Special Articles / Ndungi wa Mungai / Community Work : Theories, Experiences & Challenges
In this chapter I present a case for using an Ubuntu approach in community development work with young African diaspora communities in Australia. The challenge faced in social work and community development in working with such immigrant groups is that the dominant individualistic-based theoretical approaches do not work effectively for people from communities with a predominantly collective understanding of themselves. An Ubuntu approach means that the Africans see themselves as agents, actors, and participants in determining their destiny rather than accepting a marginalised position in relation to the professionals.
The Ubuntu philosophy is based on African cultures and philosophy and emphasises that our destiny is both as a collective as well as individuals. This approach helps to understand the importance of extended families diaspora communities as well as those in Africa. It also helps to explain the problems encountered by such communities when they migrate to societies with more individualistic ethics. There are lessons to be learnt about working with non-Western communities from a community development perspective with diaspora communities. Because Ubuntu emphasises the goodness and value of humanity, the principles have a universal appeal beyond Africa and African communities.
Key words: Ubuntu; humanity; community development; social work; human rights; migrants.
In this chapter I discuss the application of community development principles with an example of the African community in Melbourne, Australia. The chapter highlights some of the findings from my research with young men from Southern Sudan as well as other recent community development studies with the African communities in Australia. The chapter starts with a review of the challenges of community development in a globalised world. The second issue addressed is the challenges of immigrants from collective-oriented societies settling into an individualistic-oriented society. The third issue addressed is the challenges of community development in a changing world in meeting the needs of immigrant communities. The critical issue of human rights in community development is also canvassed.
The migration of black Africans is a recent phenomenon, though there is evidence of some convicts resettled by the British in the 18th century being Africans or of African descent (Udo-Ekpo, 1999). Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock (2000) have reviewed the migration of people of African backgrounds to Australia and a significant increase since the 1980s. They identified the driving forces for their migration as mainly political, economic and social upheavals that were affecting parts of the African continent in the second half of the 20th century and continued into the 21st century in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, North and South Sudan. The objective of the resettlement programs in Australia is in keeping with universal ideals that have been established in the second half of the twentieth century under the United Nations concerning the needs of displaced people following the devastations of the Second World War in Europe. The resettlement program for people who arrive in Australia and seek asylum operates under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Article 14 (1)) that states that ‘everyone has a right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. In the 2010-11 program year the Humanitarian Program granted 13,799 visas to both offshore (8,971) and onshore applicants (4,828) (Department of Immigration and Citizenship [DIAC], 2012a). This is slightly higher than the average for the previous years which was been about 12,000. The total migration for the 2011-12 program year is 184,998, with India, China and the United Kingdom being the top three countries of origin (DIAC, 2012b).
Australia is one of the major resettlement countries alongside USA, Canada, New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries. Other countries like Kenya and Egypt in Africa; Jordan and Lebanon in the Middle East; Pakistan, Indonesia and India in Asia host large numbers of refugees, but are not regarded as resettlement countries. In the resettlement countries refugees are expected to be integrated into the society with full citizenship rights while countries of first asylum offer refuge with no promise of resettlement and integration, though that may happen in some cases.
Migration has therefore helped to establish many different ethnic communities in Australia as well as in other countries like US, Canada, UK and other European countries. The relatively low numbers and recency of arrival by the Africans is explained by the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cwth), also called the ‘White Australia Policy’, which restricted the migration of non-Europeans to Australia between 1900 and 1975. As Europe has prospered economically the proportion of European immigrants has been declining, while Asian, and to some extent African immigrants, have contributed significant numbers to the Australian population since the mid 1970s. The British cultures and institutions tracing their origin to Britain still predominate; other cultures are establishing themselves in Australia which proclaims itself to be a multicultural country (DIAC, 2012c). Multiculturalism means that both unity and diversity are valued and accepted in Australia, as is the case in other countries like Canada and New Zealand. Literature from various countries shows that there are tensions in some societies between those who accept multiculturalism and those who see it as a threat to the coherence of mainstream society:
The policies have had varying levels of acceptance between countries and within regions in those countries (Vertovec, 2010; Vertovec & Wessendorf, 2010). The measures to achieve multiculturalism have included supporting community organisations and ethno-specific services, monitoring diversity in the work place, modifying public services to accommodate cultural diversity and encouraging positive image of immigrant groups in the media (Vertovec, 2010). Vertovec notes that the main countries that have adopted multiculturalism including Australia, Canada, the USA, the UK, Sweden and The Netherlands but the actual programs and policy details in these countries are different. (Mungai, 2014)
In Australia the centre left Australian Labor Party has tended to be more supportive of multiculturalism when in power, while the more conservative Liberal/National coalition parties have tended to treat multiculturalism with a degree of caution while not rejecting it entirely.
