Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Needs Assessment Part 5: Advice From Children on How to Prevent Children From Taking to the Streets

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website: http://www.farajatrust.org/


The children interviewed came up with the following recommendations:

Informal Vocational Training/ Mafunzo Ya Ufundi:
They recommended that street children who have completed primary education be supported on informal vocational training such as carpentry, tailoring, masonry, electricity and brick laying. The IVT will enable the street children to learn and develop skills to become self employed. They mentioned that children finish primary education at age 14 and as a result cannot become self reliant which is the reason they end up as street children.

Deo (16): Informal vocational training would enable ex-standard seven children to get skills and become self- employed. Other older street children too would join the training instead of becoming street children.

Pili (14): I think the informal vocational training is a perfect idea. A good example is that of the street children who were supported by Faraja Trust Fund on informal vocational training. After the training they were given working tools and start up funds, they are now self-employed and therefore are earning some money instead of engaging in sex work.

Special School for Older Street Children (Shule ya MEMKWA).
About 96% of the children interviewed recommended the establishment of a special school for those who missed school in order to enable them (older street children) to have an opportunity for education. They said that in the whole community there is only one special school located at Jitegemee primary school but older street children are too shy to go to school there. And besides, the school is opened only in the morning until noon and that is not street-children friendly. They said that The Faraja Street Side School and The Roman Catholic School are located far away from Kwa Mahita community. They suggested opening a special school in their community which will be open the whole day in order to enable many street children to access it.

Idd (12): In our community a lot of children aged 10 and are not in school. They are shy to register at a special school at Jjitegemee because of their age and the school is opened only in the morning .At this time of the day children are busy in the street looking for food or money.

Mudi (13): The special school for street children is a good idea but my worry is that the street children may join the school but later on will drop out because while they will be going to school in the morning, after school in the afternoons, they will still face the problem of hunger at home. Unless there will be a food program at school, many children will probably drop out.

Play Grounds
The lack of play grounds and open space and lack of an official program to support sport and games at Kwa Mahita community is one of the reasons for the increasing number of street children and other deviant behaviours which include hanging around at the video shows. They mentioned that in Chamwino there is only one football ground known as Macedonia which is always occupied by older youth and drug abusers. The children recommended that the establishment of open spaces for sports and games will enable many street children to engage in healthy and productive activities instead of loitering and hanging out on streets.

Hadija (15): I believe that if there is an opportunity for youth to participate in sports and games for sure many children will be busy instead of hanging around in streets or vijiwe. Unfortunately, in our community we neither have such opportunity nor any programs or sponsors who are willing to train us on sports and games such as football, netball, drama, choir or music.

Restriction of Video shows.
The children came up with the recommendation that the local government, in collaboration with the community authorities, should either close all the video shows or restrict them to be opened after work hours and on weekends as well as prohibit children from attending the video shows during school hours.

Community Economic Empowerment
Economic empowerment through soft loans was another suggestion that the children made in order to alleviate poverty in the community. The loans would enable their parents/guardians to establish IGAs, generate enough income and therefore be able to provide basic and social needs such as food and education to their children.

Hadija (15): We believe that other project like MEMKWA or informal vocational training will not be successful as children will eventually drop out due to lack of food and other support from their parents/guardians. We therefore recommend that the first thing to do is provide loans to our parents/caregivers to enable them establish IGAs and generate income in order to be able to meet basic needs including food and other family needs.

Life Skills and Behavioral Modification Training
The majority of children in the Kwa Mahita Community are ignorant of sexual and reproductive health information, HIV/AIDS and related issues, drug and substance abusers, child sex workers and other health issues. It therefore, important that life skills and a community peer education program are established targeting street children at vijiweni so as to empowered them with such skills. This will enable them assess and avoid some risks and prevent themselves from HIV/STIs infection and make informed choices for their lives.

Youth (19): There are numerous vijiwe at Chamwino for children and adults too. Some of them have become drug addicts. A special intervention is needed so as to re-habilitate them.

Needs Assessment Part 4: More Findings by Children

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website: http://www.farajatrust.org/


The group discovered that sexual and reproductive health knowledge is an area that many children are ignorant about. This is evidenced by the fact that there are many young mothers (from age 13 and older). During FGDs, some children said that they knew about AIDS and that it can be prevented by condoms. They also mentioned that the major challenges are the scarcity of condoms, and the fact that men do not want to use condoms during sexual intercourse.

Joyce: I know one girl. She is my best friend. One day she got a partner and they went together to one of the local guest houses at Tupendane. She was paid 1000 Tsh. Her partner refused to use a condom. My friend told me that she refused to have sex without the condom, but her partner then paid her Tshs 2000 more! Eventually my friend agreed and they had unprotected sex. A few days later, my friend discovered that she had been infected with STIs.

Youth: Frankly speaking many youths here at Kwa Mahita are ignorant about sexual reproductive health information especially on STIs and family planning and AIDS, which are the reasons for early pregnancies.


Children interviewed said that street children hang around at different locations such as Ngerengere River where they swim and catch fish, jobless corners/spots (commonly known as vijiwe, maskani or camps), Morogoro central market, Sababsaba market/Mawenzi market, Msamvu and Morogoro bus terminals engaging in different activities. In Chamwino the most preferred areas include: video shows (mabanda ya video) and the Tupendane pombe shops. In the evening they hang around the Macedonia football ground where they sell and abuse drugs/substances or fight.

Jobless corners: Vijiwe/vilinge
Jobless corners, or Vijiwe as they are more commonly known, are special areas where street children meet most of the time. Children of both sexes meet at these places. In Chamwino there are several vijiwe which include: Pombe shops, Ngerengere river, Maji Chumvi, mabanda ya video (video shows), saloons and so on. At vijiwe the children sell and abuse drugs. The most common drugs include bhang, cocaine and mandrax. Some of the children at one of the kijiwe said that they get drugs from their bosses in Morogoro town specifically from the shambani-(the fields/rural areas) and at Manzese Street. Vijiwe are a dangerous places where children learn deviant behaviours such as bad language, petty theft, fighting, sex work/sodomizing, and become tough and ready for street life.

Some of the vijiwe where street children hang around at Chamwino.

Sudi: Not all vijiwe are bad places for children. Some children spend their time at vijiwe by discussing positive and development ideas such as business.

The study also aimed to identify which activities street children are involved in. Two groups of respondents were interviewed, girls and boys.


The girls responded as follows:

Child Sex Work
Both groups said that in the streets some of girls engage in sex work. The older children (16 years and above) engage in sex work at one of the night clubs (Kahumba) at night in Morogoro town. At the Tupendane pombe shops girls (12 years and above) sell some food stuff, vegetables, fried fish and vegetables. At the same time as they are doing this they are waiting for their customers, mostly drunkards who offer them money for sex. The maximum they can give is 1000 Tshs, and then they take them to one of the nearby guest houses (Chenzema or Zimbabbwe guest houses). Those drunkards who cannot afford to pay for guest houses normally have sex with girls in unfinished buildings or in the bush.

Youth (20): Some drunkard men pretend to buy all commodities sold by the girls. If the total price is 2000 shillings for instance; they buy all and can even add 1000 shillings more after they take the girls to the guest houses.

Youth (14): Sometimes the community organizes a local disco (commonly known as disco vumbi ) which are normally organized during girls initiation ceremonies. Lots of girls attend during the night. This serves as the meeting place where men fish out child sex workers and have sex with them in one of the unfinished buildings, nearby bushes or in the alleyways.

Zulfa (14): I know girls; some are my close friends and my neighbors. Every evening they go to Tupendane to watch video shows. Some of the girls rest out side the video shows waiting for men. They tell me that they are paid Tshs.1000 for sex and go to guest houses for a short time (Chapuchapu). If they are lucky they can have sex with five men a day, they earn their living that way.


