Day 1 - June 15
Community Commons Daily Report – 15 June 2005 (Preparatory / Planning Day)
Morning Session I: 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. (Full Group)
The planning day for the Community Commons began under sunny skies, but thankfully cooler temperatures, at 9:30 a.m. at Fordham University in New York City. The gathering was called to order in the elaborate tented dialogue space on the main campus by the sound of a bell rung by facilitator Benson Venegas, of Costa Rica.
The Commons opened for the day with Donato Bumacas, a facilitator from the Philippines, introducing Madame Teclaire, of Cameroon, who blessed the Community Commons space. Through song, Madame Teclaire spoke of the spirit of the Commons and brought the 80 participants, the early arrivals from the full cohort of nearly 150, to their feet with a rousing round of applause. Madame Teclaire closed by saying, “Today the world is turned towards the poor of the world.”
Donato Bumacas then introduced Nancy Busch, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and
Sciences at Fordham University, who remarked that:
“When the Community Commons was proposed several months ago, the idea of coming together from around the world to talk about best practices and influence the Millennium Summit in September seemed almost impossible. But, through my meetings with the inspirational people gathered here, I have real hope for the impact you will make.”
Sean Southey, Manager of the Equator Initiative, then addressed the audience of community participants and their allies and spoke of the importance of community contributions to policy processes and to global discussions of development issues. Sean proceeded to introduce each of the partners to the Commons and the members of the facilitation team. The team is composed of:
Esther Mwaura-Muira– GROOTS Kenya, Kenya
Donato Bumacas - Kalinga Mission, Philippines
Benson Venegas - Talamanca Initiative, Costa Rica
Patrick Muraguri - Africa 21st Century Development Organization, Kenya Gladman Chibememe - Chibememe Earth Healing Association, Zimbabwe Sandy Schilen - GROOTS International, New York
Speaking on behalf of the facilitators, Donato noted that every community enterprise begins with “grounding” and asked Patrick Muraguri to take the floor for a rousing chorus of the popular Swahili song – “Jambo Bwana”. Crossing ethnic, cultural, geographic and linguistic boundaries, the gathered community participants sang and introduced themselves to their neighbours in the Community Commons.
The participants proceeded to introduce themselves, noting their country of origin, the nature of their work and their hopes for the Community Commons. After hearing from each participant who had arrived in time for the planning day, a number of themes had already been highlighted in the introductions. Among these were indigenous issues, control and access to land, gender, natural resources, and conflict and security. The facilitators concluded the morning gathering an exhortation to consider how the larger group might be divided into working groups over the afternoon and the comment that participants from 23 nations had already arrived and a long list of expectations was already identified!
Morning Session II: 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (Full Group)
Esther Mwaura-Muiri, a facilitator from Kenya, started the second morning session by asking the participants if they had attended previous dialogue spaces and, if so, what they learned. The numerous detailed responses noted strong community support for previous dialogue spaces and the knowledge sharing activities they had supported. They also emphasized the importance of the actions and results that had followed from the spaces. Numerous examples of knowledge exchange taking place at, or arising from the dialogue spaces, were given such as that between communities in Latin America concerning integration of projects and links to markets and government policies. Examples were also given from Kenya, where ideas and practices had been shared among grassroots organizations as a result of participation in the dialogue spaces.
The Community Commons T-shirt was given out to participants by Benson Venegas, who noted that its design represented the spirit of community. Esther then continued the tone by talking about recommendations that can be conveyed by communities to policy makers and officials; asking who brought recommendations forward from their home countries and outlining how the group might share and harness them.
The next element of the morning saw the President of Fordham University, Father McShane, address the Community Commons participants. Father McShane highlighted the Jesuit tradition of service to community and world and expressed his great pleasure that people from so many diverse nations could gather at Fordham University, an institution he hoped would become their “second home”.
Afternoon Session I: 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. (Full Group)
The afternoon session began with introductions for new people who had arrived since the Community Commons planning day began. New participants included community members from Mozambique and allies from organizations such as GTZ and Conservation International. The new members gave their names and outlined their hopes for the Commons. All emphasized the optimism they had for the coming days.
The initial afternoon group session closed with a discussion of the agenda for the Community Commons. The facilitators noted that tomorrow, 16 June, will begin with the official welcome and opening and a break out into small groups. Friday will see the evaluation of group recommendations in plenary. Saturday, 18 June, will look forward to how messages from the Community Commons may be carried forward politically, personally and institutionally. It was noted that Friday afternoon will see the Local Global Leaders’ Dialogue and on Friday night the Gala Reception will take place at the Bronx Zoo.
