September 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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ICF Begins 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 CO:

“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:

  1. 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.

  2. Marginalized communities will struggle for this transformation when they become more aware of the roots of their suffering through doing structural analysis.

  3. 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.

  4. Decentralized leadership in which all people in the community develop leadership skills helps strengthen and protect the process of change in the society.

  5. 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.

  6. Community organizing focuses on all members of the community rather than one or two individuals.

  7. 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 faith-based perspective.

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.