African knowledge and philosophies are best represented in the term Ubuntu which represents valuing the humanity of individuals in conjunction with the groups in which they are based, emphasising that the ‘individual’s whole existence is relative to that of the group’ (Brack, Hill, Edwards, Grootboom, & Lassiter, 2003, p. 319). Ubuntu constitutes the roots of African belief systems and cultures and represents both African philosophies and ways of life, in that conceptualisations of ‘a good life’ are based on the recognition of the interdependence of all beings (Bamford, 2007; Nkondo, 2007). Promotion of Ubuntu started mainly in South Africa, but it has since been embraced more widely in Africa and beyond. Charles (2007) suggests in his thesis that Ubuntu represents an African worldview that values the extended family, is more communal than individualist, and more spiritual than materialist. Nabudere (2007a) takes the argument further in history and suggests that the philosophical roots of Ubuntu show similarities with the ancient Egyptian concept of Ma’at which emphasised harmony and interconnectedness of all beings. Nabudere further argues the promotion of this indigenous philosophy as a basis for the recognition of all human beings as equal and worth treating with dignity. Ubuntu represents unqualified respect for all humanity and asserts that our humanity is indivisible and therefore any harm to one section of humanity harms all humanity (Bangura, 2005).
Ubuntu served as the philosophical underpinning for South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which enquired into the atrocities committed under apartheid. Anderson (2003) provides a good example of Ubuntu and community development in the restorative justice movement and programs in South Africa. Restorative justice models can be applied in counselling, community development and criminal justice in that those who have acted in harmful ways get together with those who were harmed and the wider community to work out ways to restore harmony and good order.
Ubuntu emphasises interconnectedness which for the African people means the interconnectedness of individuals, families and communities. This approach appreciates the role of culture in emancipatory community development (Rankopo & Osei-Hwedie, 2011). As Ochen, Jones, and McAuley (2012) note, in Ubuntu rights may be presented not ‘as an external concept imposed upon communities, but rather the enhancement of existing good practice already embedded in families and communities’ (p. 107). This is important to all people and not just Africans, as noted by Nabudere (2007b) who argues that ‘it is only by moving toward a new emancipatory ethic that we can liberate humanity from ill-founded prejudices’ (p. 32). African culture is a powerful framework, but it is not without problems.
Culture is the defining feature of any society and represents its knowledge, values, wealth and history. Maathai (2009) argues that African cultures are the foundation and source of African strength and hope to build a better future. The negative impact of foreign cultures on colonised and dispossessed people is that they have inculcated a sense of inadequacy and an inferiority complex leading to societies that are disempowered and vulnerable to manipulation. Maathai concludes that rediscovering the strengths and knowledge embedded in the African culture would help in the rebuilding of Africa after the devastation of colonialism and the misrule in the post-independence era. Ubuntu represents the crystallisation of the best aspects of the African cultures.
Community Development in a Globalised World
Community development is a very broad term to attempt to define in this chapter. The foundations of community development include some principles like participation, community ownership, empowerment, learning together, inclusion rather than exclusion, equality of access to resources, social action, advocacy, networking and self-help. The definition by Pawar (2010) emphasises participation and people-centredness with an objective of raising their standard of living and thus defines community development as:
A participatory people-centred process that involves bringing people together, mobilizing or organizing people, keeping them together and enabling them to work together to address their needs and issues and thus to facilitate their own, their communities’ and society’s comprehensive development. (pp. 1-2)
Pawar suggests that some of the defining features of a community are ‘size of the population, commonalities among people, identity and belonging, primary relationship and attachment, and local culture’ (Pawar, 2010, p. 37). The only issue with the concept in a modern world is that communities could be diverse and dispersed in space and thus the assumed homogeneity fails to recognise diversity even among those who might share some commonalities in space, cultural background or interests (Lane & Henry, 2003). This limitation is further challenged in a globalising world that connects people around the globe through the mass media and mass marketing.
