Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A 'Power Walk' to Understand Poverty

By Martin Hayes,
Child Protection Specialist for CCF

Note: Martin traveled with Jason Schwartzman to the Philippines recently for a workshop to discuss CCF’s programming. Martin is one of the workshop facilitators.

Christian Children’s Fund’s new core programs are tried and tested methods to assist with children’s successful transition through the life cycle. Through the support of the core program interventions, communities and families will be better equipped to ensure most children will achieve their life-stage milestones that will help their transition to healthy and productive adulthood.

However, many children have significant obstacles for this successful transition. Children who live in environments that do not protect them from abuse, exploitation or neglect are often prevented from healthy development. For effective and meaningful change that would promote children’s healthy development, our core programs will be adapted to address the root causes of child development obstacles.

Often there is an assumption that collective poverty is the primary root cause of the obstacles. We often treat communities as if they are homogeneous units with common interests – poverty reduction. While poverty is a significant problem for many in the community, unequal access to resources is often overlooked. A deeper understanding and informed and nuanced approach to power dynamics and asymmetrical relationships in communities is necessary to address the root causes of these obstacles.

To drive home this point, we've developed an exercise for the workshop called the "Power Walk," which helps participants to understand the power dynamics within communities. Participants were lined up in an equal row facing forward. Privately each participant was given a different community character description (e.g. a businessman with a wife and two children, a young orphaned boy living with an aunt and uncle and cousins, a domestic servant girl, a single female school teacher, etc.). Participants were then asked to take one step forward if their character could answer “yes” to any of the following statements or to stand still if they could not answer affirmatively:

* You’ve eaten breakfast this morning.
* You can receive medical treatment when needed.
* You can walk through the community free from harassment or violence.
* Your ideas are listened to by others in the community related to decision-making.

After the questions were all posed, participants who were once side-by-side were spread out across the room. Participants then revealed their characters’ identities and discussed what happened during the exercise and how this mirrored life in a community. Participants discussed power differentials and children’s vs. adults’ experiences related to poverty.

The exercise was well received by participants. Many commented that the “Power Walk” was a practical method of provoking thought and discussion around power dynamics in communities and children’s experiences related to deprivation, exclusion and vulnerability.

Our point? Poverty does not treat all people equally; by further understanding the differences between families within otherwise poor communities we can truly identify families that are more vulnerable than others. It is these families that CCF especially seeks to work with.

Coming soon: Jason Schwartzman’s blogging continues as his seventh post details a night with a family in the Philippines.

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