The boys responded as follows:

Child Labour
The boys involved in the study acknowledged that street children are becoming a social problem. They stated that children in Kwa Mahita community wake up in the morning heading to different locations. Some go to Morogoro central market or Mawenzi, Ngerengere River, quarry mines or other places where they try to find any work to do. At the markets, they are ‘employed’ to do any available activity such washing kitchen utensils at restaurants, collecting cabbages, or carrying water or food for little payment.

At Ngerengere River, children interviewees said that they are employed to dig soil, make bricks, fetch water and carry bricks for Tsh.300 a day. Some children said that they earn a living through collecting scrapes and selling them. At the quarry mine, children stated that they dig sand, fine gravel and stone as well as load them onto trucks. Some girls said that they work as house maids.

Mtoto: We always wake up early in the morning and wait for trucks at Daraja la Mahita. The trucks pick us up from there and take us to the quarry mine at Lugala to work.

Ali: At the quarry mines the work is tough, sometimes after loading sand into the trucks they treat us unjustly and they do not pay us. We get little money and we save so as to buy school needs.

Other Activities Street Children are Involved In
The street children said they engage in activities such as collecting iron scraps, carrying luggage, washing cars, child sex work, making bricks, digging gravel and soils, selling food stuff in streets, selling drugs, selling plastic bags etc.

Healthy Issues Facing Children
The lack of health services is a big challenge on Kwa Mahita Street. It is even worse for street children. Children at Ngerengere River, for example, explained that they were urinating blood (meaning that they are suffering from bilharzias disease) but are unable to access treatment due to the fact that their parents or guardians have no money and therefore cannot afford the costs of treatment. Another challenge is that most of the parents in this community are ignorant of the damage that bilharzias can cause. The boys also pointed out that some of the children are suffering from skin diseases as they sleep on sleeping mats. They complained that the major problem is the lack of access to medical care and treatment when they fall sick as their parents are poor but also no hospital, health centre or dispensaries are located in the community.

Saidi: Many of my friends have urinated blood. Many children urinate blood, some even urinate huge blood clots (mabonge ya damu). Me too I have the same problem. But I have failed to get treated. As always my grandmother says that she has no money to take me to the hospital for treatment.

Of the 40 children that were interviewed, 35 children were suffering from bilharzias. In one of the community meetings at Kwa Mahita, some children came forward and confessed that were urinating bloods

Child (13): My friends told me that you are looking for children who urinate blood. I am one of them. I have been urinating blood for the past three months. I have reported this to my father only for him to tell me that he does not have the money needed to cover the medical costs. Please help me because I cannot tolerate the pains I am feeling any more.

Deviant Behaviours of Street Children.
The children articulated some of the deviant behaviours which include pick pocketing, shoplifting, wallet snatching, sodomy, rape, drug and substance abuse and child sex work.

Youth (15): At the river, older street children waylay girls who come to fetch water at the stream grab and rape them, when there are no girls around they sodomize the young children. There are also street children who are willing to be sodomized by older children for money. They give them money and take them to the nearby grave yard and sodomize them.

Girl (13): I have seen older girls who pimp young girls for men and in turn are paid. This mostly happens at Tupendane pombe shops.

The Problems That The Street Children Face in Streets.
Life is not easy in the streets; it is survival for the fittest. The children revealed that they encounter so many problems. Girls said that they are sometimes raped by adults or when they are peddling, people just take their commodities without paying them. They are beaten up by older children, cornered by police, employed to do difficult jobs for little payment and are sometimes not paid at all.

Girl (14): One day my friend and I were peddling bananas at the central market in Morogoro town in the morning. We passed across an action mart. There were men selling clothes. They called to us insisting that they wanted to buy some bananas. They took all the bananas. They did not pay rather told us to come back to collect the money in the afternoon. The bananas cost us 5000 shillings to buy. We returned to collect our money in the afternoon. The men told the two of us to remain outside and asked one of us (she was older than me) to go inside to collect the money. After a while she came out with the money. One of the men told us to always bring them some bananas. Another day we brought them banana as usual, and they asked two girls to go inside to collect the money. I waited for them outside. After a short while, one girl who had come for the first time came out in tears and the blood was oozing out between her legs. She was threatened and told not to tell anyone at home or she would be killed. I had seen and experienced enough, I never went there again.

Needs Assessment Part 3: Why Children Move to the Streets

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website: http://www.farajatrust.org/

Reasons for the Increasing Numbers of Street Children

During data and information collection, the children group applied two methodologies which included: Focus Group Discussions and questionnaires. The children group findings were as follows:

Absolute Poverty in the Families
Interviewed children said that many residents of Kwa Mahita community live in absolute poverty. The poverty results in there being families that to fail to provide basic needs such as food to all of their members. This situation compels some parents or guardians to send children into streets to do petty business or work at the quarries doing brick making or collect scrapers in order to earn some money so as to supplement family income for buying food or scholastic materials and other needs.

Juma: At school teachers demand school contributions. Unfortunately our parents are unable to pay and as a result we have to look for money by doing whatever activity we find in the streets. By doing so we are able to pay the school fees, as well as buy school uniforms and stationary.

Shida: .Some days I miss school because my grandmother asks me to peddle vegetables in order to get money so as we can buy food at home.

Children Mob-Psychology
Some children responded that not all children who go into street have problems at home. Some street children are from middle class families but are just imitating other street children.

Koba: In the street, children earn some money and as a result they are able to pay to watch videos, buy school uniforms and other items at school. This situation encourages other children to go to the streets so that they too can earn some money.

Irresponsible Parents
Children revealed that there are some parents who are totally irresponsible in caring for their children and see no point of sending their children to school. Children who are at the age to go to school but are not registered often choose to go to the streets. Some parents who send their children to school, do not provide them with scholastic needs, uniforms and school contributions or monitor the academic progress of their children. For children whose basic needs are not met, they opt to look for school needs by themselves in the streets. The fortunate/lucky ones earn enough to support themselves and pay for their education but the majority do not and eventually drop out of school and become street children.

Omary: I do not know how to read and write. I have never gone to school as my father did not send me to. My father says that I am 12 years old. I always feel bad when I see my peers and even the young ones from other families going to school. I have a young sister who is 10 years old, but she too is at home, not going to school. My friends and I collect iron scrappers and sell them so as to earn some money.

Twaha: I always buy my school uniforms as my father says that he does not have money to buy me uniforms. There is no way I can earn some money to buy uniform, except in the streets.

Video Shows
Almost all children interviewed admitted that video shows play a major role in increasing the number of street children. In order to be able to watch the video shows, children have to wake early in the morning to find any activity that will pay them some money to cover the cost of admission to the video show. Some children miss school. Children pay Tsh 30 for action pictures but have to pay extra Tsh.20 for pornographic pictures. Children come to watch video shows as many families at Kwa Mahita do not own video.

Juma: Children like to watch videos here because there are no videos in their homes that is the reason they are ready to do any activity in the street so as to get money for the video shows.

Sele (9): We are always allowed to watch the video free of charge from morning until evening on the condition that we clean the hut and the surroundings. But other children have to pay an entrance fee which is about 50 shillings for action picture or pornography. It doesn’t matter whether you are a child or not so long as you can pay you are free to watch.

Needs Assessment Part 2: The Children's Findings

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.

Please visit the Faraja Trust Fund's website: http://www.farajatrust.org/



This is a group of children that was collecting information from the children on Kwa Mahita Street. The children were under the guidance of an adult for security purposes as well as for proper information documentation.

