Developing Own Resource People
Bruce Van Voorhis
At the conclusion of its 14-week School of Peace (SOP) in Bangalore,
India, in May 2012, the network of Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF)
had grown to 88 young grassroots activists in 16 countries. During an
ICF working committee meeting in 2011, it was decided that ICF would
begin training some members of its regional network to be resource
people on various topics. This process began in September 2012 with a
workshop on community organizing, or CO, from Sept. 9 to 14 in Negombo,
Sri Lanka, and a workshop on human rights from Sept. 23 to 29 in
Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta.
Six participants from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Papua in Indonesia
and Shan State in Burma attended the Sri Lanka workshop. Although not
all of them had had previous CO experience, all of them are involved in
the struggle of marginalized communities for their basic rights.
Much of the time at the workshop was devoted to deliberating about the
meaning of CO and its application within the present-day realities that
Asia’s people face. The group concluded on the following definition of
“Community organizing is a process of working with marginalized
communities suffering from systemic violence that helps them to analyze
their issues more deeply through structural analysis, find the root
causes of their suffering, recognize their power to change these systems
and then create effective and creative strategies to bring about social,
economic, ideological and political transformation from the bottom up.”
As for the principles of CO, the participants determined that they
include the following:
Oppression and injustice come from systems and
structures created by humans and so can be transformed by organized and
marginalized people who have a vision of justpeace communities.
Marginalized communities will struggle for this
transformation when they become more aware of the roots of their
suffering through doing structural analysis.
As marginalized communities do structural analysis in
order to identify the roots of their oppression, they will begin to
develop well planned and proactive actions for change.
Decentralized leadership in which all people in the
community develop leadership skills helps strengthen and protect the
process of change in the society.
An organized community is one in which people
recognize that they all have power and need to share that power equally
so they can work effectively for transformation and justpeace.
Community organizing focuses on all members of the
community rather than one or two individuals.
An organized community with a vision for building
true justpeace communities will always be expanding to include other
marginalized communities so that justpeace can be enjoyed by all.
Lastly, the workshop members engaged in some initial
discussion about whether CO’s traditional 10-step process of working
with a community is still relevant to meet the challenges facing Asia’s
marginalized people. No conclusions were reached, however, and this
topic will be included in a follow-up workshop that will be held early
next year at which the process of drafting an ICF manual on community
organizing in Asia will begin.
About 10 days after the CO workshop ended, the human rights workshop in
Jakarta began. This workshop too had six participants, who were from the
host country of Indonesia as well as Cambodia and the Philippines.
Like the CO workshop, it was important to define human rights as well as
to look at its secular and religious roots and its development since the
13th century that was accelerated by the atrocities of the Second World
War, resulting in the creation of the United Nations and an institution
that would define and monitor human rights around the world. In addition
to defining human rights—one definition presented was that human rights
is about the protection of human equality—and its historical
development, the participants also discussed the impact of culture on
human rights, the various political, socio-economic and systemic
obstacles that impede respect for people’s rights, ways to create a
culture within a society that values and upholds these rights and
practical ways to document and use this documentation to protect the
rights of all human beings.
The overall thrust of the workshop, however, was on better understanding
human rights from a legal perspective as reflected in the efforts of the
U.N. human rights system to define what are the rights of people through
the International Bill of Human Rights—the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (ICESCR)—and to examine one of the worst forms of human
rights violations—torture—through the U.N. Convention Against Torture
and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
This focus on human rights from a legal perspective will continue in a
second workshop to be conducted early next year that will focus on the
rights of women and children and the influence of corruption on the
protection of people’s rights. The primary emphasis of this second
workshop, however, will be to look at human rights from a moral or
In addition to training ICF members as resource people in the areas of
community organizing and human rights, a group of SOP alumni will also
participate in a workshop in December 2012 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in
which they will learn how to use various tools for transformation—art,
drama and music—to educate people about issues and motivate them to take
action to address people’s problems.