On Thursday 7th May, the Paraa team conducted a workshop with members of the Amrao Manush project. The focus of the workshop was twofold in the end: to develop questions with the members for evaluating the project so far and to understand from a user perspective the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the project and a series of exercises looking towards visioning a more community-led and owned project. How does that translate though, in decision-making and financial controls?
As facilitators, we understood a few things – that voices needed to be heard, voices are different, come from a multitude of perspectives and this requires a lot of patience. Communication and power, especially the way words are used, and language is used to control and dominate also became obvious again. A workshop focused on such topics also requires time, especially to quickly build relationships. We engaged in games to try and break some of those barriers.
What we can take away from this intense workshop was that there is scope and potential to engage with people that are dealing with extreme poverty on a daily basis, and the success of the Amrao Manush programme is clear from the outset. Yet, as we are tasked with the idea of the future of the Amrao Manush project, it seems expectations will always be hard to match, especially when it comes from those that have so little to begin with.
What I took from this workshop was something that resembles hope, perhaps battered, scarred and beaten, but not willing to give up kind of hope. Resilience. Yet, this idea that poverty eradication, sustainable development and transformation from living on the pavement to a secure home and assets and a truly holistic well-being can be achieved continuously without real ownership is a challenge. The question is asked – what happens when donor funding is finished? And then what? If ownership of the project does not translate in terms of power sharing, then it becomes quite difficult to understand how we can talk about sustainability, or real empowerment of a group of people that genuinely struggle to live and survive on a daily basis. It also raises the question – who is responsible for such endeavours? Do we look to corporate dons, or the business elites to provide CSR donations, do we look towards international donors to provide pittance to beneficiaries? Or do we begin to ask questions about citizenship and rights? What rights do pavement dwellers really have? In practice?
We can look at it from an urbanisation perspective – unplanned growth, the mess of a developing mega-city will encompass a lot of unjust practices, yet – does that mean the poorest go without? And is it that the poor, who work as hard, if not harder to survive, are not able to escape the trap of poverty? And does that mean that they have to be ‘beneficiaries’ of projects and donors, in order to survive? Does it mean they take loans and become riddled with debt to feed their children? How do we re-frame the very idea that these are people, often through no fault of their own are in a situation outside of their desires?
How to continue the conversations to be centred around their changing needs
What does that mean then for us as we spend the time now trying to understand how to make a people-centred project that looks at ownership of decision-making, as well as financial transparency – who funds? Who contributes? And who gains? Who works? And who communicates the needs to the donors? The funders? The supporters?
If we look to a crippled Dhaka City Corporation to fund, it becomes near to impossible to expect anything tangible in the short term, and in fact – a city that lacks much capacity in every aspect of its organisation, cannot be left to provide solutions in reality. If we look to local and central government ministries and organisations to also provide, it becomes very challenging too. With rapid urbanisation, yet little real planning in place, it seems it will be left to others to ensure extreme poverty is addressed. The idea of positive urban economic growth for Dhaka, inevitably in the long term may mean poverty will slowly be eradicated – yet, as we live in a world where the gaps between rich and poor continue to expand, will such economic growths really trickle down to those that need it the most?
It leaves us then with many questions, perhaps the answers will be given also in a question, a riddle of sorts – what does a socially just Dhaka city look like? How does it address the needs of its diverse population? Especially those that are in situations of extreme poverty and are marginalised from access to most urban services? Can we come up with ideas that look towards an inclusive city? Can we propose a vision for a city that includes all of its people in how it is shaped? The lofty ideas of an utopian city are left best to policy-makers perhaps. In the real city, the one of mess and chaos, of extreme injustice, it is the people that will have to be leading the change.
The team also debriefed and spent some time reflection on the workshop: Here are some of the feedback
“ the workshop was a very big learning for all the members in the team. It portrayed good team work and the team’s ability to work under pressure. It proved that all the members are gelling together and taking the team in the right direction”
“the workshop helped me to learn more about the people who are living in the street. It was something new for them as their opinion has been asked. Many ideas, problems have been highlighted from their perspectives. The communication with them was open and also critical as we talked about many sensitive topics. They can point out the real problems and many solutions also came from them. The engagement was resourceful, fun. More open engagements are needed – where they can get a platform not only to complain or share misery, but to do something or take action about the problems. “
“pavement dwellers serve our city essentially so that we cannot think of a liveable city without them. Income upgradation or job availability is not the only solution of their shifting to better life. Trust building, interpersonal communication, proper socio-economic advocacy etc are needed to mainstream the community”.
“pavement dwellers are very simple and their demands very little. They live in a lot of trouble. So it is our duty to work for their improvement / development. I think a lot of this kind of approach would work better”.
“Pavement dwellers are the people who are unable to fulfil their basic needs and leads a very hard working life. The number of pavement dwellers are rising day by day, if we all work together to help them we can solve some of the problem”.
“The entire workshop was truly participatory and a fun experience. The atmosphere was friendly enough to get honest feedback, opinions and aspirations of the participants, deepening our realisation of the context through the ‘tree of life’. It was one fine strategy and they performed amazingly to address of a complete set of insights comprising strengths and weaknesses, their visions and processes to achieve these tangible goals”.
“The workshop has enlightened me about the pavement dwellers. I got to know about their living process through the participatory workshops. They opened an opportunity to get engaged and communicate deeply with the pavement dwellers. The end result was more interesting as we got to know about the action plan and priorities for the pavement dwellers better living”