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AFRO-NETS> People's Health Assembly 2000 (2)



People's Health Assembly 2000 (2)
---------------------------------

AVENUES FOR SOCIAL ACTION IN THE 21ST CENTURY

People have to have the opportunity to participate as equals in the 
decisions that determine their future. It is not enough just to show 
'concern' about this, because what people actually need is to figure 
out (soon) what they can do, individually and collectively to change 
their deteriorating conditions for the better.

The forces that shape global events are gigantic and are deaf to any 
rational disagreement or dissent. Powerful interest groups are under-
mining democracy, concentrating power and exploiting both people and 
the environment. Few know enough details about this to become justi-
fiably outraged. Disinformation has become the modern means of social 
control. Schools tend to teach history in ways that glorify those in 
power. Conventional schooling is mainly a vehicle for disinformation 
and social control; it instils conformity and compliance. Educated 
people have little knowledge of the injustices disadvantaged people 
are subjected to. Our textbooks, newspapers, magazines and TVs keep 
us strategically misinformed. Hence the biggest problems facing hu-
manity today -- i.e. poverty, growing inequality, and unsustainable 
plundering of the planet's ecosystem -- continue unresolved. Only 
when enough citizens become fully aware of these issues, will it be 
possible to place the common good before the interests of powerful 
minorities. But creating such public awareness is an uphill struggle; 
more empowering forms of education and information sharing are 
needed. To see through this disinformation and to mobilize people for 
a more equitable society, we need alternative methods of education 
and information sharing that are honest, participatory and empowering 
and, most importantly, bring people together as equals to critically 
analyze their reality and then take united action.

It is thus urgent in today's world to look for alternative media and 
other means of people to people communication. The alternative press, 
alternative community radio and TV and the Internet are viable media 
for the times if and when socially committed people unite around a 
common concern to impact global policy-making and key issues facing 
the world's people are given center stage.

The People's Health Assembly is a step forward in that struggle 
fighting for a healthier, more equitable approach to participatory 
democracy.

An empowering education is learner-centered; it enables people to 
take collective action for change. In education for change, the 
learners gain confidence in their own abilities and discuss their own 
concerns; it frees them from the idea that they are helpless; it 
transforms them. It is this that opens the doors for collective ac-
tion.

Community based health programs in various countries have brought 
people together to take health into their own hands through organized 
action in a people's collective struggle for health to correct ine-
qualities, unfair practices, and/or unjust social structures. In 
these programs, through community diagnoses, it becomes clear to peo-
ple that inequality and the power structures that perpetuate them are 
at the root of ill-health. "Where there is no doctor" and "Helping 
health workers learn" are examples of books showing a way for commu-
nity based health in action.

But there also is a need for networking and communications among 
grassroots programs. By joining forces we become more able to con-
solidate a stronger base to confront injustice and inequity. Strength 
in numbers gives us mutual protection and a stronger hand. Networking 
allows for cross- fertilization of experiences, methods and ideas.

A new understanding of the global forces behind poor health makes us 
aware of the need for a worldwide coalition of grassroots groups. 
People need to know what efforts are being made elsewhere to oppose 
global forces.

As said, innovative learning and awareness-raising methods are needed 
to meet the new challenges in today's globalized world. We need new 
learning tools and methods and teaching aids must be developed to 
help ordinary people see the links between their local problems and 
global powers.

Story-telling, role plays and theater can successfully be used for 
awareness raising and change. They are an effective way to help peo-
ple understand and consider possibilities for strategic action. Par-
ticularly useful are stories that link local problems to global poli-
cies. Local social upheaval can often be traced to global policies 
that are deepening poverty, undermining workers rights, reducing jobs 
and wages, and cutting back on public services. We need true stories 
that make those links AND help people build a chain of causes from 
the local to the global. The "But Why?" game and the "Chain of 
Causes" exercise can be used with local stories depicting good situa-
tion analyses.

The purpose of these activities is to help participants explore is-
sues in depth, like fitting together the pieces of the puzzle. Study-
ing the causal chain, the group considers which links they may be 
able to break and what action to take. It also allows them to deter-
mine when two call on others to join in to help them achieve their 
goals.

Learning is also best when it is made discovery-based; that is a step 
further from learning by doing. It develops in the learner an ability 
to observe and think for him or herself. It encourages participants 
to make their own observations, arrive at their own conclusions, and 
to build on their own discoveries thus preparing them to be protago-
nists and active agents of change. (To be is to do!).

Using a community based situation analysis/diagnosis is the best way 
to start off the group process of learning by identifying and priori-
tizing health-related problems or other shared concerns. One approach 
is to create a graphic representation of the problems of a given com-
munity using a flannel board. In it, the problems identified are put 
in rows and the group analyzes their relative importance. The group 
discusses which problems contributed to or led to some of the other 
problems; a web of causes is thus created and root causes are identi-
fied. Seeking answers to these questions helps the group decide where 
to begin. It is suggested that they begin attacking easy to resolve 
local problems, not losing sight of the macro level though.

Another empowering innovative educational methodology is found in the 
"Child to Child" program in which school age children learn ways to 
protect the health of other children. Child to Child emphasizes 
learning through experience. Children conduct their own surveys and 
discover answers for themselves; they learn to work together to help 
each other.

Building self-esteem is one of the most difficult challenges in em-
powering education. People need to rediscover the value in their tra-
ditional belief, customs and forms of healing. They need to discover 
that they have a wealth of knowledge, skills and qualities which 
other folks often lack. Using awareness-rising dialogues helps people 
to get a new sense of self-worth so as to stand-up to others as 
equals and become committed, assertive actors.

To transform the world we must respect our differences and embrace 
what we have in common. We have to build the global solidarity needed 
and find ways to communicate truthfully and directly. The Internet, 
for those with access to it, provides an avenue we must use better. 
Story-telling, street theater, awareness-raising comics and novellas, 
as well as community radio and TV, and the alternative press offer 
complementary vital outlets that we also have to use more effi-
ciently. Well planned protests, demonstrations, open fora, and stra-
tegic disobedience also have their time and place.

Years of organized struggle will be necessary to achieve the goals of 
action for change. People need to discover what makes our social or-
der tick to then figure out a course of action to help improve the 
situation.

At PHA, we aim at bringing diverse people together for the common 
good. We will help identify common ground and help take collective 
action for change.

The People's Health Assembly promises to be a big step forward in 
these discussions. Its activities are oriented toward education and 
action that raise the critical awareness of people. We invite you to 
join in.

mailto:phasec@pha2000.org

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