Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Are you ready to call a minga?

In the last few weeks, I’ve learned a new word: minga. (My husband joked that it must be some version of Mingus, as in Charles, and started doing some free-form jazz on an air trombone.) A Quechan term, it roughly translates to “a community coming together to work for the benefit of all.” I came across it in the book Me to We, by Craig and Marc Kielburger. The authors describe a dilemma they had in Ecuador in a remote, mountain village, where they had come to build a school for local children. Due to delayed transport and delivery of supplies, their rate of construction was lagging far behind their schedule. Reluctantly, they realized that they would have to leave the needy community with the school only half-built.

That’s when they went to the village chief, the oldest woman in the community, for help. Through a translator, she told them: “No problem, I’ll just call a minga.” She took a few steps outside her simple hut and hollered, in Quecha: “Tomorrow . . .there will be a . . . minga.” The next morning, hundreds of people were in the village square. Women had arrived with infants on their backs, men had left their fields at prime harvest time, and young children were standing with eager eyes. They had come to build the school, walking countless kilometres to get there. Many of the kids who showed up lived too far away to even attend the school, but they came anyway. None of these people expected anything in return. They had  brought food and shared it with the authors and their volunteers. The authors state: “In a matter of hours, they did what would have taken us days, if not weeks, to accomplish.” Immediately after the new school was completed, all of these people participated in a lively celebration to honour the new building, then quietly disappeared.

A minga: “Upon hearing the word, people stop everything for individual gain, no matter how important, to come together for the collective good.” The authors tried to think of an equivalent English term, and other than “barn raising”,  the closest they got was “a riot, but for good.” What does this lack of such terminology say about our culture and language?

One reason that I love my community (Roberts Creek on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast), is its minga-like sensibility. People readily pitch in to benefit others in the area, whether it’s volunteering to paint the local Legion, to host a fundraiser for Japan’s tsunami victims or hold a silent auction to give financial support to a neighbour with cancer.

Yet, the dominant culture in the West still clings to a fierce “Me first” philosophy, valuing getting ahead and competing with one’s neighbour far more than mutual support and cooperation. The reality show The Survivor exemplifies this perfectly; ironically, while in this Ecuadorean village, the authors met one of the participants of the first Survivor show. He was so put off by the hype and papparazzi and image-based associations of the show, that he chose to get as far away from that as possible and flew to live in this remote part of the Andes.

I recommend the book Me to We to everyone. I think that it should be required reading in schools. (The authors co-founded the global activist organizations Free the Children and Me to We.) Their book encourages people to take an issue that they care deeply about, then imagine calling a minga to get people to help. They suggest the following:

“Make a list of how you could call one [a minga] in your community. Ask yourself:

  • Who would help me? Friends? Parents? Coworkers?
  • What tasks would I need help with?
  • How would I call my minga? By sending out a group email? By making a presentation to my faith group? By posting a hand-printed notice in my office?

It’s amazing how many people in our lives are ready to help out . . . all they need is someone to ask them.”

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September 5, 2011 at 10:11 am Comments (0)