An article today on MSNBC details a four-year aid project, funded by the U.S., to help alleviate poverty in Kenya. The program provided fishing supplies and equipment to aid the local fisherman in increasing the amount of fish they were able to catch. It seems that the social and economic needs of this particular population were not assessed before the supplies were distributed and the program instituted. The nets and other supplies provided were not suitable for the fishermen and provided additional obstacles to their livelihood, like trapping and killing whales and turtles, which in turn destroys the very ecosystem they depend on. According to the article:
The aim of the U.S. project was to help lift local people out of poverty, said Robert Buzzard, a USAID official involved in the initiative. But there were no studies to show how the kind of equipment supplied might affect the marine life.
“There weren’t environmental assessments year on year,” Buzzard acknowledged, saying USAID was “partly” responsible but also was dependent on local organizations to provide information.
The project did not provide the type of nets or long fishing lines — which catch fish without entangling other marine life — that fishermen requested, said Isaak Mwachala, head of one of the local fishermen’s associations.
This is yet another example of a program that was not properly executed and has actually introduced more problems than it ever intended. Without fully assessing the needs of the population and geographical area in which an aid program is intended, the potential for its success is drastically reduced, and these days, we certainly can’t afford one wasted penny.
Despite the billions of dollars we’ve poured into Iraq over the past few years, the social and economic status of the country remains bleak, as does the welfare of many of the country’s women.
Recently, Oxfam, an international aid agency, released a survey on the status of Iraq’s women and the struggles they face amidst a war-torn country. The results are astonishing, and while it is just a snapsnot of a few thousand women in five major cities across Iraq, it offers disturbing details about the struggles that Iraqi women face every day. Among some of the results:
Nearly 25% of women had no daily access to drinking water & half of those who did have daily access to water said it was not potable; 69% said access to water was worse or the same as it was in 2006 & 2007
One-third of respondents had electricity 3 hours or less per day; two-thirds had 6 hours or less; 80% said access to electricity was more difficult or the same compared to 2007; 82% as compared to 2006 and 84% as compared to 2003
Nearly half of women said access to quality healthcare was more difficult in 2008 compared with 2006 and 2007
40% of women with children reported that their sons and daughters were not attending school.
Despite the American presence in Iraq, the majority of mothers rate safety as their number one concern. Mothers are constantly forced to decide whether to send their children to school or pay for that child’s healthcare.
Additionally, more than half of the widowed women surveyed stated that they were receiving no assistance from the Iraqi government.
“A large majority of women surveyed were not receiving any state support and had become so poor as a result of the conflict that many could not afford to provide their families with clean water, electricity, food, an education and medical treatment,” the article states.
Through my work, and through reading, listening and conversing with colleagues during the past two decades, I’ve thought a lot about how the arts contribute to (or work against) building empowered, civically engaged communities. The paradigm shift for me came when I was able to look into the community, the neighborhoods of everyday people around me, and see a vast well of creativity, culture, art and history. I no longer saw a cultural void or vacuum needing cleaning up, educating or the importation of great art and the cultural canons.
I believe that people are more engaged when they’re respected for who they are and what they bring to the table. For cultural administrators, leaders and policy makers, it’s more than the half-empty or half-full glass perspective. Contrary to most cultural institutional practices, I think it’s about seeing opportunity to learn from the people around us, to foster exchange among them, to respect their cultural richness, and to nurture their creativity and talents. It’s not about devising better packaging and marketing strategies for the artists we decide will be best for the community.
Some reluctant arrivals to the “multicultural movement” have simply substituted the idea of importing or imposing western European cultural norms with a wider menu of great cultural accomplishments, a view that still denies the self-worth and the existing cultural resources of their constituents and neighbors. It’s not that masterful artistic achievements, Eurocentric or otherwise, aren’t worth experiencing, it’s that they’re more meaningful to those who have their own sense of cultural self and self-worth.
