Coady in Latin America

Brianne Peters ventures south to help Caritas Australia promote community-driven development.

Q: How did the connection with Caritas Australia come about, and what were you contracted to do?

Caritas Australia
 has been experimenting with a strengths-based approach to community development in 10 countries across Africa for a number of years.  Their experience was positive and they decided to make it a central approach of Caritas programs internationally.  They found that the approach really balanced the work that communities could do better than institutions, but also how they could come together to advocate for what they were entitled to.  They came across Coady’s asset-based and community-driven development (ABCD) material and asked us to design a training program in Malawi for their staff in Africa and from Caritas Australia’s head office. 

They contacted me again a year later to see if I could design something in Spanish for their staff from Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador and Brazil.   I used to be fluent in Spanish, but I hadn’t spoken it much over the previous years. They translated all of our materials and I practiced a lot on evenings and weekends.  It went well and they asked me to go back again this year to facilitate another workshop.
Q: What was your focus in Peru and Bolivia?
Caritas’ focus in Latin America is on child protection and gender equality, particularly preventing violence against women, and building up the entrepreneurial skills necessary for women to manage small businesses.  As a Catholic organization, its staff and volunteers are also deeply rooted within the church. They viewed ABCD as a way to operationalize the Catholic social teachings: the dignity of the human being; preferential options for the poor; stewardship of creation; subsidiarity and participation; the common good; and solidarity.  They are grassroots activists that take the social mission of the church very seriously. There is a lot we can learn from Latin America about citizen-led development, community organizing and social movements.   
Q: Is ABCD looked at differently down there? Is it an accepted way of approaching development?
Well, first off, the language is obviously different.  The term ABCD (‘asset-based, community-driven development’), does not translate very well so we had to adapt it.  I couldn’t rely on concepts or terminology that I use in a given day here at Coady, which was challenging, but also refreshing. 
Much of my work has also been focused on rural agriculture, which is obviously important to everyone’s economy no matter where in the world you go, but it was great to get more exposure to urban areas largely on the periphery of cities that are growing at a phenomenal rate.    
Q: What did you hear from the people who took the training? Any stories of interesting plans to adopt the ABCD approach?
In the course evaluation, one participant said that the course “…helped us to bring back and value what we have forgotten to see”, referring to their Indigenous knowledge as one of their most important assets.
It was neat to see how some of the tools for uncovering strengths and resources were adapted for parents, children and teachers.  ABCD is increasingly being introduced in schools around the world to build civic capacities, a positive environment and leadership skills at a young age.  A simple economic analysis tool called the Leaky Bucket (that looks at how money comes into and leaves a community) was adapted to look at positive practices for protecting children coming into the community and harmful practices that needed to be stopped.     
Q: Do you stay connected with the organizations you worked with or some of the participants?
Yes, one participant from Peru has applied to come to Coady.  And many of their partners in Africa have also come to Coady or attended our regional education programs.     
Q: What was a personal highlight for you?
For about two months in 2004, I was in Peru as a research assistant for Dr. Susan Vincent, who works in the Anthropology Department here at StFX.  We lived in a rural village about six hours from Lima with a family that was basically a second family to Susan, who has been doing research there for about 30 years.  The family has since moved to Lima and I was able to visit them after 13 years.  And lo and behold, there is a new granddaughter that I hadn’t met named Briannita (‘Little Brianne’).  That was a pretty special thing to come back to!