Playing to our strengths

23 May 2014   |   Blog   |   Uganda   |   Tanzania   |   Malawi   |   Long-term Development

Tags:  strengths, Africa, integrated community development, AACES   |   No comments

This story features in the upcoming edition of CaritasNews, which commemorates our 50th year.

The Caritas movement was born in Australia in response to the community’s growing awareness of global poverty and malnutrition, highlighted by the United Nations’ Freedom from Hunger campaign. Half a century later, Caritas Australia has joined the international confederation of Caritas agencies to launch its new Food for All campaign. So when it comes to global food security, what has been achieved in 50 years?

Since our earliest days, supporters of the Caritas movement have understood that hunger and poverty in one part of the world is inextricably linked to affluence in another.

Acknowledging this in the 1960s and 70s, Australian Catholic Relief (ACR, as Caritas Australia was previously named) lobbied the government to increase its aid spending to one percent of national GDP; encouraged Australians Catholics to give of themselves in solidarity with the poor; and began working well beyond our region in countries affected by drought, malnutrition and political instability throughout Africa.

But it was not until countries like Ethiopia, Somalia and Zimbabwe were gripped by prolonged famine in the 1980s, that the Australian community overwhelmingly demanded action to end hunger half way around the world. After 20 years of solidarity with the poorest of the poor, ACR was inundated with donations from the Catholic community and worked in tireless collaboration with Church partners and Caritas agencies to distribute urgent food, medical supplies, seeds, agricultural tools and fertilisers to communities in more than 10 countries throughout Africa.

Integrated community development

As the urgency for aid in Africa diminished towards the end of the 1980s, ACR refocussed its efforts on substantial longer-term development programs in agriculture, water security, sustainable livelihoods, and peace building. Today, Caritas Australia continues this work but takes a more integrated and holistic approach.

According to Caritas Australia’s Africa Program Coordinator in Kenya, Scott Martin, Caritas Australia has “transited from working in a single sector – for instance, water in Tanzania, or food security in Malawi – to being more responsive to a wider range of communities’ needs.”

“We know that if you improve food security to the extent that households are able to generate a small income, then they’re able to increase their opportunities by participating in microcredit, pursuing education and becoming more involved in community decision-making.”

Giving an example from a Caritas-supported program in Uganda, Scott recalls that over a period of three years, one subsistence farmer went from barely cultivating enough food to feed his family, to generating enough income to pay school fees and build a new brick home.

“After a relatively short period of time, he’d moved from a mud and thatch hut and was so optimistic about his future that he even built a garage at the end of his house in anticipation that he’d eventually be able to buy a car.”

Harnessing strength

Nobody has nothing. It’s time to support communities to realise their own potential."

Today in our work with partners in Africa, Caritas Australia is taking a strengths-based approach to achieve sustainable food security through community participation and empowerment.

Scott Martin describes the approach quite simply as supporting communities to play to their strengths. “Nobody has nothing,” says Scott. “Whether it’s natural assets, social assets, or spiritual assets – even the poorest and most marginal communities can readily identify their strengths.

“We assist communities to identify those assets, invite them to articulate their own vision for the future, and then support communities to plan and implement their own development strategy based on their own strengths and goals.”

From his experience working as Program Coordinator for Caritas Australia’s partner, Caritas Malawi (CADECOM), Martin Mazinga says the integrated development and strength-based approaches are working. “The impact on the ground is huge. Those communities that were going without food from November to February now have food on the table throughout the year,” says Martin.

“In the past with other projects, I think we have gone into communities to write our own aspirations.

“It’s time to change that mindset and support communities to realise their own potential. They are the drivers of their own change!”

Find out how communities Malawi and Tanzania are playing to their strengths. Visit Realising African Visions »

This article will be published in CaritasNews Winter 2014 edition which will be in households soon. For more great stories, subscribe to our quarterly CaritasNews magazine.

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