feel like a part of their families (not just in word but in action and deed). My relationships with the people in my community have taken a big leap forward just by my asking questions and then sitting quietly and listening to them tell their stories. Our relationships are built on much more and are no longer "surface". Yes, I think that part of this is because I had already built a trust in the months before, but I can feel a real sense of togetherness with my community now. We genuinely know each other and are a part of each other's lives. It's reciprocal and truly meaningful. I will be forever grateful to my Program Manager for challenging us to take our integration one step further.