Direct observation:
The children group walked and visited Kwa Mahita Street in order to observe the people, surroundings, resources and general environment in the community. The following are their findings:


Housing Conditions
Kwa Mahita community is one of the streets at Chamwino slum area. The area is not officially surveyed. Houses in this community are in poor condition, most of them are small mud huts, trees and roofed by grasses or hard papers. Some of the huts are in bad condition to the extent that can fall at any time. During the rainy season, water trickles from the roof to the ground. Therefore are few modern houses. There is very small space between houses.

Environment and Sanitation
Kwa Mahita community like other communities in the Chamwino slum area is unsanitary. There are no dust bins or designated areas for keeping garbage. As a result the residents contaminate the environment with garbage. The situation puts the residents in this area in jeopardy of frequent outbreaks of cholera and other infectious diseases.

Only a few families have permanent toilets. Most of residents have no permanent toilets. They have built their toilets adjacent to their houses/huts and they are poorly constructed i.e. made of grasses, pieces of corrugated iron and nylon papers, no doors, no roofing and with mud floors. This makes them unfriendly to users as well as being dangerous especially during the rainy season when they do overflow or collapse. These toilets are also used as bathrooms.

Transport and Communication
There is one major mud road called Mahita which joins the main road to Morogoro town. This is the only road that is passable throughout the year. The rest of the roads are poor and impassable especially during the rainy seasons. The area is accessible by private town buses commonly known as dalaldala which provide services from a neighboring street called Tupendane to Morogoro town about four to five kilometers away. Most of the residents use bicycles as means of transport.

Health Services
In Kwa Mahita there is no health centre or dispensary except a few drug stores and unknown number of traditional healers. The residents face a lot of problems as far as health services are concerned. The most affected are pregnant women who are about to deliver as they have no options except are forced to go to the nearest public health clinic located about 5 km away. Another private hospital is located about 8 km from Chamwino but is too costly for the majority of Chamwino residents. The health status of the population is poor due to moderate to severe malnutrition. The major cause is poverty which makes them no able to afford a balanced diet. Some of them eat only once per day

Markets and Shops for Food Stuff
There are neither markets nor shops. There are few kiosks (magenge) that sell small food stuffs. The residents have to buy food stuffs and other items from Mwande street, Tupendane or Mawenzi market located about 4 km away.

Family Relationships
Though it was quite impossible to know about family relationships through direct observation, the children observed one family that couples were fighting during daytime. The woman was complaining over her husband’s behavior of drinking too much local beer. Production activities at the family level at Kwa Mahita are mostly done by women while men drink local beer (gongo) at local bars known as pombe shops on Tupendane street.

Child Sex Work
Many children aged 12 and above practice sex work especially at the Tupendane pombe shops. Many children hang around the area some selling food, fish or other goods while waiting for their customers, mainly drunk persons. After getting their customers, they go to nearby guest houses to entertain them for short time bases.

Child Labour
During the morning many children were seen going towards Morogoro town, possibly to Mawenzi market or Morogoro central market where they work for little payment until evening. Some children were seen along Ngerengere River digging sands, making bricks and carrying bricks or water for payment which is about sh.300 (about 0.23USD) a day. In other places, children were seen collecting iron scrappers for sale. In quarry mining areas children were seen digging and loading sand into trucks. Girls were seen selling bananas, vegetables and food stuff in the area.

Video Shows
The group observed about 8 huts that show videos on the neighboring Street of Tupendane. These huts/sheds (commonly known as mabanda) are made of sticks, papers or nylon papers with roofs of palm leaves. They are open from 8:30 am until 11:00pm. Many children were seen in these video huts and some were outside peeping in. These were children who could probably not afford to pay the entrance fee of 50Tsh (0.03 USD). Each banda has the capacity to hold 60 people. In some of the mabanda that the Children Group was able to enter and observe, there were adults too, but half of the spectators were children aging from 3 years and above. They were watching action pictures restricted to viewers over 18 years old.

Activities Done by Street Children in the Streets
Children were seen peddling vegetables, fruits, plastic bags and food stuffs. Some were working as child laborers at Ngerengeree River, quarrying and pottering. Along the rivers, some children were busy washing cars and selling and abusing drugs. At the Tupendane pombe shops some girls were selling food stuff and some child sex workers were waiting for customers.

Community Needs Assessment by Children

Here are excerpts from a needs assessment carried out in 2008 in a slum in Morogoro, Tanzania, by two dozen children and young people. The assessment was part of a Participatory Community Development project funded by the Baring Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation of London. The local partner is the Faraja Trust Fund, primarily an HIV and Aids prevention NGO. The focus was on how to stop or slow down the migration of children and youth to the streets.



This report summarizes the findings of the study conducted in Kwa Mahita community of the Chamwino slum area. The primary objective was to identify the reasons/factors that cause children from Kwa Mahita to move from their homes onto streets.

Kwa Mahita is one of 12 streets in the Chamwino slum area. Chamwino is located in Mazimbu ward which is within the northwest suburb of Morogoro Township; it is the most densely populated area in Morogoro municipality. To the north, Chamwino is bordered by Lugal village, Kihonda and Modecco wards. To the southwest Chamwino is separated from Mafiga ward by the Dar Es Salaam-Iringa highway.

Kwa Mahita community is bordered by Misufini, Tupendane streets, Ngerengere River and Modecco ward. Kwa Mahita Street has a total population of 1,636, in which 919 are adults and 717 are children under 18 years of age.

Kwa Mahita residents are faced with various social and economic problems such as poverty, lack of health facilities, poor roads, poor housing conditions, and lack of electricity to many houses/families, the problem of street children, robbery and petty thieves. Other problems include; child sex work, early pregnancy among girls, drug and substance abuse, lack of clean and safe water, domestic violence and outdated traditions and culture. The community is not secure because of the absence of a police post in the area. Kwa Mahita residents admit that among all these problems, the major one is the presence of street children.

The major objective of Neema ya Mtoto Project was to identify a specific area within Morogoro Municipality that is the most highly impacted by the presence of street children for the implementation of a multi-year pilot project. Stakeholders selected Chamwino slum area in Mazimbu ward in Morogoro Municipality for project implementation. Within Chamwino area, Kwa Mahita community was the most affected and has more vulnerable children who are at risk of becoming street children than other streets at Chamwino. In September 2007, community leaders came to a consensus that the project should be implemented firstly at Kwa Mahita community and then move to other streets at Chamwino.

The Neema ya Mtoto Project aims at preventing children who are at risk of becoming street children from going to the streets. The project has gone through several phases. The first phase was the establishment of the stakeholders committee. The committee was composed of 14 community leaders from Kwa Mahita, including community leaders, OVC caregivers, vulnerable children, religious leaders, widows and members of Kwa Mahita neighboring streets. The committee’s role was to conduct a study in order to find out the factors that influence Kwa Mahita children to leave their homes and go to the streets. Before carrying out the study, the committee was capacitated on research methodology.

The Neema ya Mtoto Project will be a participatory project in the sense that it aims at enabling the community to identify their problems as well as look for solutions by using resources from their own locality. The Neema ya Mtoto Project will fully involve the community during planning, implementation and the participatory evaluation phase. This will bring about community involvement, participation and ownership in order to ensure the sustainability of the project. The Neema ya Mtoto Project will be implemented within the Kwa Mahita Community for three years from 2008 and will be funded by the Consortium for Street Children (UK).


Data and information collection took place from 17 December 2007 to 8 January 2008. Data and information was gathered through the following methodology: direct observation, focus group discussions (FGDs), questionnaires and participant observation. The last methodology was used especially while collecting information from special groups of youth such as drug and substance abusers and child sex workers.

