Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

I had forgotten, in all my plans to go to St. Lucia and everything, but I wanted to participate in this Blog Action Day to promote the fight to relieve world poverty.

I've been fortunate enough myself to have fallen into a job when I was in the UK that taught me much about the world and what others don't have that we often take for granted. I worked for a charity called War on Want - a fearsome name. I had no idea where I was going to work, it was merely a temp job and I started by being the mail opener and sorter. But it started a few days prior to when the news about the Ethiopian Famine broke out in 1984.

War on Want had a policy that was completely unlike other main charities at the time; they believed in dealing with poverty and injustice from the inside out. They worked exclusively with 'grass-roots' groups, not through Governments where countless opportunities unfortunately oftne thrive for siphoning off funds.

With a low overheads policy, Programme Officers would go into the field, find, work with and develop communities.  Not giving money or things, but finding out what was needed, wanted, what suited their particular cultural and social makeup and then investing in teaching processes, providing basic tools - very often requiring some form of investment in the acquisition of them from the community, be it by helping phyically build or by facilitating a small loan and helping work out repayment by organizing production schedules and sales opportunities.

Why was this so special - it gave ownership to the people who were being helped. It fitted their needs as comfortably as was possible - minimizing the imposition of foreign concepts and ways. It gave tools to help sustain the projects, it maximized the potential of the funds received by keeping costs down, eliminating middle 'men'.

And another aspect that was for me, priceless was that each time a Programme Officer came back from the field, they gave a report, slides, photos, info - qualitative and quatitative, to the staff - everyone, so we could all gain a better understanding.

In more recent years as a Crafts Developer in my home St. Lucia, I learnt other aspects of how things work when it comes to projects aimed at reducing poverty. I learnt first hand now how to find out what's appropriate for peoples' needs - how important being both familiar with local issues and aware of what's in the wider world is - making sure your yardstick measures properly. And again, I learned first hand how easy it is for funds to evaporate - I knew of funds for development that were lying stagnant for years because one or other usually government department could not do what was necessary to get them allocated. In some, in fact, many cases this was because the officers in the posts did not themselves have an understanding of the needs and circumstances and so could not see the connections and would therefore not approve the recommendations of those on the ground.

What does it all amount to? Many of us can make a difference - it is often our own lack of understanding of a situation, our uneducated assumptions, that stop bridges being built. Take a moment to try to see things from another's point of view - accept that for many, their whole understanding of life - their social systems, their thought processes, their realities are not like yours. We often judge and act according to what's right for us; for others this often results unfortunately in an attempt to help just being another wrong heaped on their lives.

I'd like to ask you to take a moment today to learn something unusual about a culture or people from a part of the world where life is not so easy as ours and then do something, however small, write to a friend, digg something, make a donation, but do one thing to help us understand each others needs and aspirations a bit better. In my mind, this will help us work to a fairer, more equitable world.

And please, share your experiences and thoughts here - it's so important for us all to hear others' views, so I'd really like to hear from you, everyday, but especially today!