Globalisation and migration have brought diverse groups of people into closer proximity and this fact needs to be taken into account in community development as knowledge and experience are shared at unprecedented rates. The term Globalisation refers to the massive network of connections that cut across national boundaries, integrating communities in terms of space and time, virtually shrinking the world and eroding local differences, and has been the defining feature of the late 20th century onwards (Mowforth & Munt, 2003). It has also been argued that globalisation has been a feature of past historical epochs such as the Islamic Golden Age (8th century to 13th century) and the European 19th century industrialisation and imperialism, but the pace and breadth of the current phase is unprecedented (Pringle & Pease, 2001; Mowforth and Munt, 2003). Globalisation is characterised by uneven and unequal development between and within countries as well as cultural domination of the powerful centres, like Europe and America, over the periphery, such as Africa, in the globalised economy (Mowforth & Munt, 2003). Resistance to globalisation and a retreat into a form of localisation which in some cases has created problems of resurgent nationalism and religious and ethnic chauvinism have made the situation rather complicated and led to the increase in refugee movements on a global scale (Ife, 2012). The creation of unequal societies, unequal cultures and bigotry challenge the principles of community development, equality in participation and access to resources. Unequal societies are also contrary to the concept of Ubuntu, as neglecting any group in society would be regarded as harming the whole society.
Community development mainly takes place at a local level, but is not immune to global trends and issues. Babacan (2003) emphasises that community development approaches include working with people to identify their needs, obtain resources, and take control of their lives. This egalitarian approach to decision-making and sharing power means that people are involved at grassroots and participatory democracy-organising principles are promoted. As noted above, one of the features of the contemporary globalised world is the movement of refugees and asylum seekers as well as other categories of migrants. Because of their unplanned departures and coming from poor countries, people with refugee backgrounds in Australia often find themselves on the margins of the host community and the cultural marginalisation is only one symptom of their deprivation and loss. In a study of young refugee men in Australia the impact of dislocation on the culture of origin was explained by fathers of Sudanese refugee young men:
Most of our children actually came from a rural area. And then they parted into two directions. There are children who went with the rebel army, the SPLA3, and there are children who went to Khartoum. When they were displaced from Southern Sudan to Northern [Sudan] they found a different culture. They dropped some of their cultures and adopted some of the new cultures where they were. And then they moved from North Sudan to Egypt. They found the Egyptian culture as a different and new one. And we know the saying ‘when you go to Rome do like the Romans’. When our children go to a new place they take the culture of that place so they can fit in. They don’t know the background of that culture. When they migrate to Australia or America … they found a new culture. (Sudanese father, in Mungai, 2008)
War is contrary to the principles of Ubuntu as it disrupts harmony and demonstrates the breakdown of Ubuntu principles such as seeking solutions to conflicts through dialogue. Acculturation is the process of change when two cultures come into contact and has a significant effect on migrants, and particularly forced migrants who are forced to leave their homes by conflicts and other factors beyond their control. Acculturation scholars suggest that the degree to which the adaptation to new cultural environments is problematic to the new migrants depends on factors like migration motives, their socioeconomic circumstances, psychological and social circumstances of the society of settlement, the similarities and differences between the culture of origin and the place of settlement, as well as personal factors (Sam, 2006). Since the past cannot be altered, the circumstances in the place of settlement are aspects open to intervention in working with migrants encountering acculturation issues. Studies in acculturation also suggest that some groups are more vulnerable than others and children, because of their psycho-social situation and age, would be considered a vulnerable group (Sam, 2006). Women could also be considered a vulnerable group on account of their gender so it is important to consider the intersection of a range of disadvantages such as race, class, gender, age and sexual orientation.
People migrating from Africa and Asia to Australia come into contact with another culture, thus adding an extra challenge in acculturation compared to European migrants whose cultural differences may not be as significant. Mazama (2001, citing Karenga, n.d.) notes that, while there are different African cultures, there exist core African values which are: the centrality of the community, respect for tradition, a high level of spirituality and ethical concern, harmony with nature, the sociality of self-hood, veneration of ancestors and the unity of being. These are the values that have supported the African people for centuries and ensured their survival. Babacan (2003) identifies acculturation problems with the introduction of the Western notions of individualism to people with a sociality of self-hood backgrounds and notes that this has the potential to exacerbate conflict. Family conflicts related to these challenges are noted in the Sudanese communities in Melbourne as adolescent children and their parents acculturate at different rates (Mitchell, Kaplan & Crowe, 2007; Mungai, 2008). Migrant children and adolescents find themselves in situations where they have to choose whether they will have to retain their ethnic culture, adopt the new dominant one or form an amalgam of the two (Sam, 2006). Community development workers need to have a clear understanding of these struggles as they affect the settlement process, including family conflicts and community cohesion and harmonious relations.
