The power to empower!

Marco Spano from Italy is currently on a volunteer placement with Church Action on Poverty, learning about our Schools of Participation and other approaches to community empowerment. We asked him to share his reflections on his first training workshop:

“I attended a training on delivering Schools of Participation today and it was really interesting. The emphasis is on finding participant-led actions to address community issues. It reminded me that despite our personal problems, we are all part of wider communities and do have the power to unify and make our voice heard.”
(A participant)

I was at that training too, between 25 and 27 February, with many other great people: men, women, young people, adults, Muslims, Jews, Christians – everyone different and everyone with his or her own knowledge and skills.

The training was organised by Church Action on Poverty. The question is… is it possible to Close the Gap between rich and poor just by giving food, clothes and shelter, and by  begging rich people to change their mind and share what they have? Unfortunately not – and here, Schools of Participation give us an opportunity.

Stop thinking that people who are in poverty don’t have anything and can’t do anything to change their lives! They may just feel “powerless” in their minds and “ignorant” about how the world works. Following the work of the inspiring educationalist and great activist Paulo Freire, Schools of Participation use an educational approach to help a group of “oppressed” people better understand themselves, where they live, and the social mechanisms that shape their lives – and to empower them to face powerful people and take action on their own behalf and for wider society.

Wooow, what a utopian goal! Well – after two days with our facilitators Carolina (from Venezuela) and Anne (from the UK), we were really convinced it is an extremely complex goal. First of all, it requires delicate personal attention to all the participants’ needs and, for big issues, strong and wide knowledge of economic, political and social dynamics. But you know what? The main resource is the group itself! We experienced it during our training!

The facilitators didn’t immediately give us teachings and solutions – but, working in small groups, we found that as a group, we ourselves were very knowledgeable and skilful. Surprisingly, we identified most of the points ourselves, and the facilitators were able to see their value and integrate them with other inspiring reflections and useful tools!

“Today was AWESOME. We learned loads of FAB new skills which I’m really excited to take out and put into practice! In fact, I already have notes on ideas for the community groups! We also have loads of tasking tasks!! And thought-provoking issues were raised! … Organising a School of Participation looks like a lot of work but very rewarding!”

That is how another participant felt about the training – what can I add to this?!? A School of Participation may not always be the best way to address any issue, but it is surely powerful and empowering for any issue it addresses! Even for simply teaching what a School of Participation is and how it works.

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