This is the fourth article in a blog series appearing on the igNation website in November 2017. The series aims to raise awareness about livelihood support, which is the focus of CJI’s 2017 Giving Tuesday campaign called Tell Ten.
I have a beautiful walking commute every morning. Just before I reach the CJI office, I pass through Queen’s Park. The day after I was asked to write this blog-article, I crossed paths with the usual trail of U of T students and also with a homeless man who had spent the night in the park. I know the studies we pursue and the career we have chosen might follow a calling, yet they do not fully define us. I continue to pray to recognize and honour the common denominator of the value of life in every single person, regardless of their condition. I know that with the gift of life each of us has inherent dignity. Still, I do not have the wisdom to distill my worth or our worth. Whilst I continue to ponder this, what I am certain about is that there is nothing more wearing than the incapacity to be independent and nothing more frustrating than the inability to care for those whom we love. In this sense, each livelihood supported is a gesture of respect, a bow in reverence to human dignity.
For me, livelihood support is the basic molecule of social justice. It is a fertile seed for gender equality; an overdue step in reconciling with First Nations across the globe; and the most effective tool to work with youth for social cohesion and peace building. The reason we offer training for refugees living in a secluded camp, or in a saturated urban setting, is not because there is an employment agency with an unmet demand, hiring every graduate. While we contribute to a fairer society, we cannot wait for the optimal conditions to be set. Equity is our goal, not a prerequisite.
It is also important to acknowledge that livelihood support does not equal basic skills training or formal education. Many of our beneficiaries have ancestral knowledge, and decades of work experience. Their expertise is undeniably superior to our analysis of it. Comparte (“do share”) is a movement promoted by the Jesuits in nine different countries in Latin America that recognizes, on the one hand, that ingenuity is one of our common traits, that we embrace experimental learning and t-h-r-i-v-e in sharing what we know; and, on the other hand, that mastering the ins and outs of a trade, being resilient and hard-working is not enough when people are excluded from neoliberal (or merely for-profit) economic policies and the environment is being severely damaged. The conditions are often simply too harsh, which pushes households to rely on negative coping mechanisms or splits families by forcing migration to urban centres or across international borders. There is an opportunity and we need each other.
We celebrate the successful stories of those who become self-reliant, but meanwhile we encourage trainers to do their best to transfer skills to every participant, young and old, man or woman, who shows up to learn. Last semester, I started the Leadership Certificate at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies; this semester, I am taking baking classes from the Learn for Life – Toronto District School Board program. I take part for self-improvement, and to be part of my community. There is a component of psychosocial support as well. The livelihood programs of our Jesuit partners start there and go way beyond. Having a local livelihood might make the difference between staying close to the family or, pushed by despair, being exploited or trafficked.
I remember my dad and mom telling me and my brothers that our education was our “best inheritance.” Throughout the world, parents make every effort to provide for their children’s education so that they can have a better job than they did. In some communities, however, it is no longer a matter of a generational gap or choosing less strenuous work. With the degradation of the environment, traditional livelihoods are simply no longer an option. For example, in Bachajón, Chiapas, Mexico, the poorest people are paying for the “savings” in discounted price tags of so many disposable and unnecessary products, of industrialised agriculture or of mega-tourism projects that harm the environment and worsen inequality.
This year I had the opportunity of participating at a Comparte seminar. There is a strong, clear sense of family whenever two or more Comparte members get together. In the debriefing of activities of the seminar, we actually acknowledged the value of cuchicheo (poorly translated as “whispers” or “buzz”). They were not seen as distracting side-conversations, but rather as down to earth, passionate and interesting conversations on what brings us together: sharing experiences to improve the quality of production, and also of organization, distribution, marketing, accessing funds and reinvesting. Throughout the process, moreover, cuchicheo helps us recognize the role each member has, in congruence with our values and in resistance against a dehumanizing system which, as Pope Francis alerts us, threatens to make people the next disposable product in the market. Comparte is on top of that and is living proof of what a Fair-Trade and Green Economy can do to transform livelihoods and communities.
This article first appeared on the igNation website on 22 November 2017. It is reproduced here by permission.