The session then divided into breakout groups according to the following thematic areas:
Community response to conflict and disasters; (2) natural resource management and biodiversity; (3) Community response to HIV/AIDS; (4) Livelihoods/food security and poverty reduction; and (5) Housing and infrastructure.
Afternoon Session II: 3:30 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. (Breakout Groups)
Breakout Group 1 – Community Response to Conflict and Disasters
The breakout group discussed the fact that disasters are split into two categories, conflict/war and natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or typhoons.
The best practices described by the participants encompassed use of community networks to forecast disasters, women’s networks to rebuild a nation after genocide, use of traditional construction methods for more resilient houses, and use of science together with community knowledge. All organizations involved were in the form of communities, governments, outside funders, NGOs, private entities, and academies. The successes were resilience to natural disasters, reduced damaged from a typhoon in Jamaica specifically, indigenous building techniques, institutionalizing techniques, regained confidence in own abilities to solve problems, empowering women, south-south peer-to-peer learning exchange, and disasters forecasting.
The challenges faced in this area were summarized as including - changing traditional gender roles, breaking the culture of silence on sexual violence, financing and resources, and challenges of paradigm shift. The failures lay with the inability to follow up, poor sustainability of some project initiatives, lack of acknowledgement for their successes, and improper documentation and widespread knowledge.
Breakout Group 2 – Natural Resource Management and Biodiversity
This breakout group addressed the inter-linkages between natural resource management, biodiversity and poverty reduction. Examples of community best-practices with respect to natural resource management included community-driven reforestation strategies, ecologically sustainable agricultural practices and community-based agro-biodiversity conservation from regions as geographically diverse as Colombia, Honduras, Nigeria, India and the Philippines. Key emerging issues included value-added products and market access – and the potential benefits and challenges of global market fluctuations.
The group also highlighted the key role of community-driven strategies from the bottom-up in enhancing access to biological resources. A major theme of the subgroup was the creation and development of markets – locally and nationally, as a means of enhancing resilience to international market fluctuations. Also the challenge of ensuring food security within the community – before addressing the challenges of selling surplus products on national and international markets – was raised as a major concern in this area. Concepts of richness were also considered – communities may be rich in biological resources, while being considered as ‘poor’ – and examples of how communities can benefit from biological wealth were examined. Examples included enterprise development through NTFPs, sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants, and low-impact forestry practices.
The importance of self-determination was also highlighted. The key role of communities in challenging international and national policies responsible for shaping these models– especially in the face of increasingly international trade markets and globalization – was a topic of considerable discussion.
A number of questions were raised by the group. These include - are we, as communities, really contributing to poverty reduction through our practices? Are we truly impacting poverty within our communities – and on a broader scale? Do our actions increase the purchasing power of communities?
Breakout Group 3 – Community Response to HIV/AIDS Pandemic
The breakout group on community responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic was made up of Suhel, a representative of GTZ, Zelda, representing AMICAL in Swaziland, Dora from AINC Colombia, Shannon from the Huairou Commission, who served as documenter and participant, and Esther Mwaura-Muiru, who facilitated and presented the practices of her organization—GROOTS Kenya.
Zelda began by sharing the practice of her group, which has been trained in a methodology called the Community Conversations by UNDP. This methodology has allowed her group—a public/private partnership led by local mayors—to facilitate conversations in the communities in which they work. She cited the example of a number of pregnant women whose husbands urged them to be tested for HIV so that they could receive prevention of mother to child transmission therapy if needed. Before the Community Conversations, Zelda felt that this wouldn’t have happened.
Dora noted that she anticipates an increase in AIDS in her community in the near future due to the conflict in Colombia, with guerillas and government forces fighting a clandestine war.
Esther shared for the holistic, community-based home-based care program of GROOTS Kenya. GROOTS Kenya has built into its program an acknowledgement of the fact that AIDS is not a problem of individuals or even of families, but rather one that drains entire communities. GROOTS Kenya realizes that not everyone wants to do home-based care, which is difficult, but also realizes that whole communities can support the work of those doing this difficult work. GROOTS Kenya has also benefited from creating relationships with local authorities and institutions such as hospitals.
Another issue that was raised, and which is a cross-cutting theme, is indigenous knowledge. GROOTS Kenya has begun working with traditional healers in Kenya, who not only share their knowledge about herbs and natural, local foods that can help to boost immunity, but are also excellent home-based caregivers. Challenges that emerged are the great burden of work of home-based caregivers, a challenge that is compounded as their capacity grows and as deaths continue.
