Untold Stories

THE FARTHEST REACHES OF POVERTY
I work with poor communities all around the globe: from Asia to Africa, to the Pacific Islands, to Latin America and the Caribbean.

One of the processes we undertake with people in their communities is to identify the indicators/signs they would use to know that they are living in a more just and equitable society.

One of the techniques we use is to ask them to dream. This is what we read to them:

“Let’s imagine! I was very, very, very sleepy last night. As soon as I hit the bed…cataplum!, I fell right asleep! Despite my tiredness, I started dreaming. At first, I didn’t recognize what I was seeing. It was odd, different. It was as if in my community things were totally different. The men and women were different. And even the boys and girls. I could not believe what I was seeing. However, little by little I started to see things I liked! I don’t know what had happened, but it was as if those things I had always dreamed about came true. It seemed that everywhere women and men were treated equally. The men and women even felt equal. So much so, that even I felt those changes. I couldn’t believe it!  I just couldn’t believe it! Inside I thought differently, felt differently, and even saw things in a different way. But there it was, and I simply sat down to see it with a smile from ear to ear. People, their attitudes, their gestures, the things they did, the things they could do, everything was different. Suddenly, boom! I woke up. I had a strange feeling that only a few minutes had passed, but that several years had passed, too. You cannot imagine how surprised I was when I realized that I had slept for almost 23 hours. I think I really traveled in time. Could this dream be possible?….”

Once people have identified their dreams, we design with them the actions that are needed to reach their vision. The dreams/signs that people come up with are unimaginable.  For example, men in Nicaragua identified as one their main indicators the “Decrease in the amount of jokes men make to other men that do household work”.  In a lot of Asian countries, newlywed women pointed out that for them an indicator was fewer mother-in-laws treating their daughters in laws like servants/slaves. Women driving cars…. Girls playing in the streets, like their male playmates…Women participating in meetings, but far more important, how many times a women spoke in a meeting and how many times they pay attention to what she said.

I have used this technique in hundreds of places, however nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered in a rural community in El Salvador (El Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America). We had called a meeting with the women in order to identify possible activities related to a water project.  When we asked them to dream, you could see that they were puzzled and not comfortable at all. One of the elder women spoke up…. “Señorita -young lady- we can not afford to dream, we are too poor.  That is a luxury we do not have, it is too painful….” That day I understood, that poverty can reach parts of our lives beyond what one would expect. When poverty steals one’s capacity to dream, there is little hope left.

(If you want to learn more about how we have developed indicators using participatory processes go to the Toward Equity Serie Module 6 “Eyes that See, Hearts that Feel… at: http://www.generoyambiente.org/index.php/es/centro-de-conocimiento/doc_download/1789-module-6-eyes-that-see-hearts-that-feel-equity-indicators

Or see Chapter 4 and the Annexes of the book  “About Fishermen, Fisherwomen, Ocean and Tides..” at:

http://www.generoyambiente.org/index.php/es/centro-de-conocimiento/doc_download/1111820-about-fishermen-fisherwomen-oceans-and-tides-a-gender-perspective-in-marine-coastal-zones

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