Two groups of community members were involved during data and information collection: adults and children. The first group was divided into two categories. The children’s group was under the guidance of an adult for security purposes. A total number of 64 children and 105 adults from Kwa Mahita community participated in the study. The interviews and FGDs were conducted mostly under the shade of trees or at an open space or at one of the community members’ house.


Recruitment of community members for participation in the study was on a voluntary basis with oral consent of the individuals given. Respondents were assured of anonymity. The photos in this study were taken with the consent of individuals in them. The names used here have been changed. The interviews and FGDs were conducted in the Kiswahili language.


This study had the following objectives:
To assess the social, economic and cultural environment of residents of Kwa Mahita Street
To find out the reasons/factors that influence children from Kwa Mahita Street to go to the streets.
To assess the readiness of Kwa Mahita residents for involvement and participation in the Neema ya Mtoto Project in their community.
To identify the priorities of Kwa Mahita residents concerning interventions be implemented in order to prevent children from going to the streets.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Participatory Community Development - Part 2

The Meaning of Community

If you want to undertake a Participatory Community Development (PCD) process, the first thing to do is to decide what you mean by “community”.

Wikipedia has some interesting things to say about community. Among them:

“In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.

“In sociology, the concept of community has caused infinite debate, and sociologists are yet to reach agreement on a definition of the term. There were ninety-four discrete definitions of the term by the mid-1950s. Traditionally a "community" has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. The word is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also refer to the national community or global community.

"Communis comes from a combination of the Latin prefix com- (which means "together") and the word munis probably originally derived from the Etruscan word munis- (meaning "to have the charge of").[1] Since the advent of the Internet, the concept of community no longer has geographical limitations, as people can now virtually gather in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location.”

Regarding Participatory Community Development, I have thought of community as being one of two types, broadly speaking.

There is community as place: a barrio, a neighbourhood, or a village, for example. It is a geographical location. You can use Google Maps to find it. Scale is involved here. I doubt anyone would call Chicago or Dar es Salaam communities. They’re just too big. Uracuza in the Peruvian Amazon, on the other hand, is a community. I know this because I’ve worked there. But when does a place become so big that it is no longer considered a community? I don’t have the answer to that one.

I have practiced Participatory Community Development in a number of places where people felt a strong sense of community. Two examples:

· Ozd, Hungary – A slum neighbourhood in this city made up entirely of Roma families, some of the most vulnerable people in the country, if not in all of Central and Eastern Europe. The neighbourhood lacked running water, sanitation, and adequate housing. It was a ghetto.

· Morogoro, Tanzania – A slum neighbourhood called Chamwino, made up largely of marginalised families, many of whom are considered to be illegal squatters. Residents of the town are often afraid to venture into Chamwino.

Then there is community as a group of dispersed individuals who nevertheless share something in common, where they benefit, or could benefit, by collaborating, even though they may live in different parts of a city or even state or province. Adults with disabilities may consider themselves to be a community. Or people living with HIV and Aids. Maybe professionals, lawyers, engineers, doctors, may consider themselves to form a community. We often hear about the gay community.

But just because people share something in common doesn’t automatically turn them into a community. That happens when they reach out to each other for mutual interest. So, we can say that here there are latent, or dormant, communities and active communities.

One of the drawbacks to the second type of community, of dispersed individuals, has always been the difficulty of meeting face-to-face, of getting together. Now, as Wikipedia rightly points out, this barrier has been overcome thanks to the internet and social communication tools.

Examples of where I carried out Participatory Community Development with dispersed individuals who shared something in common are:

· El Real de Santa Maria, Panama – Embera families are spread throughout this town in the Darien. However, they have a strong sense of identity.

· Chinandega, Nicaragua – Commercial sex workers are found in different parts of this city. However, the threats of physical violence, arbitrary arrests by police, and their marginalisation from society are strong factors in creating a sense of community for mutual support.

Can Participatory Community Development be practised with a virtual community? If anyone is interested, I would like to explore this further.

Next: A Local Organisation Has to Take the Lead

Friday, 15 May 2009

My One and Only Oscar Nominated Documentary

In 1981, while writing about the revolutionary movements in Central America, I happened to be in Santa Rosa de Copan, a small town in Honduras, within driving distance of the border with El Salvador. I was interviewing Fausto Milla, a local priest. In 1980 Milla denounced a massacre of Salvadoran peasants at the Rio Sumpul. It was a coordinated military operation of the Honduran and Salvadoran armies. At least 600 people were butchered. Days afterwards pieces of bodies were still to be found in the river. Despite clergy observers and first-hand testimony, the massacre was all but ignored by the U.S. media.

Milla was telling me about his arrest and interrogation by Honduran authorities for denouncing the massacre, when he received a telephone call from La Virtud, a Honduran village on the Salvadoran border, near the Rio Lempa, which separates the two countries.

Milla hung up the phone. He was visibly shaken.

He told me that the caller urged him to hurry to La Virtud, that another massacre was taking place. This time at the Rio Lempa.

La Virtud was already crowded with Salvadoran refugees living in tents. Several foreign relief organisations were providing services to the refugees, especially health and sanitation.

"My contact said hundreds of people, women and children, were trying to cross the river and that the Salvadoran army was killing them," said Milla. "He said the Honduran army was also participating."

Although it was late in the evening, we decided to drive to La Virtud. We drove all night in Milla's four-wheel drive, along narrow, pitch-black, mountainous roads, wondering what we would find when we got to the border at sunrise.

What we found in the early morning light was hundreds of traumitized campesinos, peasants, camped out under trees, along dusty paths. The makeshift clinic operated by Medecins sans Frontieres was crowded with the wounded. Most of the patients had been shot, or wounded by mortars. One woman had her jaw shot off. The hills echoed with the sound of crying children.

Milla and I interviewed as many eyewitnesses as we could. By mid-morning a small group of refugees approached us. They wanted us to go with them back to the river, to help them find survivors. Since I was a journalist from the United States, they thought I could protect them from Honduran soldiers or Salvadoran death squads known to operate in the area.

Milla and I agreed to accompany the handful of men and women to the river.

At the river we came across a little girl named Segundo. She must have been about eight or nine years old. She was lying near a path, moaning. A woman was sitting next to her. As I stood in front of Segundo, I saw that she had been wounded by a heavy caliber bullet. Her hip had been torn open. It was filled with maggots.

While the refugees who accompanied us made a makeshift stretcher to bring Segunda to the clinic at La Virtud, Milla and I walked down to the river. Both banks were strewen with clothes and discarded tools. On the Honduran side we came across the body of a pregnant woman. She had been shot in the head. We heard dogs barking. I looked up toward the Salvadoran side of the river. A dog was eating the body of a little girl. I threw a stone across the river. It had no effect.

We evacuated Segunda and her aunt to the refugee camp. Nearly a year later I was back in the area. I asked about her. We were reunited. I was glad to see that her wound healed nicely. She was laughing and playing with her friends.

Within days I appeared on ABC News Nightline with Ted Koppel, presenting the evidence I had gathered about the massacre. No one was held accountable. No one took responsibility for the murder of innocent woman and children.

I was furious. I contacted one of the Salvadoran guerrilla leaders . I told him that I wanted to join up, that I wanted to kill the bastards who had massacred the innocents at the Rio Lempa. Luckily, he talked me out of it. I then decided to quit my job at the newspaper and go back to El Salvador and make a feature-length documentary film.

With the brilliant support of a brave and talented crew, led by Frank Christopher, an award-winning director who specialized in making documentaries for TV, we raised enough money to go back. We spent weeks in the hills of El Salvador, living with the guerrillas and their supporters and accompanying them into battle. We shot everything on Super 8.