It’s about understanding that people are interested in the cultures of others and in great artists, but are likely to shut down or turn away when these works are brought to them with the attitude that they are superior to their own cultural experience. Respectfully drawing out the creative and cultural assets of each person, and of communities of people, is a first step to sparking an expansive cultural dialogue. How to do this becomes the challenge for meaningful community cultural development. And, while there are many excellent examples of this work with long histories and well-developed practices, there is but little awareness of this work within the cultural sector and next to none within the other fields or professions I mentioned. In fact, there is much misinformation, even hostility. However, I did find some rather remarkable exceptions, some of which I hope will be the subject of future writing.
In seeing the potentials in a community’s creativity, urban or community revitalization or renewal is a process of working from the inside out, not a process of clearing, removal or replacement. This “asset-based” community development approach is being adopted by an increasing number of community developers and organizers in both the U.S. and the U.K. Notable community art practitioners and some philanthropists have engaged in this practice for at least three decades.
Check out these links to two extraordinary artistic projects that depict the places we live, and present beautifully, and often heartbreakingly, the status of many of the world’s most destitute.
The first is an innovative project in Kenya that depicts the women of Kibera (click here for full article):
“Today, after more than a year of planning, 2000 square meters of rooftops have been covered with photos of the eyes and faces of the women of Kibera. The material used is water resistant so that the photo itself will protect the fragile houses in the heavy rain season. The train that passes on this line through Kibera at least twice a day has also been covered with eyes from the women that live below it. With the eyes on the train, the bottom half of the their faces have be pasted on corrugated sheets on the slope that leads down from the tracks to the rooftops. The idea being that for the split second the train passes, their eyes will match their smiles and their faces will be complete.”
The second (click here) is a photography slideshow project on communities around the world.
Many people think of poverty as simply a lack of income. Others extend the concept to lack of education and health facilities. However, as highlighted in the 2000 World Development Report, Attacking Poverty, economists like Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen now emphasize a much broader approach.
Poverty is also:
• Lack of voice: people need avenues to express their needs or obtain redress.
• Lack of empowerment; people need the resources and authority to take charge of programs meant for their benefit.
• Lack of good governance: people are worse off when officials are corrupt, unresponsive to local demands, and unaccountable.
Seeing in this light, local empowerment is a form of poverty reduction in its own right, quite independent of its income effects.
Sen lists five dimensions of poverty:
He views poverty as deficits along these five dimensions, which limit the ability of people to develop their capabilities and function as empowered persons. Poverty reduction, broadly defined, requires processes that help people improve their capabilities and functioning, which enable people to take charge of local affairs instead of being supplicants before higher authorities. CDD aims to create such processes, with safeguards to provide voice to groups traditionally excluded from the decision-making process such as women and ethnic or religious minorities.
Economists now accept that communities have considerable capacity to plan and implement programs, which has often been cloaked by a lack of empowerment (see Box 1.) Vibrant community structures constitute social capital, a much-neglected asset that can yield high economic dividends. CDD aims to build on social capital by harnessing community participation, and also to improve social capital by strengthening incentives for participatory development.
Social funds and other similar funds were created to channel emergency money to needy communities. The immediate success rate of these schemes was high. They showed that participation by beneficiaries in projects meant for them could improve project design, implementation and outcomes. However, such projects remain almost totally dependent on outside financial support, and this reduces local ownership as well as sustainability. A recent book on Latin American social funds (Tendler and Serrano, 1999) suggests that these have significant limitations.
In a recent internal analysis of World Bank projects in Africa, 75 percent of projects with some level of community participation were rated satisfactory against 60 percent for all African projects in 1994-97. So, Africa has a comparative advantage in community-based projects.
But while 75 percent of such projects were rated satisfactory, only one-fifth were rated sustainable. Why? Because they were almost totally donor-financed; they were temporary programs, not embedded in permanent institutions; their scale and geographical spread was very limited. While they provided for some beneficiary participation, they were typically earmarked for specific sectors and did not empower communities to set priorities or manage projects. This was a significant shortcoming: it deprived communities of the chance to exercise real choice and build skills through learning by doing. Communities and local governments had no guaranteed sources of revenue, and little or no power to raise local resources.