Whether it is in Africa, Asia or other non-Western countries, culture is not static; while some traditional aspects of the cultures have been retained, people in these countries have also acquired some aspects of Western cultures as a result of colonisation and globalisation. In general terms, traditional societies are characterised by values based on a ‘collective nature of the construction of identities and human endeavour’ (Kenny, 2007). While Modernity has led changes to a large extent in the Western countries including Australia, these features are arguably still prevailing in other cultures to varying degrees. Pawar (2010) describes the consumer-oriented societies in the West as more focused on self-gratification and disconnected from their social and natural environment and hence challenging to engage in community development:
Heavily engaged in industrial production and consumption, developed societies have been mostly producing individualistic citizens, who often may not see more in life than an overworked week, supermarkets and television sets within their four walls, resulting in a sense of isolation or alienation, and that is hardly conducive for community development activities (Pawar, 2010, p. 41).
This phenomenon is not confined to the Western countries as there are other societies where consumerism and liberalism that emphasise individualism have been taking hold. It is also important to note that in both Western and non-Western societies there will be people who are more caught up in the consumer culture than others and a binary, dualistic thinking of developed and developing societies can be limiting (Ife, 2012). Consumerism as an ideology and practice is clearly prevalent in Australia and similar industrialised countries, while many rural areas of the developing countries do not have the means to engage with similar levels of consumption and retain relationships and sharing of goods and services practices that are not based on free markets.
Coming together for work or play is part of everyday life in rural villages in the developing countries of Africa and elsewhere. Urban life in Western countries is more structured with the individual going to school or work and returning home at the end of the day. Young Sudanese men reported that sitting around train stations or recreational parks was frowned upon by the adult Australians and the police. Their dressing in hip hop fashions or African American basketball players’ fashions was interpreted to mean that these young men were gangs and therefore a law enforcement issue. The young men therefore felt that they were not allowed to express themselves in the public space in a country that was supposed to be free and democratic. Their use of public spaces brought them into direct confrontation with police in what they felt were unprovoked racist attacks:
Because we hang around there, drinking. If you go … [to] Fountain Gate … you will see a lot of white people drinking, doing whatever, smoking and everything. The cops will come and won’t do anything. They will just look at them and then walk off. And when the cops come to Noble Park … they will think we are smoking and drinking. …. And then after that one of them [i.e. police officers] might come and hit someone. … So when they hit the cops back they will just get arrested. (Young Men’s Focus Group, as cited in Mungai, 2008).
Young white people using the public spaces in the same way in a more upmarket suburb did not seem to be treated in the same way. Race, class, culture and age were the principal issues that seemed to influence the way they were treated. The young men argued that there was nothing wrong in relaxing with a drink in the park as long as they did not interfere with anyone else. They identified that being together with people from their country of origin was important for mutual support. Mutual support is recognised as one of the principal features of traditional African cultures (Schiele, 2000). The issue of young Sudanese men being discriminated and targeted in public places has also been reported in other parts of Australia and in some extreme cases has led to some fatalities. Mungai (2009) notes a pattern of Sudanese men in Melbourne experiencing racist treatment from the police and some service providers as a major problem in their resettlement as this invoked memories of racism in Sudan by the Arab-dominated regime based in Khartoum. Smith and Reside (2009) also note that policing has been identified consistently in research and media as one of the biggest issues confronting African young people, not just in Melbourne but across Australia.
Racism clearly means that the experiences of ‘minority’ groups subjected to discrimination are different from those in the mainstream cultures who may have other problems. Wakholi and Wright (2011) have identified similar problems with regard to African youth in Western Australia and describe it as the lack of fit between a subordinate(d) African culture and a dominant Eurocentric white Australian culture. The degrees of both individualism and collectivism vary within cultures as well as across cultures, but Australia is strongly identified as individualistic in orientation (Kenny, 2007). Babacan (2003) claims that most community development practitioners in Australia utilise Western system of theories based on individualism whether consciously or not and are challenged to reflect on their standpoint when working with people from other cultures. To have effective empathy, community development practitioners need to be conscious of their privileges based on race/colour, gender and social class (Pease, 2010). Without this consciousness it is easy to implement their agenda rather than serve the interests of the community in question. Ubuntu offers an alternative approach that treats all humanity as the same and interconnected and striving for harmony would exclude racial discrimination.
Community Development with the Australian Sudanese Community
The majority of Sudanese who have been resettling in Australia since the 1990s settled in the major capital cities of Melbourne and Sydney (DIAC, 2007). Australia has been widely recognised as a major refugee resettlement country, but there is also a dark side in that there is a ‘display of ignorance of the realities of the torture and trauma experiences and losses suffered by refugees’ (Bowles, 2005, p. 252). The hostility is particularly manifested in the attitude towards asylum seekers who arrive by boats and are referred to as queue jumpers for not waiting in orderly imaginary queues for resettlement in third world countries of first asylum. Most of the Sudanese arrived in Australia after traumatic experiences of war, dangerous journeys to escape war situations, separation from loved ones and deprivations in refugee camps and these experiences have implications on their settlement.
