People living in a squatter settlement in Fiji were empowered to repair their homes themselves after cyclone damage using the techniques of social analysis they’d studied over about seven years.
Fiji-based Australian priest, Kevin Barr, who teaches social analysis through ECREA, Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy, has just been in the Wellington and Palmerston North dioceses leading social analysis workshops and tells this story as an indicator of the success of the method.
In Fiji, he says, there is a culture of silence. People are discouraged from speaking out or taking initiatives or responsibility for their lives.
‘They’re used to being told what to do by chiefs or church leaders.’
Social analysis is a tool to help people understand the society in which they live and the problems they face. Using this tool they can change a situation to make it more just and equitable.
Social analysis is based on the techniques of Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Paulo Freire, which lead people to empowerment. People move from what Freire called a ‘naïve consciousness’ to a liberating consciousness where they can take action and change their situation.
‘We tell people first of all, with a big bang on the table, to wake up—see what’s happening around you—because many people have become accepting of the situation as it is.’
Workshops in Newtown, Palmerston North, Richmond and with Challenge 2000 asked people where they are in terms of other people’s problems. If they’re aware, are they concerned and, if so, are they doing something about it.
’Some people, of course, are not even aware of the problems that other people face. Some people are aware but not concerned—a little bit concerned but not too much—while other people are not only aware but they’re concerned and they really want to do something to assist and then to see where those problems lie and are we part of the problem. So it gets people to question.’
Then people are asked to look at their own situation and the problems facing New Zealand society. What are the dominant values of NZ society. Where do they see signs of hope? Where do they see opposition.
‘The old YCW see-judge-act is still very relevant. Basically it’s see-judge-act but elaborated a little bit more in terms of eight steps helping people to have a look at all the things they need to address if they’re going to solve the problem.’
The workshops then looked at a common problem facing New Zealand society, for example, rising food prices, using the techniques participants had just learnt, and applied the techniques to discuss possible solutions.
After this, people came together in small groups to identify their own problems using the process.
‘What was interesting was that some of them just did it as an exercise whereas others said, “No, this is a real problem that we’re going to follow up, not just an exercise but we’re going to take action on it”. That was very interesting to see.’
One of the great strengths of the social analysis is in recognising that people’s collective experience and wisdom is equal to all the literature on the subject in terms of ability to fix a problem. Another learning from the workshops is that there is no one strategy for finding a solution. In fact there are almost as many strategies as there are people devising them.
So where does social analysis feature in Christianity?
‘Well, God’s got his dream, too, of how our world should be and that’s what Jesus called the kingdom of God and so it was the central theme of all Jesus’ teaching and the great enthusiasm of his life to preach the message of the kingdom of God because this is what my father sent me to do.’
The task is to seek out the meaning through the parables, through his life, through the company he kept, through his style of life, through his miracles and so getting people to say that the kingdom of God is very important and your dream is his dream also.
Fr Kevin says social analysis and social involvement is one way of helping the church to become more prophetic in society.
‘It helps to move Catholics from being “devotional Christians” to become “prophetic Christians”—wanting to help change the world to be the place God wants it to be.
‘So analysing the problems and tackling them we’re in the business of building the kingdom.’
Returning to the squatters in Fiji addressing the problem of cyclone damage, ECREA has been working with people in squatter settlements for around seven years using social analysis. When Fr Kevin asked them how ECREA could help, the squatters said ‘No need, we’ve put up those two houses again, we’ll get those roofs back on again and somebody’s working on the kitchen.’
‘I was quite surprised and he said, “Well, you people from ECREA taught us how to stand up and walk and talk so we’re doing it ourselves”.’
See also www.welcom.org.nz/?sid=921
Images: Top Fr Kevin Barr MSC
Middle: Helen Doyle and Florence Kane
Bottom: Robyn Beckingsale and John Roborgh