Moved Mountains

Banner - Mt Trio, Stirling Range National Park, Western Australia - (c) 2007

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Creating Community from Scratch

One of the questions I am wrestling with at the moment is how to create community from scratch? Particularly with reluctant, or at least suspicious participants.

I've been toying with this question for most of this year, specially as it relates to the affordable housing project I currently working on with the Alternate[Or] crew in Bunbury. One of the key parts of the project is the community engagement aspect - this is where we introduce participants in the project to a supportive community, rather than simply book them in for an appointment with the program social worker.

It's been this theoretical aspect of the project that has gained the most interest from those we have presented it to. Most people (particularly those without a hard commitment to particular aspects of professional helping & social work theory), including a couple of politicians, recognise the benefits of engaging disengaged people within a supportive community, instead of just plugging them into the professional merry-go-round. Of course there is a place for professional services - all of the members of the organising team from Alternate[Or] are also involved in the community services sector in a professional capacity.

This is a real problem - particularly in a demographic that has been over-referred and knows the professional machinery, and how to manipulate it, all to well. People prefer what they know, and are going to be reluctant to step into something new - particularly if it is being suggested by people with a spiritual bent.

Obviously there are some important ethical considerations at play as well. We can't be manipulative, or deceptive about what we are trying to achieve, we can't demand participation and, some would say, we can't make engagement in the community aspect compulsory for participation in the project.

So how do we effectively navigate these new waters? How should we approach the dark, less travelled roads that exist between the real community - the one where everyday people live, work, struggle and die, and the world of professional helping?

I have an idea of my own, it comes from my African experiences, and I will post it here later on. In the meantime, if you have any experience with this I would love to hear what you have to say. Suggestions and ideas based on other peoples efforts in tackling this same problem are very much welcome.

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