Community development is one of the intervention approaches with the potential to help refugee communities rebuild their disrupted lives. A project by the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST) in Melbourne is a good example as it used a community development approach with Southern Sudanese to address the issue of torture and trauma (Mitchell, Kaplan, & Crowe, 2007). The communal culture of the Southern Sudanese people made community development an appropriate approach to intervention. The community was given the opportunity to identify the issues of greatest interest to them which included trauma, unemployment, education, parenting and fears that South Sudanese youth were losing their way in Australia (Mitchell et al., 2007). The project recognised the role of the community leaders and the community appreciated the opportunities to support one another which strengthened relationships and facilitated the role in becoming agents of change in themselves and their community.
To address the issues of previous human rights abuses and exclusion in Australia, the principles of human rights and participatory democracy in community guided this project. This approach was found to strengthen the community relationships and empower the community members to tackle other issues affecting their lives:
This gave the community an anchor from which to engage with relevant agencies, for example, the police and Child Protection, and indicated a growing degree of control in their interactions with broader society to address the difficult issues they faced. Community esteem was also built, as external agencies increasingly sought the knowledge and skills of community members to improve their services to the growing numbers of Sudanese settlers. (Mitchell et al., 2007, p. 295)
This project is a clear demonstration of how community development can be useful in the resettlement of refugees from communities with strong communal traditions. Kenny (2007) argues that in collectivist cultures, the key unit is the group with identity based on the group and individual decisions are made in consultation with the group. The limitations and challenges in applying community development models in Australia lie not so much with the appropriateness of community development but with the government’s preferred funding models that are based on neo-liberal market approaches by the main political parties. The problems emanating from the dominance of conservative politics in the 21st century has forced welfare agencies to rethink the way they operate and community development workers have to use market-oriented language like ‘capacity building’ ‘social capital’, ‘self-determination’, ‘social entrepreneurship’ and use top-down approaches (Kenny, 2003; Hoatson, 2003; Babacan, 2003). Adjusting to these ideological orientations that are different from the ‘bottom-up’ and participatory democracy-orientation of traditional community development might gain some funds, but what can be achieved is qualitatively different. Funding priorities also tend to be directed to individual and family ‘casework’ aimed at coaching the individuals to adjust to the system rather than changing the system to suit the needs of the people (Babacan, 2003). How community development deals with this dilemma of adapting to neo-liberalism while maintaining the core principles of community development will shape its character in the 21st century.
This community development project seemed to demonstrate that community development is suitable to refugee communities with strong communal traditions, which makes sense. Such a conclusion, however, could also be essentialist and limiting. Kenny (2007) defines essentialism as overgeneralisation with respect to a given culture which might overlook differences within that culture or similarities with other cultures. Eminent psychiatrist McGorry (1995) suggests that community development offers an appropriate framework for working with torture and trauma survivors and does not seem to suggest limiting this to communities with collective cultures. While community development approaches in Australia have been on the decline in the recent past, the situation was different in the 1970s when the Whitlam Labor government fully supported community development approaches and the approaches were applied to disadvantaged communities across the board. Ife (2010) notes that nearly all pre-industrial societies had a collective orientation which has been altered – for better or worse – by industrialisation and modernity The argument in this chapter is that while community development approaches may appeal more to the people who are still following a collective tradition, all cultures can retrace their footsteps to a collective culture if they wish to break the shackles of their current individualist existence.
Community Development Approach with Young Refugee Men
A research project with young men from South Sudan, while not carried out as a community development project, is used here to highlight some issues for that group that can inform community development. What the diverse groups of young Sudanese men have in common is a shared South Sudanese background identity, a shared hope for the well-being of their country of origin and the experience of marginalisation in Australia.
The young men may have maintained different ethnic group identities, but they have a shared identity of being Africans and victims of the ruling Arab-dominated government that discriminated against them as Africans and Christians and animists while privileging Arab and Islamic values. A number of the young men were recruited as child soldiers to fight with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) for independence and resist Arab domination and in the process were separated from their parents and relatives. Some died in the process, but the lucky ones eventually found themselves in refugee camps in Kenya and other countries from where they were resettled in Australia. They came to be referred to as the ‘Lost Boys’ by the aid workers, after the fictional characters in Peter Pan and their plight has been the subject of many books and documentary films.
