Mon, 23 Sep 2002

Poor people lack of skills to organize themselves

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Five days of stimulating discussions on poverty during the Asian People's Dialogue II in Cibubur ended last Thursday, but they failed to produce any concrete recommendations amid the deficiencies affecting poor communities here regarding the organizational and managerial skills crucial to organizing themselves.

"The meeting was supposed to come up with recommendations. But, by the end of the meeting, the discussions had yet to arrive at any conclusions. The participants were divided into two groups, one wanting recommendations and another refusing them," said Edi of the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC).

Edi complained that poor people needed to be more organized in discussing the numerous problems they faced in their daily lives so as to arrive at concrete solutions to their problems.

Concurring with Edi, a delegate from the Philippines blamed a lack of necessary experience and organizational skills for preventing poor people from joining forces to deal with the problems affecting them.

"People here have yet to become familiar with, for example, basic skills in data collection like enumeration, surveys, community mapping. They also appear to fall short in leadership abilities and confidence in negotiating with the government," said the delegate.

Similarly, delegates from 14 African and Asian countries recommended that poor people here be given basic training in leadership, management and community organization.

"Besides learning from other poor communities' experiences, the people will also need to enhance cross-issue networking and alliances at both the national and international levels," a Malaysian delegate said while reading out the suggestions made by the foreign delegates.

One example of the local people's shortcomings became apparent during the final session last Thursday. The session was tainted by the threat of a walkout by the foreign participants who were upset that many local participants left the plenary meeting while some speakers were delivering their presentations after the group discussions. The session was adjourned for 10 minutes after which the local participants from poor communities came back into the conference room.

An Indonesian participant attempted to excuse his colleagues' absence by arguing that they might be too tired to keep listening to the presentations. "They may be tired of hearing about problems that have already been discussed frequently," said the Indonesian delegate.

But, another Indonesian delegate blasted the absence of the local delegates. "We, Indonesians, have no excuses as we are discussing our own problems, while these foreign delegates have come to help us," the delegate said.

A South African delegate lambasted the fact that all the fuss on the part of Indonesian poor communities across the country during the APD II had failed to result in any significant results or solutions.

"We say Viva Indonesia, Viva Sri Lanka, Viva Thailand, Viva Philippines. But we all end up with nothing," he complained.

Although the participants at the APD II managed to meet with a number of ministers, including Minister of Resettlement and Regional Infrastructure Soenarno and Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea, as well as a senior official from the National Land Agency, they failed to hammer out any concrete deals with the top-notch officials with regard to alternative solutions to their problems.

Wardah Hafidz, chairperson of the UPC, said that if partnership with the government to solve poverty got nowhere, poor people would continue their struggle to win their rights without asking for any help from the government.

"However, enormous work still needs to be done. These poor communities must learn to organize themselves well before they go to the government to negotiate," Wardah said.