Seeds of Change Chapter 16: Support and Respect Mechanisms for Promoting Solidarity

From VincentWiki

From Vincentian Family News Blog's introduction to the Systemic Change: Seeds of Change series: Pope John Paul II encouraged people to analyze the situation of the poor carefully, to identify the structural roots of poverty, and to formulate concrete solutions.

This article continues a twenty chapter series offered by the members of the Commission for Promoting Systemic Change about strategies that are useful, often even essential, for bringing about such change.

Adopting as its starting point a group of projects in which systemic change has actually taken place, the Commission analyzed stories of leaders of successful projects. From these stories, the Commission sought to identify the strategies that helped produce lasting change. It soon became clear that many of the strategies that led to structural changes and transformed the circumstances of individuals and communities flowed from the Gospels and from our Vincentian tradition.

Systemic Change Strategy Sixteen: Support and respect the mechanisms for promoting solidarity that exist among the community members.

by Patricia Nava

Patricia Nava

In his book The Way of Vincent de Paul, Father Robert Maloney underlines the importance of solidarity in all our actions for and with the poor:

Vincent turned the church upside down. He put the poor on top, with the rest of us at their service, being evangelized by them and evangelizing them. The constant quest for a just society requires solidarity, and solidarity is at the center of all Vincentian values. We can do very little without influencing and engaging others. We need not only to understand Vincent and Louise about solidarity in the context of their time but also to translate their teachings for today.

With this conviction in mind, we must respect and promote the mechanisms for creating solidarity that have developed among the members of a community. Many communities continue to exist only because of these mechanisms. In such communities, networks fostering mutual help and reciprocity play a fundamental role. Many poor people could not survive if the community did not work in solidarity.

Women organize networks for mutual help

Even those who are very poor are capable of helping others, of collaborating, of living in solidarity, of sharing, and of really loving their brothers and sisters in need. The experience of being marginalized can be an occasion for moving the needy to unite in a common front in combating adversity.

Such solidarity is found in many Vincentian projects. The AIC groups formed by the priests of the Congregation of the Mission in the communities of the Peruvian jungle are a clear example of this. Small communities in this area, made up of very poor people, have a strong sense of solidarity as Christians.

The communities have organized networks that provide mutual help, and have created mechanisms that promote solidarity and foster the exchange of goods and services, and that are geared to helping the poorest among the poor. They share food with one another, women organize the care of sick neighbors, they take turns minding their children, they shelter orphans or abandoned children in their homes. They also create small centers for feeding malnourished children and elderly persons. These and other forms of solidarity help them to continue living as a community.

This type of solidarity has enabled them, through a solid process of formation, to implement projects geared toward achieving profound changes in the lives of communities.

Community at El Naranjo

One example of this can be seen in the community of “El Naranjo” (The Orange Tree). In this community many families were living in cardboard houses, since they did not have the resources necessary to buy decent houses. This living problem was all the more serious for persons or families that passed by on their way to New Cajamarca, the capital city, to be hospitalized or to do other things. These persons spent the night or even several days out in the open in infrahuman conditions.

A sense of solidarity and compassion moved the inhabitants of “El Naranjo” to construct a temporary shelter, which they called “La Casita”. This shelter was built with cast-off materials, small donations from some of the people, and volunteer labor.

La Casita, a project of the El Naranjo community

The entire community became responsible for taking care of the occupants of “La Casita” and organized themselves to feed them, help them find jobs, or assist them to reach their final destination. The people who were given shelter felt loved, helped and protected. Their self esteem grew and they began to have a greater interest in working to make a living.

For some time living conditions in the shelter were poor. For the priests of the Congregation of the Mission or for the AIC Volunteers it would have been easier to find another type of solution. But fortunately they respected what the community had decided to do. This process helped the inhabitants of “El Naranjo” to create even closer bonds among themselves and to feel empowered.

Eucharist in El Naranjo

New needs led them to learn how to devise new projects, to work as a team, to organize themselves better, and to improve the use of their own resources. With AIC’s help, they presented a project to several organizations and, thanks to their tenacity, they achieved their goal. Today they have a modest shelter, but with the facilities and furniture needed to offer quality service.

Peruvian child

Little by little, without really recognizing what was happening, the community created more and more mechanisms for promoting solidarity, and they now have the motivation and experience needed to improve the quality of their lives.

Using this example as a starting point, one could imagine more modern or sophisticated projects, but the bonds of solidarity forged among marginalized peoples in places like this have become very strong. It is important that such bonds be encouraged and kept alive. As members of the Vincentian Family, we are conscious that the poor themselves are best suited to propose solutions to improve their situation and to promote real change in their lives.

Index of Systemic Change: Seeds of Change series