They young men were caught up in a horrific war and forced to leave their homes while at a very tender age in a deal between their parents and the liberation movement. This was part of a collective community effort in liberation and every family had to play a role by contributing a son for the war effort. Some parents may have also been misinformed that the children were going to get education overseas so as to be the future leaders of a liberated country. As the events unfolded, they found themselves caught up in the regional political intrigues in Ethiopia when a friendly government lost power and the next one was not sympathetic and forced them to return to Sudan where the Sudanese national army was waiting to exterminate them. One of the ‘Lost Boys’ spoke for the experience of the majority on how they survived the ordeal and how they were finally resettled in several countries including the US and Australia as refugees. In Australia they formed a Melbourne chapter of ‘Lost Boys’ as a form of mutual self-help:
It was decided that women of the SPLA could only have some support from … by recruiting children so they would fight … to succeed other people who were fighting. So that is how people were brought into Ethiopia … in the mid ’eighties, late ’eighties; that is how this idea came up, boys were taken by their parents to Ethiopia because in Ethiopia that movement was supported by the government. … I was taken by SPLA from my Mum in … 1989. Then when the government was overthrown in 1991, we came back to Southern Sudan.… Some people died on the way but I survived. … No-one was taking care of me because we were [all] running away from Ethiopia4... So we ran to Kenya and that is how I found myself in Kenya. … I applied to come to Australia and the Australia government accepted and paid for my ticket. (Akech, 23, university student, as cited in Mungai, 2008).
All the young Sudanese men in Australia experienced disruption and disharmony caused by war but their specific accounts of their journeys may be different. Gender was a factor as boys were targeted for recruitment into the fighting forces of both the rebel side that was the liberation movement and the government that was perceived to be oppressive. Girls were also at risk of being kidnapped and sexually assaulted by both sides of the war, while a small number also joined the ranks of the fighters. The young men who were resettled in the Western countries supported each other and worked towards reuniting with their families where possible (Luster, Qin, Bates, Johnson, & Rana, 2008). The Lost Boys group in Melbourne engaged in community development activities such as helping to clean up public parks and gardens and collecting money for the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal (Koch, 2007). This bottom-up initiative by the Sudanese young men in community development was through the leadership of the Lost Boys Association of Australia (LBAA). The boys also practised the Ubuntu principle of mutual support to one another as a community but did not lose sight of the wider Australian community they were now part of and they wanted to show their appreciation of being offered refuge by supporting the wider community programs. These efforts had wider implications in contributing to changing the public image of young Sudanese men as dependent on welfare and a threat to society.
Discriminated and Subordinated Masculinity
The young Sudanese men described the experience of discrimination in Sudan and that was continued in Australia. Any community development work with them has to take this into account. The African manhood in Sudan was marginalised by the domination by the privileged Arab masculinities. Connell (2005) in a seminal work on gender defines masculinities as gender relations and practices through which men and women engage as well as the effects of these practices in bodily experience, personality and culture. Connell also suggests that some forms of masculinities enjoy privilege over others and are described as hegemonic. The Arab masculinities in Sudan during the civil war were therefore generally dominant and this was reinforced by racial discrimination of black Sudanese, including slave raids, imposition of war, murder and rape of men and women. To reclaim their manhood the South Sudanese men went to war and eventually achieved their goal in seceding and forming an independent state and thus reclaiming their manhood. In Australia there were also problems in what Wakholi and Wright (2011) refer to as ‘subordinate African’ culture and subsequently marginalised masculinity as the hegemonic masculinity in Australia is white Anglo-Celtic and middle class.
In modern community development there is an important role for the media, which can be either positive or negative. In the case of the Sudanese community, it was claimed that the discrimination carried out in the media was particularly damaging because of the impact it had on public opinion. Discrimination puts a person at a material disadvantage and has a negative impact on their health and settlement. At the psychological level, it adds to the stress arising from the refugee experience and problems of settling in a new place. At the material level, the victims of racism could be excluded from services and resources that contribute to their well-being. A Sudanese young man noted that it was not that the media reported untruths; it was the exaggeration of the problems and the stereotyping that hurt the community:
They say, ‘Sudanese are violent, when you talk to them all they want to do is fight. … They are criminals, they rape girls … They are involved in a lot of crimes like breaking into shops’. They say most of the Sudanese drive without licences so they break the laws. … It is always in the newspapers. I think there might have been some element within the community that cause it. Young people misbehave; don’t go well with the police. When the police stop them they talk badly and get arrested. So it goes on the record that a Sudanese man wanted to fight the police yesterday …. It is the same with driving without a licence; it is there in the community, but the media ... gets [it] exaggerated. (Pat, 21, university student, as cited in Mungai, 2008).
