Oxfam-cloth-fullBy Cathy Hird

"Right at the beginning of their time in Africa, EWB (Engineers Without Borders) gets staff and interns to stay in a village for a week," my daughter said. "We are expected to live with the people we work with. We take public transportation just like they do. We believe you have to live the way the people do in order to design programs that will actually help."

My daughter was talking with a young woman who works for the International Red Cross in Liberia. She shrugged. "It's true the Red Cross has big white SUVs, but that red cross painted on the vehicles has credibility. Right now with Ebola, people don't trust some of the health care agencies, but when we drive into a village, people see the red cross, and they gather around. They listen to us." She put out her hands as if comparing weights. "Different styles for different situations."

My husband and I were in Burkina Faso for a wedding, but we spent time with quite a few people working in various development projects. The differing styles of work were a common thread.

Among the health care workers we met, there were those like the woman working in Liberia, based in a central office supporting local staff. A Spanish man had just arrived to take the position of program manager with Doctors of the World. Local staff provide knowledge of what is needed on the ground.

To his surprise, one of their top priorities is to buy small boats for villages in the north. His staff explained that villages are cut off in the rainy season, a season when malaria and viruses are rampant. (We understood this because to get to the village part of the wedding, we had to drive on an overflowing dam. One more rain and that village would be cut off.)

We met a Dutch doctor who spent her time in a village three hours by dirt road from the city. She was researching malaria and pregnancy, the effect on the woman and child, and options for treatment. She was very much hands-on and out in a rural community. On the other hand, we spent time with a woman based in Canada who does promotion and fundraising for the Red Cross doing promotion and fundraising, so the good work of others can continue around the world.

The same difference in style was there among those working on economic development. A young Moroccan intern was working for an American NGO in the city, but a woman from Italy was working on new microfinance projects in a town ten hours away. Our daughter is embedded in an agricultural college in Ghana supporting their efforts to teach entrepreneurship and thereby increase farm incomes.

It isn't that surprising that the 25-to-30-year-olds we spent time with are so passionate about building a better world. The bride works for Oxfam as the program manager for the work they do to promote women's economic improvement. Her husband, who is from Burkina, runs an NGO that provides administrative support for Burkinabe organizations. He is also a documentary filmmaker. One of his recent works is about women who put together their own microfinance co-operative. This couple lives in the capital, but she travels throughout West Africa, and he has significant connections in the villages of the central plain.

The two weeks we were in Burkina Faso were hard ones in our world. Ebola kept spreading. Violence escalated in Gaza, and the crisis got more complicated in the Ukraine and with ISIS in Iraq. Three planes went down.

It was the kind of period when one could lose hope. But these young adults are determined to face the problems and change the direction of the world. They have plunged into African life and culture, driven dirt roads and adjusted to local food and dress. They respect local needs and local capacities.

Yes, it was a tough couple of weeks in our world, but I also saw a great deal of hope. There are great people in this world working to make it a better place.

Cathy Hird is a writer, minister and farmer living near Walter's Falls.