The result was In the Name of the People, narrated by Martin Sheen. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 1985, and we got to go to Hollywood. We lost out to a documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk.

To my pleasant surprise, In the Name of the People can now be seen at this link:


Most of the people in the film were already killed by the time it was edited and shown in theatres in the United States.

As far as I know the little girl, Segunda, survived.

Talks with Peruvian Government Haven't Yielded Results - Protests Continue

According to news accounts, talks have resumed between the Peruvian government and indigenous groups after a violent crackdown on protests left 10 injured and aprroximately 20 under arrest. So far the talks have not brought results. Demonstrations against decrees that affect indigenous lands and the rainforest continue. The tate of emergency remains in place in several Amazon regions.

Alberto Pizango, president of the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association (AIDESEP) - a coalition of 28 federations of indigenous peoples and which is leading the roadblocks and demonstrations by some 2,000 indigenous protesters -- was circumspect with regard to the outcome of the meeting with representatives of the administration of Alan García.

However, other native leaders who took part in the talks were impatient and angry. Since early April, indigenous people have blocked roads and riverways to protest decrees that open up their land to oil, mining and logging companies.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Negotiations Underway Between Amazon Indians and Peruvian Government

Representatives of indigenous peoples of the Amazon and the Peruvian Government announced today (14 May), after a three-hour meeting, that talks between the two sides are continuing and that there could be a solution to the conflict within the next few hours. The indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon have been on strike since 9 April, protesting recent government decrees affecting their land and resource rights.

Participatory Community Development - Its Origin

Let’s start with this.

I believe it is the right of every single person, whether man or woman, adult or child, rich or poor, to participate in the making and carrying out of decisions that affect their lives.

Perhaps it sounds like plain common sense. After all, you wouldn’t want someone to go to your home, look around, and then tell you how to live your life or how you should work or how you should raise your kids.

But this is what is happening every day all across the world under the guise of international development. Even in countries that call themselves democracies.

Highly paid experts, called consultants, are constantly telling people that have been identified as “marginalised” or “socially excluded” or whatever what to do. It is usually done in the form of a report submitted to the organisation that pays them: a Ministry, World Bank, USAID, DFID, to name a few.

Because you are poor or a commercial sex worker or an indigenous person, for example, you are supposed to be too stupid to figure out why you are poor or why you’re not getting your piece of the economic pie. You need an expert getting paid $1,000 a day plus expenses to tell you why you are in the mess you’re in. And it is usually someone who has never been in your shoes and is just visiting, of course for the purpose of helping you.

When I was with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, based in the then regional delegation in Panama, I had a chance to work with the Embera in the Darien. They are among the poorest and most discriminated against people in Panama. They told me that they were sick and tired of so-called experts flying in with pre-conceived ideas and projects and wanting the indigenous people to sign off on them. This was supposed to be a participatory approach to development. They didn’t buy the label.

I have heard the same complaint around the world -- from Siberia to the Amazon, from the United States to Russia, from Europe to Southern Africa – stop treating us like objects.

In the late 1990s I experimented with something I called Participatory Community Development . PCD for short. I can’t claim credit for the title. I can’t even claim credit for the elements that make up PCD. I just took what existed – ideas, methodologies, tools, etc. -- and put them together in such a simple way, that when this method was first used throughout Hungary, it made a difference in the lives of people (impoverished Roma, hungry pensioners, adults and children with disabilities) almost right away.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has since turned PCD into a programme; it has spread throughout Central and Eastern Europe and into the Caucasus.

Maybe it should be used in Western Europe and in North America.

Next: How does PCD work?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

State of Emergency in Peruvian Amazon - Indignous People Take Up Arms

Peru has declared a 60-day state of emergency in some of its Amazon basin regions as indigenous groups protest against forest and energy legislation. Mainstream media seem to be ignoring the crisis. However, the following site is very helpful.

As some background to understanding what is going on now in the Peruvian Amazon, I am sharing an article I wrote in 1990 about efforts by the indignous peoples of the Amazon, especially the Peruvian Amazon, to organise themselves. It seems that the article is still very relevant today.

LIMA, Peru – Faced with increasing invasions by landless peasants, harassment by leftist guerrillas, expansion of coca fields by powerful drug lords, and ill-conceived government development schemes, more than a million Amazon Indians – many of them former head-hunters – have organized themselves to defend their land and way of life.

By uniting, Indian leaders say they are not only assuring the survival of about 300 ethnic groups into the 21st century, but also the survival of the world’s largest remaining rainforest.

According to tropical ecologists, an estimated 50 to 100 acres of tropical forest – much of it Indian land – is disappearing in the Amazon every minute. Trees are cut down for logging, farming and pasture land. In some countries, the trees are cut down to make room for expanding coca fields for the Colombian drug cartels.

In addition, thousands of gold miners are leaching ore with mercury, dumping tons of the poison into Amazon Basin rivers every year.

Tropical deforestation, according to Thomas Lovejoy, a tropical ecologist and assistant secretary for external affairs at the Smithsonian Institution, is “no longer a matter of obscure and anonymous vanishing species in some distant place.

“The problem of tropical deforestation...and the greenhouse effect, which will engender further species loss, must now be seen as an enormous global problem. We are all locked in the greenhouse together,” Lovejoy said.

To defend their rapidly disappearing habitat, an estimated 1.3 million Amazon Indians in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru formed national coalitions in each of their countries.

Although many of the Indians have been enemies for centuries, they went on to forge an effective alliance that spans the five countries. On March 26, 1984, the five national coalitions joined together to form the umbrella Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) – an international, Indian-run lobbying organization.

Together, the Indians are fighting the battle to save the Amazon, combining weapons and tactics that date back to the Stone Age with modern technology.

COICA president Evaristo Nugkuag, an Aguaruna Indian from the Peruvian Amazon, is a descendant of head-hunters – warriors who practiced “tsantsa,” the shrinking of a decapitated enemy’s head.

He also is one of the few Amazon Indians with a university education. That, coupled with innate political savvy, has helped make him a shrewd negotiator, someone comfortable both in the rainforest and in the political labyrinths of the world’s capitals.

For Nugkuag and COICA, there are no more urgent problems than defending the rights of the Amazonian Indians and, thereby, preventing the wholesale destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
“All the Amazonian countries,” he said, “have made preposterous claims that the great, empty Amazon jungle can finance national development; that it can provide an alternative for overcoming historical, structural problems, and that it can become the countries’ breadbaskets.

“These flippant and irresponsible claims, which have been the basis for development policies for over three decades, are of great concern to us – not only because of their disastrous consequences for our indigenous peoples – but also for the threat they pose to the very future of the entire Amazon Basin.”

Declared Nugkuag: “The Amazon that is burning right now is our life.”

Almost immediately after it was founded, COICA set out to identify an alternative course of action for the development of the Amazon Basin. The organization’s findings were presented last fall at a meeting with environmentalists in Washington, D.C.

“An important task of the Coordinating Body, “the COICA document states, “is to present to the international community the alternative which we indigenous peoples offer for living within the Amazonian biosphere, caring for it and developing within it.

“This is one of our important contributions to a better life for humankind.”

The document outlines what COICA calls “Our Program for the Defense of the Amazonian Biosphere,” and lists four major points:

· The defense of the Indians’ territory, along with the “promotion of our (indigenous) models for living within that (Amazon) biosphere and for managing its resources;

· The defense of the Amazon biosphere “must go hand-in-hand with the recognition of and respect for the territorial, political, cultural, economic, and human rights of the indigenous peoples;

· The right of self-determination for indigenous peoples within their territory is “fundamental for guaranteeing the well-being of the indigenous population and of the Amazon biosphere; and,

· Concrete proposals for international cooperation, including programs for economic development, public health, bilingual and intercultural education, resource management, territorial demarcation and legal defense, among others.