Breakout Group 4 – Livelihoods / Food Security and Poverty Reduction
This breakout group centered on community roles in poverty reduction. One woman from Kenya, who spoke during the session, worked with the government to create a fund that granted equal land ownership rights to men and woman, a practice that has not been seen before in Africa.
In Cameroon, a group of women published a book emphasizing the uses of the traditional “cassava” plant, an underappreciated yet very nourishing crop. They cultivated a large field of cassava in order to both feed and educate the local community. Another group from Kenya, in a partnership with an NGO, used their knowledge and passion to found a cultural center emphasizing education and preservation of wildlife as a means to increasing land productivity and accessibility to clean drinking water. In the Appalachian Mountains, a community organization formed a trust that retained communal ownership of land rather than private ownership.
The group discussed personal frustrations that had led to realizations of their real needs. Some of the necessities that were lacking included: the ability to purchase land, education, gender equity rights, and government enforcement of policy. Finally, direct involvement in the development of community programs was identified as being of central importance to all the participants.
Breakout Group 5 – Housing and Infrastructure
This breakout group saw community representatives from around the world came together to share with one another the uniquely personal stories of hope and frustration, victory and disappointment stemming from the organization and mobilization of their communities in pursuit of a better quality of life. In this breakout group, a passionate and committed group of women representing communities in Peru, Jamaica, the Philippines, Kenya, and the USA, discussed the issue of affordable housing as a central constitutive element of the improvement of the quality of life in small communities.
Among the stories shared was one which took place in Lima, Peru’s capital, with local communities coming together with the aid of a Spanish NGO to establish a number of affordable and autonomous community housing projects that focused on community needs. With its success, the township’s mayor launched a municipal housing program that gained nation-wide attention, resulting in being given the “Best Practice” award by UN Habitat.
In Jamaica, self-organized communities of squatters, who, because of a lack of personal resources and government support, must innovatively construct their residences, were able to jointly design and implement functional sanitation mechanisms and clean water access. In the Philippines, a grassroots constituency of 27,500 families successfully lobbied the government to pass a bill that granted women’s ownership rights and made forced displacement illegal, while in Kenya community organization led to the collective purchase and use of land and necessary resources. These were just some of the stories shared during this session.
Through the personal knowledge, skill and experience of each community group, the participants in this breakout session were able to identify the fundamental necessities that influence a community’s ability to succeed. The first recognition made was communities must organize themselves, develop their strategies and express their interests well in order to have a chance at success. The second, most important recognition was that the communities’ members must be intimately involved in the development process. Many frustrations were expressed that highlighted the inefficiency and irrationality of either government or other external partners that contributed neither to the ability of a community’s members to influence their own development nor to the long-term sustainability of the development efforts. It was finally noted that, as the purpose of the Community Commons is to give community voices a substantial input into the making of policy and decision making, it is essential that the lessons learned and expressed by the community leaders present be listened to, understood and made central to any plans concerning their development.
Afternoon Plenary Session: 5:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Full Group)
In the final session of the day, the five breakout groups reconvened in the Commons tent to share the results of their discussions and to outline the main messages shared:
The natural resources and biodiversity group reported that success takes years and that management skills and resources contribute to biodiversity protection and the reduction of poverty. The group also noted that the globalization model is very difficult on the local communities. It was further noted that we should try to focus development at the grassroots level where we can try to focus on food security and livelihood conditions instead of forcing things to the market. The breakout group also identified several overarching themes, including the importance of capacity building and administration to highlighting community voices.
The housing and infrastructure group reported that a project in Peru has highlighted especially well gender equity issues in this area. One excellent example of knowledge exchange was raised. The example was of women Kenya who traveled to Peru to learn from their successful housing project. The connection between finances and access to resources was also highlighted – for example, in a Masaii community; if you are not married you don’t have access to finances and are thus cut off from opportunities.
The conflict, war and natural disaster group reported back that typhoons and hurricanes in Jamaica and Honduras are a major issue and that there is a need to track these natural disasters. Jamaica has established an institute to do just this. The Jamaican group will share with the Honduras group to share best practices on post-disaster housing construction.
The livelihoods, food security and poverty reduction group highlighted that in many cases grassroots groups are ahead of government. It has become clear that land ownership is a gender issue and this point was raised frequently. In all the presentations, it was that men generally own land in the presenter’s home country and not women.
Finally, it was noted by participants that poverty is a human rights violation. If you don’t have access to food, your human rights have been violated.
On this note, participants in the Community Commons left the dialogue space for a well deserved dinner. Fortunately, the weather had cooled significantly since the heat wave of the previous days and the growing number of participants could enjoy an evening amidst the flowers and blossoms of the Fordham campus.