Pat and other community members expressed a concern that the media created the impression that all Sudanese young men were thugs that would destroy the society. Australia takes pride in having anti-discrimination laws based on human rights and people can make complaints if they are discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, disability or age (National Anti-Discrimination Gateway, 2012). Unfortunately, having laws in place is not the same as stopping discrimination. Since the colonisation of Australia in 1788 the Indigenous people have endured racial discrimination that has left them marginalised and living in conditions that resemble those in the poorest third world countries, despite Australia being among the wealthiest nations in the world. International students from India also reported what they regarded as racist attacks in 2009, demonstrating the ongoing problems of racism in Australia (Dunn, Pelleri & Maeder-Han, 2011). Human rights agencies work hard to end racism but have not been able to stop it and because the victims of racism are often minorities without much political clout, the politicians find it convenient to ignore it.
Sports as Part of Community Development
Engaging communities is the first step in community development. With regard to Sudanese young men, welfare workers and church organisations report that the young men from Southern Sudan like sports, especially basketball and soccer, and one way of doing community development is starting with sports to engage them. In addition to this being one way of engaging the young men in community development, there are benefits for their health; so engaging in sports can be community development in itself. The Sudanese young men also reported that, apart from the health benefits of sports, it was also a way of meeting other people from different cultures when they joined multicultural clubs. Sporting activities can therefore promote community harmony and reduce discrimination.
A refugee nurse suggested that community development that involves sporting programs as part of intervention would be the best way to engage with young men from South Sudan. Sports can break the cultural barriers and open channels for communicating and identifying other issues the young men may be experiencing:
Look, often I think what helps the young men the most is being able to be involved in sport. ... They love sport. ... It is a very healthy and positive thing to be involved in and through that they can make connections. ... So I suppose if I could choose one thing it would be to send out some workers who could organise sport for all of these young people. ... It sounds out of left field in some ways, but it is something that engages them and is a positive thing and from there the connections kind of can work quite well in a positive sense, and in an adolescent appropriate sense. (Mary Owens, Refugee Nurse, cited in Mungai, 2008)
One problem the young men face is that they cannot always access the sports they like due to financial constraints, as most families are on low incomes. There is a need to address this issue as part of community development as the benefits of sports are well established and include overall improvement in health (Macera, Hootman & Sniezek, 2000). Australian identity is highly linked to sports and being a sporting nation and the young men are likely to increase their popularity and social inclusion if they excel in popular sports such as football or cricket and some are already playing for major Australian Football League clubs. Like other communities, however, there are a few South Sudanese young men who do not like sports and would be left out if sports are the only way of engaging them. The other problem is that cases of racism in sports, especially soccer where spectators haul abuse at players from the opposing side, is a problem that would deter some from involvement.
Sports and spirituality have been linked in the support for young Sudanese men where church organisations have supported their sporting clubs and offered church premises for worship and other cultural and sporting activities. Manyiel (2009) suggests that the South Sudanese young men and women regard sports as important means of forging unity in their ranks and countering racist attacks in Australia. The churches have also benefited as the south Sudanese worshippers have helped to improve their congregations that have been dwindling as the white Australians become increasingly agnostic.
Human Rights Promotion is Part of Community Development
Ubuntu represents what is good in humanity and a human rights framework is also based on that acknowledgement of valuing everyone as a member of the human family. Human rights are understood to be rights that belong to all people irrespective of race, sex, religion or any other criteria and universal in that virtually all countries are members of the United Nations Organization that puts promotion and protection at the core of its charter. Furthermore, the potency of the human rights discourse rests on the universal acceptance by virtually all states by being signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that has come to be widely accepted as the international norm. UDHR, while not perfect, represents an attempt at consensus and therefore an important and powerful document in defining what is to be regarded as human rights, (Ife, 2012). A major weakness in the protection of human rights is that interpretation and the implementation are largely left to the member states and the United Nations has fairly ineffective supervisory bodies (Knight, 2002). While some countries have been invaded for abuse of human rights, it is often political considerations, rather than human rights, that play the most significant role so that powerful countries are not held accountable.
There are attempts in literature to analyse human rights in terms of three broad categories concerned with individual liberties, equality between people and solidarity between peoples and nations. Karel Vasak in the 1970s attempted to characterise human rights as having developed in what he called ‘three generations’ (Wellman, 2000). The ‘first generation’ of these human rights encompasses the individual freedom rights defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ‘second generation’ refers mainly to the cultural and material welfare human rights specified in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR). The third and more controversial ‘generation’ refers to ‘solidarity’ rights including the right to development, to a healthy environment and to peace and these are the rights more aligned to community development. The Third ‘generation’ of rights has no supporting convention like the first two, but there are various declarations such as the Declaration on the Right of People to Peace (1984), the UN Declaration on the Right to Development (1986) and the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment (1972) that demonstrate attempts at grappling with these issues, but without much progress. Wellman (2000) suggests that the only aspect of the ‘third generation’ rights partially recognised in international law is the right to ownership of the common heritage of mankind.
