Monday, February 1, 2010

Systemic Change: a process of liberation

Despite spirited efforts to reduce poverty in the Manila Metropolitan Area, a high degree of poverty still persists. Poverty is evident: high unemployment, widespread hunger, unplanned and shapeless dwellings, fear, injustice, illiteracy, and abundance of garbage and human waste. Through the eye of an outside visitor and observer, this scenario was depressing and discouraging. Through the “outside visitor’s” perception life appeared to be fading away from people’s reality. Through the “comparing” mind of the observer, the reality of the poor seemed like sterile ground, where life’s root is not able or permitted to grow and thrive.

When an overwhelming sense of hopelessness surfaced for me, I began the process of emergence provided by the volunteers of Adamson University and VCSR Program. My perception began to change as soon as the process of immersion began. I began to see reality through the bottom-up perspective. I began to understand that reality was permeated with humanity and the presence of life in every corner I turned. As I started to interact with people, the reality seemed to become more spacious and full of possibilities, in particular with the people in the communities. I began to notice that the poor coped with their own poverty by engaging in a variety of economic and social activities. They were engaged in different social programs: a savings program, market vending, tailoring and food processing, food vending, hair dressing as well as metal, brick, and wood works and transportation.

As my understanding of people’s life in the context of their reality expanded, a sense of gratitude and responsibility arose in me. As result, I was motivated to challenge my own biases and prejudices. In the mind of most, the poor have been for too long regarded as unproductive, lazy or described with other negative stereotypes. In the communities we visited, people were still struggling against the systemic causes of poverty that restrict them and in a way, condemn them to those conditions. The efforts made by the VCSR volunteers to support individuals, groups and organizations in the process of systemic change by liberating their power based on certain vales and principals made perfect sense. It seemed that the communities were tired of quick fix projects, often disconnected from the whole and which tend to maintain communities in an oppressive state. VCSR aspirations for social justice, self-determination, participation, sustainable communities, working and leaning, and reflective practice are the core values of community development systemic change. Changes based on those values lead to liberation of people and also lead to their political and social empowerment.

I understood that VCSR is encouraging a paradigm shift in the way people think about community development, and also in how people can engage in sustainable changes by investing efforts in promoting social, economic, and political emancipation. VCSR has not given a recipe to the poor about how to resolve their problems. Instead, they encourage their engagement and commitment through a process of identifying problems, assets, and alternatives. It is process that begins with the shift of mentality, at the individual, community, and institutional levels. I appreciate the new vision that VCSR promotes: a vision which helps people engage in solving short term problems as well as engage in long term solutions for structural and systemic oppression. I see VCSR strengthening community capacity to demand, but also working with local government officials and NGOS to ensure their capacity to respond to those demands. To ensure sustainable community development the community must go beyond economic development and must be encompassed by social, political, human, cultural and ethical aspects. This is the process initiated by VCSR, which is a slow but steady process of liberation and sustainable transformation.

by Luiz Barbosa

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