“Much of the Amazon continues to be beyond the law,” said Nugkuag. “A fierce racism and contempt for indigenous peoples make them easy targets for all sorts of crimes. These crimes are so commonplace, they rarely make the newspapers.”

The Indians are fighting their battle to save the Amazon on two fronts:

On the first – the isolated rainforests of the Amazon Basin, which drain an area the size of the United States – they have had to resort to such traditional weapons as spears, bows and arrows, and blowguns with poisoned darts, to defend themselves and their land.

Last December, for example, a leftist Peruvian guerrilla group known as the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) kidnapped and killed the political and spiritual leader of the Ashaninka Indians.

The Ashaninka live in a part of the Peruvian Amazon that has been plagued not only by the MRTA insurgency, but also by drug-traffickers and the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, Peru’s most feared terrorist organization.

At first, the two rival guerrilla organizations tried to “win the hearts and minds” of the Ashaninka. In turn, the Indians tolerated the first group, the MRTA.

While the MRTA is a fairly small organization that generally refrains from indiscriminately killing people, the Shining Path is Peru’s largest and most violent terrorist group. Its victims have routinely included peasant women and children in the country’s Andean region.

Last August, however, the two rival terrorist groups stepped up their activities, concentrating their efforts on Puerto Bermudez, a town on the edge of Ashaninka territory.

On December 8, the MRTA entered the town and kidnapped Alejandro Calderon Espinoza, the Ashaninka’s political and spiritual leader, from his home, along with two other Indians, Rodrigo Chauca and Benjamin Cavero.

According to Cavero, who later escaped, the guerrillas said they wanted to meet with Calderon to discuss some of the problems that the recent MRTA and Shining Path incursions into Puerto Bermudez had caused Indian communities in the area.

After moving the kidnapped Indians to several different hiding places, they killed Calderon while he was “tied up like an animal,” Cavero said. Chauca also was killed.

A few days later, the MRTA issued a communiqué stating that it had killed Calderon because he had handed over an MRTA guerrilla to Peruvian authorities. The group refused to turn over his body to his people for burial.

In retaliation for the murder of their leader, the Ashaninka declared an all-out war against the MRTA. Thousands of warriors, armed with spears and blowguns, attacked MRTA bases in the rainforest.

After two months of fighting, MRTA leaders sent word that they wanted to negotiate. However, Ashaninka leaders replied they would fight until every guerrilla was either dead or had fled the territory.

“The guerrillas,” said Nugkuag, “have left.”

The Indians’ second front is in the political labyrinths of national capitals and multilateral institutions, where indigenous leaders tend to rely more on computers, fax machines, negotiations, lobbying and press conferences to achieve their goals.

Last fall Nugkuag led a delegation to Washington, D.C. There the Indians not only criticized such international organizations as the World Bank for lack of sensitivity to Indian problems, but also took environmentalist groups to task.

“The environmentalists don’t take the inhabitants of the Amazon into account,” said Wilfrido Aragon Aranda, a Quichua Indian from Ecuador and vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuadorian Amazonia, one of the five groups that make up COICA.

The Indian leaders also voiced their concerns about “debt-for-nature swaps,” an arrangement by which conservation groups assume a portion of a country’s debt to foreign banks in exchange for the country setting aside land for protection or establishing local conservation programs.

Debt-for-nature swaps have been especially popular in Latin America, a region burdened by huge foreign debts.

“We don’t see how it is possible for groups in this country to negotiate with governments without including the indigenous peoples,” Nugkuag told the environmentalists. “We must be at the center of any negotiations about our home.”

In an effort to achieve this goal, a summit meeting of the various Amazonian Indian groups is scheduled to open May 7 in Iquitos, Peru. At the top of the agenda is the Indians’ role as future custodians of the Amazon rainforest, and debt-for-nature swaps.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Indignous people in the Peruvian Amazon Struggle to Survive

In the mid 1980s, while attending the School of International Service (SIS) at The Americn University in Washington, D.C., I met Evaristo Nugkuag, a remarkable man who helped organise the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin. He received the Right Livelihood Award in recognition of his achievements. We became good friends and Evaristo would visit me and my family whenever he was in Washington, D.C. He invited me to visit the Peruvian Amazon and see for myself how his people were organizing themselves to confront their challenges. I did so on numerous occasions, providing advice on development projects and facilitating several workshops. I also wrote several articles. Over the years, I would work with indigenous people in numerous countries, and even in Siberia, and sadly discover that they all faced, and continue to face, similar problems. Environmentalists haven't always been their best friends. Native Americans in the U.S. and Canada and indigenous people everywhere could benefit tremendously by sharing information and collaborating. It has been going on for years, but it needs to be stepped up. The new social communication tools available through the internet should help with this.

Having just finished reading Sherman Alexie's The Lone-Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a collection of related fictional stories about life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of Washington, I thought I would share this article about the struggle of the Aguarunas and Huambisas. The article was published by several newspapers in the U.S.

NAPARUCA, Peru – The two Aguaruna Indians – sullen men in their 30s – arrived here with an unconscious seven-year-old girl in a peke-peke, a long, narrow dugout canoe powered by a sputtering nine-horsepower motor.

The girl was haemorrhaging from the nose and mouth.

One of the men was the girl’s father, the other was the owner of the canoe. They were both from the same village.

The girl had been bitten by a poisonous snake while picking fruit near her hut earlier in the day. By the time her mother returned from fishing and her father returned from hunting, she was already unconscious.

Because it was late at night and the Rio Maranon is dotted with treacherous whirlpools – especially in the rainy season – it took nearly four hours to get from the girl’s village to Naparuca, which has the only clinic within a two-day’s journey.

At the clinic, Lucio “Lucho” Yuu Tsamahain, 35, the newly appointed director of health for the Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa (CAH), tried desperately to save the girl’s life. She was more than a patient to him – she was also his niece.

However, Yuu’s eight years’ experience as a paramedic told him that his attempts were useless. Too many hours had already passed. There was nothing he could do to counteract the snake’s venom.

The girl died.

Yuu’s eyes welled up with tears. The bloodstained body on the examination table became a watery blur, and he could no longer see the father’s pain. He could only hear the sobs – his own and the father’s.

Alone, the two men stood near the table and grieved.

After a while, the father wiped the blood from his daughter’s face, picked her up and carried her down to the muddy bank of the river for the long journey home.

Yuu locked up the clinic for the night. He paused for a few seconds at the door, looked toward the river, then headed in the opposite direction.

Exhausted from another 16-hour day, saddened by the girl’s death and angry at his inability to save her life, Yuu walked slowly, hesitantly, past the CAH headquarters, a long, concrete building with a tin roof. He walked past the hut that sheltered the generator, and on past the guest house, where foreign development workers frequently stayed while inspecting the projects their organizations had funded.

With so many changes in the last few years, Yuu wondered, were his people really better off than before?

That is a question being asked more and more by Indians throughout the Amazon Basin, as they daily attempt to confront a host of threats to their environment and culture.

In this sense, the Aguarunas and Huambisas are representative of all Amazon Indians.

Until recently, ceremonial war and headhunting played a prominent part in Aguaruna life. They were key to a man’s self-image. Life was meant to be adventurous and dramatic, death heroic.

The most highly prized virtues for a man were virility and contempt for death. Women were expected not to shy away from committing suicide if they felt their dignity was offended.

However, the last inter-tribal war between the Aguaruna and Huambisa was fought in the 1950s. No one is sure of the exact date. The last major internal war, a blood feud involving a large number of Aguaruna families, was fought in the late 1960s.

