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What if the community communicates?

By: Yeka Joel

This is not to deny the challenges of engaging with marginalized citizens and groups a thorough consideration of which is beyond the scope of this paper. The purpose here is to acknowledge the growing expectations of citizens to be more effectively involved in work and giving services design, and to explore the responsibilities and capacities and facilitate such engagement. 

 Governments, in their turn, are recognizing that they need more direct participation by citizens in order to govern well to ensure stability, to facilitate people’s wellbeing and to manage environmental, health, security and energy issues. Governments realize that they must harness the ideas, knowledge, wisdom and skills of the non-government sector business, academia, the professions, and voluntary organizations. Failure to engage will waste resources and curtail opportunities. Suppose the quality of life in your community is declining. The major employer has packed up and moved to a place where labor and utilities are cheaper. Without steady paychecks, a lot of people in town don’t have the money to keep up their houses and yards, or to support charitable organizations. Many people have found other jobs, but have to commute long distances to get to them. In some of the worst situations, individuals and families have become homeless, and are living in temporary shelters or in their cars. Violence has increased, partially because those long commuting times leave many youths unsupervised during off-school hours, partially because of increasing substance abuse brought on by people’s difficult circumstances. The community has turned into a depressed and depressing place, and most citizens feel powerless to do anything about it. How can you change this situation so that people start to take action to improve their lives? Mr. Moses Soro the commissioner for Morobo County asked.

The challenge of cost including costs of time, money and potentially political costs if participation is poorly handled the challenge of complexity discerning which participatory practices are suited to the scale of a problem and the technicalities involved, and   the challenge of representativeness involving a ‘mini-public’ that mirrors the broader society and adequately considers the interests of those with most at stake.

One answer is to convince people that they can make a difference and get them to work together in thinking out what they can do, and then doing it. But what if there are serious divisions in the community, or what if most people don’t see themselves as able to change anything, perhaps some groups are shut out of the political process or discriminated against economically or socially. Perhaps the many diverse groups in the community have little contact with or knowledge of one another. Before you can get people working together, you have to help them make contact with and begin to trust one another.

This is a situation when locality development is desperately needed. If community members can learn to communicate across class, ethnic, and racial lines, and to set up organizations, systems, and policies to take advantage of their resources and address their problems, they can make life better for everyone.

 

The writer is a Journalist based in Yei.


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