In the nineteenth century Quaker missionaries undertook community development initiatives of various kinds. Daniel Wheeler spent 15 years in Russia, developing agriculture and draining marshes. Rasulia Friends Rural Centre, in Madhya Pradesh in central India, was founded. Quaker philanthropists such as William Allen and the chocolate manufacturers fostered communities in their own countries, both socially and economically.
In the early twentieth century missionaries established schools and clinics in Kenya, and fostered local enterprises. Later in the century this spread to other parts of East and Central Africa. Missionaries also worked in Latin America, beginning in Mexico. In the 1990s, Quakers in Costa Rica established the Finca la Bella community farming project, where local families farm the land in a traditional way, producing dairy produce and fair trade coffee and passing the skills on to their children. Quaker Bolivia Link was established in 1995 to fund small community-initiated projects aimed at improving the quality of life of impoverished, rural indigenous Aymara people.
The many conflicts of the 20th century led to some new thinking. Quakers were caught up in these conflicts in several places, and saw how communities had been torn apart. Community development work in these contexts needed to integrate conflict resolution and peacebuilding with poverty relief, education, and projects to improve the local economy. Community development work of this kind has been led and inspired by local Friends in different countries, often with support from Quakers around the world.
Hlekweni Rural Training Centre in Zimbabwe was founded in 1967, in the midst of a bitter guerrilla war, initially to provide training in agricultural skills to local young people. Until it was closed in 2014, Hlekweni offered courses in building skills, carpentry, metalwork, garment-making, early childhood education and agriculture for dry environments. It also made small loans to community enterprises. Their work was underpinned by training in peace building and conflict resolution skills. Friends of Hlekweni have continued to support educational work in Zimbabwe.
The American Friends Service Committee and Quaker Service Australia have supported programmes in Cambodia since 1980, combining peace building in the wake of a long period of civil war with the development of community fisheries, forestry and farming.
Quakers from the Pacific Yearly Meeting in the USA have been building schools and funding scholarship programmes in Nicaragua and Guatemala since the conflicts of the 1980s, allowing all local children to stay in school and some to graduate from university.
The Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) programme in Burundi and Rwanda began in the early 21st century, in the aftermath of Hutu-Tutsi conflict in both countries. Peacebuilding workshops bring small groups together to begin to heal trauma and build trust. Other initiatives complement this, in education, truth and reconciliation processes, and economic development, including microcredit. Former combatants in Burundi are now working on schemes for clean water. Friends have also worked with the Twa, a small and marginalised group in Rwanda, neither Hutu nor Tutsi, to improve their livelihoods.
The African Great Lakes initiative (AGLI), based in Kenya, supports HROC and other community development initiatives in Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, These include AVP (Alternatives to Violence) workshops, mediation workshops, skills development, clinics, microcredit schemes, and the provision of clean water. AGLI also organises work camps and longer term secondments that enable Friends from other countries to participate.
AGLI was initiated by Friends Peace Teams, who have also worked in Indonesia and in Central America.
The Community of Evangelical Churches of Friends in the Congo (CEEACO) is based in the east, in North and South Kivu, and was established in 1988. They have several peace and development projects, including the community hospital, which gives access to much needed medication and treats many victims of conflict and illness. There is trauma counselling and a peace garden, which helps with reconciliation. Microcredit is available through a ‘Women’s Small Loans Fund’ and the small enterprises thereby created are making a difference to people’s lives.
Support from Friends around the world for this kind of community development is often financial, but sometimes involves direct participation. This may be for extended periods, or through short-term involvement in work camps and the like. Support sometimes comes from individuals, sometimes from organisations set up for particular communities and/or areas of work, and sometimes from multipurpose Quaker organisations.