Today, 45 years after the Indians established contact with the outside world, the 47,000 Aguarunas and Huambisas of Condorcanqui province are undergoing a painful transition.

They are threatened by colonization, an influx of impoverished peasans from the Andes. Their culture is being undermined by fundamentalist Christian missionaries. And the penetration of the Peruvian market economy is having an adverse effect on the Indians’ environment.

Although traditional enemies, the Aguarunas and Huambisas decided in 1976 to unite and confront their common threats together. They formed the Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa (CAH) – the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council.

While the CAH is a non-governmental, Indian development organisaton, it also serves as the Indians’ political structure. With the help of European development organizations, the CAH set up five programs: health, education and culture, legal defense, economic promotion, and a motorboat repair shop.

Today, the CAH has one of the best health-care systems in the Amazon. It boasts of a clinic with a pharmacy, as well as 100 “health posts” in as many villages. A trained paramedic is assigned to each post.

It is now looking into the possibility of acquiring computers powered by solar cells. With a modem, CAH officials would be able to keep in touch with the Lima offices of the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) – an international, lobbying organization founded by one of their former members, Evaristo Nugkuag.

The computer could also be used by the clinic to gather needed medical information, and th3 economic promotion program to keep abreast of the latest prices for plantains, the banana-like fruit that is a primary foodstuff.

Despite the CAH’s advances, life for the Indians of Condorcanqui province is still tough, by any measure. The average life expectancy is 39. Instead of heroic death, there is only death by snakebite, malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhea.

Although men continue to desire two or three wives, they can no longer afford to keep that many. Since their involvement in the market economy prevents them from hunting or otherwise providing for their families, they tend to abandon one of the wives, who usually hav anywhere from eight to 12 children.

The woman’s response, all too frequently, is to commit suicide.

“At least 28 women killed themselves last year alone,” said Maria Rebeca Deten Regoso, who is in charge of te clinic’s maternal and infant health unit. “Because of the many abandoned women, widows and single mothers, it is impossible for them to support their families. They need help.”

Deten is attempting to form a women’s organization that would offer counselling, and design and implement small-scale enterprises for women.

“But,” she asked, “where are we going to get the funding?”

While the Aguarunas and Huambisas have never been very organized beyond the extended family, they have always had the ability to forge key alliances when facing a common threat. This flexibility, according to anthropologists, allowed them to form the CAH.

Last fall the CAH inaugurated a two-month, bilingual/bicultural course for approximately 500 Aguaruna and Huambisa teachers. CAH officials said it marked the beginning of the Indians’ struggle to reclaim their culture.

“We need to re-establish or own traditional values before it is too late,” insisted Santiago Manuin Valera, the CAH’s vice president.

At the opening ceremony, Manuin summed up the feelings of the Indian community. In a speech directed at the few Peruvian government officials who had bothered to accept the CAH’s invitation to attend the inauguration, Manuin said:

“We have heard the government representative say that we should live together, mestizo (mixed-blood) and Indian, in peace and harmony. These are beautiful words. Beautiful. But we don’t want any more words. We want concrete action. For too long the indigenous people have been repressed. For too long the indigenous people have been exploited. But now I say, ‘Enough is enough!’”

Later that day, Yuu wondered whether his people would be able to survive. The problems seem overwhelming. The resources few.

But then Yuu smiled as he thought of something past that gave him encouragement.

“The Incas tried to defeat us,” he said. “Then the conquistadores came. They tried to defeat us. Then the mestizo came.”

Yuu’s smile spread across his face.

“You know, we have never been defeated,” he said proudly.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Using Open Space Technology to Address Needs of Tanzania's Street Children

In January of this year I facilitated a national conference near Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam, to address the needs of the country's growing number of street children. I did this in my capacity as the then executive director of a British charity, the Consortium for Street Children. More than 80 persons participated. They included street children, local government officials, leaders of nongovernmental organisations, representatives of national ministries, international organisations, and corporations. The conference was opened by Tanzania's pime minister and was widely covered by that country's news media.

By using Open Space Technology I helped the participants to look at street children issues over the last three decades, the present, and then help them to envision a better future. This was the first time that the participants had an opportunity to share their experience and opinions. It was a messy, creative and productive process that produced a common platform for moving forward. The results are now being used by the Ministry for Community Development, Gender and Children to develop a national strategy for street children.

A short video report on the conference can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLc0bLG3Ehc.

Sri Lanka's Conflict - A Historical Perspective

The bloody conflict in Sri Lanka is very much in the news these days, as government forces appear to be on the verge of destroying the Tamil Tigers, at the cost of tremendous suffering to people trying to flee the devestation. In the spring of 1985, I spent a month in Sri Lanka to try to better understand how the island came to be torn apart. The following article, part of a series, first appeared in a newspaper in California. But I believe the background information helps to shed a light on the current situation in Sri Lanka.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- It is early morning.

A damp, predawn chill creeps out of the nearby harbor and roams through the labyrinth of narrow, dimly lit streets and alleys that make up the Pettah, this city's old bazaar.

The shops are still closed at this hour; the only sound comes from the red-and-white-striped mosque on Second Cross Street.

Several crows are bickering over which one gets to sit on top of the half-moons crowning the minarets. Once the argument is settled, the loser flies off toward the Indian Ocean. A few minutes later, the dispute is forgotten and the market becomes quiet again.

Suddenly, a brass gong rings out.

And as if by magic, the harsh, metallic "clang-clang-clang" from a nearby Hindu temple brings the bazaar to life. Before long, it is crammed with noise and sunlight. The air becomes thick with the smell of clove, cinnamon, tropical fruits, and fresh leather. The hot, dusty streets are crowded with men in sarongs, women wrapped in brightly colored saris, and Buddhist monks in saffron colored robes.

Until recently, the Pettah would also have been swarming with tourists.

Ever since the first ambassadors from Sri Lanka (until recently known as Ceylon) arrived in Rome in 45 A.D., travelers from the West have come to this Indian Ocean island to enjoy the lush jungles, palm-laced shores, and ancient, ruined cities. Few have disagreed with the 13th century Italian friar who wrote, "And from Seyllan (Ceylon) to Paradise...is a distance of forty Italian miles."

But no more.

Like Dorian Gray's picture, the island's image has deteriorated. More and more Sri Lanka is beginning to be compared with Northern Ireland, Lebanon or Cyprus.

Nearly one-third of Sri Lanka is now a battleground as separatist Tamil guerrillas are escalating their rebellion against the predominately Sinhalese central government. The campaign for a separate, independent state of Tamil Eelam in the island's northern and eastern provinces has included massacring Sinhalese civilians, blowing up railroad tracks, ambushing military patrols, and assassinating suspected informers, who are then hung from lamp posts.

The Tamils are Sri Lanka's largst minority, representing 12.6 per cent of the island's 15 million pople. Mostly Hindu, they are descendants of Dravidians, the original inhabitants of India.

The Sinhalese, on the other hand, make up 74 per cent of the population. They are predominately Buddhists and are descendants of a group of Aryans who came here from northern India.

Faced with a growing insurgency, President Junius "J.R." Jayewardene's administration has given his undisciplined, mostly Sinhalese army a blank check to put down the rebellion.

The army has cut off the arid Jaffna peninsula in the north, the heart of the rebellion, from the rest of the tropical island, hoping to contain the insurgency. Meanwhile, the military road block at Elepehant Pass, the gateway to the northern peninsula, ensures that foreign journalists are kept out of the area.

"The government," said a European diplomat here in the capital, "doesn't want outsiders to see what the army is doing to the Tamils in the north."