A notable attempt at advancing the ‘third generation’ of human rights is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which represents an attempt to recognise the right to development for all. In 2000, a total of 189 nations agreed to a plan to eradicate extreme poverty and deprivation based on eight goals: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; gender equality; reduction of child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and; developing global partnership for development (United Nations Development Program [UNDP], 2012). Peace, justice and human rights are mentioned in the declaration as the values informing the goals (United Nations, 2000).
The concept of ‘three generations’ helps in understanding human rights, but it is also misleading because rights are supposed to be interconnected and interdependent. Human rights are expected to be indivisible and interdependent and as such, in principle, no subset of them could be realised in an environment where others are absent or violated (Wellman, 2000). All the ‘generations’ of rights are clearly important but that has often led different countries to pick and choose what to privilege. Traditionally the Western countries favour the rights covered under ‘first generation’ of human rights while non-Western and socialist-oriented countries favour the second ‘generation’ of rights and have campaigned for the recognition of the third ‘generation’ of rights.
Community development is impossible to conceive without a holistic approach to human rights. Ife (2010) suggests that both community development and human rights could not be complete entities or operate effectively without incorporating the perspective of the other. Ife suggests thinking in terms of shared humanity and argues that this ‘allows humanity to be seen as being constantly reconstructed as part of a multitude of dynamic processes, rather than being held as a static, monolithic, empirical truth’ (Ife, 2010, p. 130). In this way difference is accommodated and solidarity and cooperation embraced in a ‘human community’. The recognition of the right to development as a human right is needed at both state and international level. This goes beyond the growth in the economy or increase in wealth for a few but rather, Wellman argues, improved welfare, human rights protection and peace:
Any legitimate development must improve the welfare of the people governed and increase the respect for and security of their human rights – civil, political, economic, social, and cultural. Again, making the right to peace a right of peoples as well as states would, if practicable, enable any people to require those who govern their state to adopt policies and practices that maximise their security and minimize the risk of warfare. (Wellman, 2000, p. 655)
Social workers and community development workers are concerned with the welfare of the marginalised and advocate special rights and programs for the disadvantaged, such as children, indigenous people, disadvantaged minorities and recent immigrants. This, however, should concern everyone who is concerned with the welfare and well-being of the human race. Ife (2012) argues that special rights for disadvantaged groups do not undermine but strengthen human rights as they allow these groups to enjoy the rights they are denied by oppressive structures and gives them access to what the privileged take for granted. Human rights and social justice are the values that underpin community development and understanding this is important for any community development programs evaluation.
The concept of social justice is less understood compared to the concept of human rights which has the UN conventions as a guide and is therefore more open to different interpretations. One way of understanding social justice is viewing it as a joint responsibility to tackle systemic/structural poverty, inequality and unfairness (National Pro Bono Centre, 2011). Some of the actions that might address social justice include fair distribution of resources, equal access to opportunities and rights, fair system of law and due process, ability to take up opportunities and exercise rights, protection of vulnerable and disadvantaged people and recognition of human value and well-being (National Pro Bono Centre, 2011). Social justice is therefore concerned with uplifting the welfare of the marginalised in the community through fair laws and equal access to services and exercising the principles of equity and fairness in the distribution of resources.
Ubuntu represents a harmonious and interconnected humanity at peace with nature and fellow human beings; it represents what good community development should aim for. Community development in the 21st century faces many challenges, but clearly it is needed now more than ever as individualism and neo-liberalism propel us into atomised and self-seeking ‘consumers’ that are disconnected from each other and from the natural environment. Community development offers a holistic alternative to this dehumanisation. The technologies available may lead to people being disconnected, but they can also be used to connect and network as various resistance movements around the world have demonstrated.
Work done with the South Sudanese community in Australia has shown how effective community development is for intervening in groups of disadvantaged immigrants from collective-oriented societies. I have argued that the potential for using community development with non-migrant and non-refugee communities is there as well, but the approaches may have to be different. In the developing countries community development has a far greater chance of success as people live in more cohesive communities, especially in rural areas and is often the approach favoured by international aid organisations.
The chapter has also demonstrated the critical importance of human rights and social justice as the values that underpin community development. They are also values that are consistent with Ubuntu. These values point to respecting the cultures and dignity of people and rejecting any manifestation of oppression, exploitation, deceit or unfairness as contrary to Ubuntu and to community development generally. It also positions the community development workers on the side of the oppressed and nature while the market systems favour the wealthy and powerful in society and the reckless exploitation of the natural environment.
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