For ages, development, social work, social change and many other professions focusing on empowerment have had the old Chinese Proverb as a guiding Star “ Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day, Teach a man to fish, he will eat for life”.
We have followed this in our work and have communicated it strongly as a principle. But just today I came across a very interesting modification to this principle. This has been outlined in the “Barefoot Guide to Working with Organizations and Social Change”.
Often a lot of development activities done under this banner, end up teaching the community to fish claiming that it is sustainable. In working with People with disabilities in our project, it means that providing services makes them dependent for life but teaching them skills makes them independent or empowered for life. But in this complex society that is undergoing constant change, the skills that they learn are dependent on the circumstances. As long as the river or the circumstances are favorable, they would be able to use their skills but when things change, they either have to learn new skills or end up where they started.
But as this new twist to the Chinese Proverb suggests, organizing of Community would help them come up their own solutions. This is often overlooked in development activities. We say we believe that Community has strengths but often don’t act on it. This often leads to project driven interventions which have quicker results but often last only till the situation remains the same.
We in the Community Based Rehabilitation Project are moving to the next phase and are planning to expand our work and follow the Community Organizing (CO) process with People with Disabilities. In our previous experience, the CO process has been difficult and time taking as it does not yield immediate results. But coming across this new twist to our guiding principle has been encouraging.
I am looking forward to this new phase in our project and although the future looks hazy and the task is huge. I hope as a team, we would develop an attitude that, people, even the most helpless ones have inherent strengths that can be developed. I pray that as we move ahead, we will be able to facilitate our communities to come together for social change, no matter how difficult the work gets. This we believe would result in transformation and restore hope.