According to information gathered from human rights organizations, both local and interntional, several foreign diplomats, and citizens committees in the troubled areas, close to 1,000 people -- mostly innocent Tamil civilians -- have been killed since November, and approximately 13,000 Tamil peasants and fishermen forced out of their villages by the army.

Within the last few months, about 1,000 "boat people" have fled to India, which already has 50,000 refugees who left Sri Lanka after the bloody anti-Tamil riots of July 1983.

"Mass arrests of Tamil youths are being carried out," the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka complained recently in a statement to the press. "Detainees in the custody of the state have been killed. Some members of the security forces have carried out massive reprisals against the civilian population and, in the course of their operations, have killed many people, and have caused much damage to private property, burning and destroying homes and farms."

Radhika Coomaraswamy, a noted Tamil scholar and associate director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, fears the situation is "deteriorating into a tribal war."

So far, the United States has stayed out of the conflict. When National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali flew to Washington recently, one of the English-language papers here reported that he would make a "strong bid to ascertain the possibility of obtaining United States military assistance to combat terrorism." But U.S. officials turned down the request. Instead, they urged a political solution to the problem.

"Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union," said Kumari Jayawardene, a social scientist and historian, "will interfere in this matter. They don't want to antagonize India. They feel that Sri Lanka belongs within India's sphere of influence."

In many ways, both this country's Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority are prisoners of the past. They continue to see each other through a prism of myths and fears thousands of years old.
"There is a history of Sri Lanka, written by Buddhist monks over the centuries, called the Mahavamsa," said Reggie Siriwardene, a Sinhalese scholar at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies. "It is similar to the Old Testament. In it is promoted the idea of the Sinhalese pople as the chosen people of God, and Sri Lanka as the holy country. Tamils were subhuman."

A strong feeling persists among many Sinhalese that ever since their ancestors arrived in Sri Lanka, they have been subjected to one invasion after another by Tamils from Southern India, and with each succeeding invasion the Sinhalese have ben pushed farther and farther south.

Even today, Sinhalese government officials honor the memory of Dutugemunu, the legendary king who around 2,000 years ago led his army on a campaign in the north, where he killed the Tamil king and took back from the "invaders" the land that the Sinhalese considered rightfully theirs. The national security minister and minister of lands and land development recently placed a garland on the statue of Dutugemunu in Anuradhapura, the ancient Sinhalese capital on the edge of Tamil territory.

Who arrived first in Sri Lanka -- Sinhalese or Tamil -- is a matter of debate. What is known with certainty, however, is that both groups have lived on this island for over 2,000 years, with large concentrations of Sinhalese in the south and Tamils in the north and east. They ruled themselves independently at various periods of their history, preserving their language, religion and culture.
During 150 years of Portuguese colonial rule, followed by another 150 years undr the Dutch, the two communities were still allowed to basically administer themselves. But with the arrival of the British in 1796, the entire island was governed by a single administration for the first time.

The British favored the Tamils, who had access to English language education since the late 18th century when U.S. missionaries from New England established schools in the Tamil areas. Because the land in the north is arid, the Tamils saw in education the means of obtaining employment. The Buddhist clergy had vehemently opposed setting up Christian missionary schools in the Sinhalese part of the country.

As a result, Tamils dominated the civil services and outnumbered the Sinhalese in many other professions.

For the Sinhalese another cause of resentment was the introduction in the 19th cntury of Tamils from southern India. The British brought them over to work on the tea estates in the central highlands. Today, their descendants number aproximately 825,000 and make up 5.6 per cent of the population. Most of them still work on the tea plantations in the heart of Sinhalese territory.

With independence in 1948, the reins of power were transferred from the British colonial government to Sinhalese leaders. What followed was a series of anti-Tamil policies to divest what the Sinhalese community felt was a privileged minority.

One of the first acts of the new government was to disenfranchise 900,000 Tamils of recent Indian rigin, mostly tea estate workers. As a result, the Sinhalese easily came to hold 80 per cent of the seats in the legislature.

In 1956, Sinhalese was made the official language. The 1972 constitution raised Buddhism to the level of a state religion. Also in the early 1970s, the Sinhalese government introduced a "standardisation" system, which meant that Tamil studens had to get higher marks on exams than Sinhalese students to be admitted to a university. Without a university education, more and more Tamil youths found themselves barred from well-paying jobs.

Along with the anti-Tamil legislation, Sri Lanka has had three anti-Tamil disturbances, the first in 1958, followed by others in 1981 and 1983.

The worst race riot was in July 1983. Well-organized mobs burned and looted Tamil owned businesses and homes, while, in several cases, police and military stood by and watched. The Tamil shops in the Pettah were leveled. More than 400 peopl were killed -- some burned alive.

K. Sivapalan, a retired vice principal, moved his family out of Colombo and back to their hometown on the east coast after a mob killed his youngest son. "We lost everything," said Sivapalan. "Our house, furniture...everything."

The government's approach to th ethnic crisis, said R. Balasubramaniam, secretary of the Jaffna Citizens Committee, is "alienating the civilians" in the Tamil areas. Indiscriminate killings of civilians and mass arrests, he said, are creating widespread sympathy for the guerrillas.

"In the north," said Balasubramaniam, "the army is acting like a foreign army of occupation. Most of the soldiers can't even communicate with the local population. They speak only Sinhalese."

Balasubramaniam and other Tamil leaders have objected strenuously to the government's proposed plan to resettle 30,000 rmed Sinhalese families in traditional Tamil areas. They fear such a move would provoke an all-out civil war.

In December, one of the guerrilla groups attacked four Sinhalese fishing villages in the Mullaitivu district. The rebels massacred the villagers, including women and children, as a warning against further Sinhalese encroachment on traditional Tamil lands.

"The Sinhalese people," said Vincent J. Fernando, an official with the Ministry of National Security, while displaying color photos of the dead villagers, "have never said that only Sinhalese people should be allowed to live in their areas. Tamils also live there, as well as Muslims and others. How would you like it if the Mexicans and Mexican-Amricans of California decided that only people with Spanish surnames should be allowed to live there?

"The Tamils," added Fernando, "are among the most pampered minorities in the world."

The only solution to the ethnic problem, according to Balasubramaniam, is to grant the Tamils regional autonomy: a federal state that would be part of a United Sri Lanka.

In 1975, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) was formed. Its goal was, and remains today, a "separate, free, secular, sovereign socialist state of Tamil Eelam." Despite its name, the TULF opted for non-violent means of achieving its goal and won 18 seats in Parliament. Since then, the TULF has insisted that it has a mandate from its people to set up a separate Tamil Eelam. TULF leaders, however, have said that they would be willing to accept "any viable alternative."

Meanwhile, militant Tamil youths have turned to guerrilla warfare to establish Tamil Eelam.

There are currently seven rebel organizations, collectively known as the Tigers. It is estimated that they have about 5,000 recruits, with only about a third of them armed or trained to fight. In comparison, the Sri Lankan army has about 11,000 trained men under arms. A few of the groups have turned to the Palestinian Liberation Organization for their training. The association came to light when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon and captured several Tamils who were fighting alongside PLO combatants.

So far, the guerrillas have been able to operate out of India, about 20 miles from Sri Lanka, across the Palk Strait. There, the insurgents have found sympathy and support among India's 60 million Tamils.

Some political observers believe India is merely using the guerrillas to put pressure on Sri Lanka's government to come to terms with the TULF.

Hopes for a negotiated settlement have now all but faded. Frustrated with the government's hard-line stance, TULF leaders are now exploring the possibility of an alliance with the guerrillas. The guerrillas, in turn, are stepping up their attacks, while the government is rallying the Sinhalese behind its arm.

"Like Abraham Lincon did," said a member of Parliament recently, "we must prepare for civil war."