Founder of Sakha Consulting Wings (a for-profit) and Azad Foundation (a not-for-profit) and also the Executive Director of Azad Foundation.
Thank you very much for providing me with this opportunity to read four very stimulating and reflective pieces of work. I have chosen to comment on Shermaine Barrett’s article ‘Building the capacity of adult educators to create inclusive classrooms’ as it struck a deeper chord within me. It also resonated a lot with me because much of the work that I have been engaged with over the last ten years especially, is really adult education. We work with women, who are resource poor and enable them to acquire skills, gain knowledge and empower themselves to take on professional careers as chauffeurs, while transforming their lives.
In my work with women over the last 10 years and generally as a development practitioner for over three decades, there are two conflicting realities that I have dealt with – both within and without. One externally is a realization that much of the development practice, rhetoric and discourse centers around the impact of development interventions ‘on the community’. It has always been about how we, the community of development practitioners have intervened in local situations and local communities. And how these interventions have led to a lot of very significant changes in the lives of people in the community. A lot of it is very true and valid many times. But what has remained completely out of the discourse (with some few exceptions) has been what has this impact had on the development practitioners themselves. And yet, I have lived with this realization within me, about how much I have changed and evolved as a person, by encountering the blocks within me, overcoming the fears I have, recognizing the limitations I work with, acknowledging my biases and learning to work with them, celebrating the talents I have etc. And all of this has been a function of the diversity that I encountered of people, cultures and institutions. Each forming me as I tried to engage with it, hopefully impacting some of it.
As I reflect over my own journey of personal change, I cannot but help to notice the silence that surrounds this relationship between the practitioner and the community in most of development practice. Sure, resources that are mobilized through grants and donations are not meant for the ‘personal growth’ of development practitioners. They are for helping the communities. But its equally important to realize that this development cannot be ‘delivered’ through a ‘dispassionate, objective, robot like creature’. Quite on the contrary, its delivered by very passionate, creative, risk taking, entrepreneurial individuals with their own values, beliefs, ideologies and their unique lens of understanding the world. And many a times this has been a critical factor in shaping the outcomes of development programmes and practice.
Of course, the fact is that the relationship between those who deliver this development and the ones who receive it is in fact a two-way relationship. One affects the other – gets affected in return. Ignoring this very significant dialectics of the process has in fact landed large multi-laterals and multi national aid agencies, as we speak now, into the kind of challenge that they are facing today with allegations of misuse and abuse of the powers of those who deliver development. As Shermaine rightly points out, “Thus sometimes, “what we think are democratic and respectful ways of treating can be experienced by them as oppressive and constraining” (Brookfield 1995:1). Unless we are ready to critically examine
The article by Shermaine Barrett is therefore a refreshing piece and strikes a deep chord with me, given my own lived experience.
I loved to read about the concept of Reflexivity. Adult education practice has always been among the more progressive practice within the field of development. It is not surprising therefore that what began as a deliberation on critical pedagogy is today also talking of a practice (reflexivity) that essentially understands adult education (development practice) as a relationship, and therefore focusses on the relationship between self and others. Also to mention here that the women’s movement as well has believed in “personal is political”, which as well explores and understands the relationships that we build in the course of our lives – be it in homes, in institutions, in groups, in classrooms etc.
A small word of caution though, that the discourse on diversity and inclusion, could easily be taken out of its political context by focusing far too much on individual differences. It is important, to remember that the diversity issues that need most addressing are those that are structural. That its not just that people are different, but that there exist definite power relations that ensures the difference is preserved and maintained to the benefit of few. That many of these differences overlap and the those who live on multiple intersectionalities of these differences are much more vulnerable than others. A stronger inclusion of the understanding of what power is and how it operates should really be at the centre of any discussion on diversity and inclusion.
Finally, thank you Shermaine, and ICAE for letting me get into this space of reflection and writing. Warmly
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