Empowerment. The new buzzword on every development worker’s lips. A concept embodying the biblical principle of feeding a man for life by teaching him how to fish over giving him a fish. The very principle of “teaching a man..” evokes negative connotations and viewed through less than rose coloured lenses, can be interpreted as a patronising concept but rest assured it is a departure from the old ways of yester years in which developing countries (not ok to say 3rd world anymore) relied on handouts rather than a hand-up.

Ivan Illich, in his “To hell with good intentions” sermon, not speech, passionately rejects the development work of yester years in which middle class citizens and privately educated college kids sought to travel the world masquearading as development workers. This, he argues, does more harm than good. And leading a departure from this, is the British government funded Progressio charity which sends 18-25 year olds abroad for ten weeks.

The beauty about Progressio is their acknowledment that charity begins at home and to that end, volunteers, prior to departing, are required to fundraise £800, a process which actively engages the volunteer in spreading awareness and being more globally active citizens.

Progressio, in only working in developing countries that have specifically requested their help, view people as people and not problems. To that end, before any work is done, British volunteers are paired with National volunteers who will explain what the problems being faced are and together, come to find sustainable solutions to challenges they identify as perpetuating poverty.

Progressio´s approach is therefore a rejection of any moral overtones associated with traditional voluntary work often associated little with empowering people to be better equipped to tackle their problems in the future and more with paternalistic development work actively encouraging the development of dependency on foreign aid, foreign aid which is often accompanied with certain criteria. In sending volunteers to actively work with local volunteers rather than purging money down developing countries, Progressio therefore recognises that communities, in living in these circumstances, have certain strengths and are better suited than anyone else, foreign or local aid workers, to address barriers they identify as perpetuating poverty.

And this is where I fit in, I am currently on day one of my ten weeks experience in El Salvador. A journey that started 4 weeks ago and which without the help of my friends back home in England, would have been but a dream for they helped me fund-raise. Progressio´s presence in El Salvador is still in its infancy, as of yet, only having had just short of 70 volunteers.


Blog by Perseus Mlambo, originally posted at http://tenweeksinelsalvador.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/development-work/