Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Buen Vivir--Striving for "Good Living"

Buen Vivir speaks to good living, common wealth, the pursuit of happiness perhaps. But who determines what is buen vivir, and how can we strive for buen vivir for all?

The U.S. Declaration of Independence suggests Creator-given rights, namely life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are what constitute good living. The document continues by saying that good relationship between the government and the governed, prudence and not abuses, is the mechanism that can spread and maintain buen vivir.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus explains, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 22:37-40). Again, the focus is on good relationship, this time between people and between people and God. Through these commandments, restorative and loving relationships, we can achieve buen vivir.
The rights-based approach to community development is one method used to restore relationships and help us achieve buen vivir for all. Foundation Cristosal, a non-profit human rights and community development organization, works for the good living of all people in El Salvador using this approach.

I just spent a week with Foundation Cristosal's Global School in San Salvador, taking a course on the theologies of human rights and development, where I learned about the rights-based approach and the positive impact it can have.
I had two main takeaways from my time in El Salvador. First was simply seeing the country, meeting Salvadorians, and learning more about their history and current reality with overwhelming gang violence and emigration. Second was learning about the rights-based approach and how Foundation Cristosal works within El Salvador using that perspective.
The church where Oscar Romero was assassinated
Oscar Romero's Home
A daily newspaper in San Salvador reported on the continued gang violence. 102 people were reported killed by homicide in the first 7 days of 2015, in a country of around 6 million people. This gang culture, some explain, is an evolution of the environment of violence during the Salvadorian Civil war which lasted from 1979 until 1992.

During the course, the Cristosal staff took us to important sites around the capital including Oscar Romero's house and his resting place underneath the cathedral. Along the way, staff shared their nation's history, their personal connections, and how they feel motivated by the hope of Romero's preaching. It is very clear to me that many Salvadorians not only do not want to be defined by the violence in their country, but are boldly working to combat it.
Iglesia El Rosario

Part of one of the coolest Stations of the Cross I've ever seen
For the touristy part of my week, I spent time with fellow YASCer Hannah Perls who originally gave David Copley and me the idea to arrange my trip. (Thanks David!!) She works for Foundation Cristosal. Hannah and her friend Gerardo picked me up from the airport and we went straight to the beach for some fresh fish and swimming in the Pacific Ocean. I was able to meet up with them throughout the week for cold drinks, tasty food and wonderful local music. You should check out Gerardo's music, Maiztones--and he has aspirations to create a music school in El Salvador, something that, among many things, would provide further opportunities for young Salvadorians.

Hannah paying up (in pizza) for losing the fro-off (a.k.a. fro-down)
Las Musas Desconectadas
I also was able to have dinner with Hannah, Gerardo, and fellow Episcopal missionaries Tom and Diane, who are on a three year mission in El Salvador. We all attended the same training together, and I had not seen them since that time. We had a wonderful dinner at a scrumptious Italian restaurant.
A volcanic crater! 
Finally, I learned so much from the content of the course and the other participants. I joined five others from the Vancouver School of Theology in Canada, and they all offered meaningful reflection and thoughtful questions throughout the week.

Through a series of meetings, conversations, site visits, and one community visit, the Cristosal staff and guest speakers taught us about the theology and theories of the rights-based approach. Restoring relationships, advocating for the assurance of basic human rights for all, and building community capacity are at the core of the approach.

Rather than seeking to provide for a need (for example handing out food), or funding a project from the outside (for example externally funding a water well project), the rights based approach would seek to empower the community in need to grow its own food or communicating with the government to provide clean water.

Two key terms to the rights based approach are "rights holder" and "duty bearer," used to describe the position of an individual or group. Each person or group may fall into both positions depending on the relationship. For example, a government has a duty to provide certain basic human rights (as outlined by the UN and most constitutions) while the population has a duty to pay taxes. Yet, the population has a right to those provisions from the government.

Rights-based development helps people and communities claim the rights they hold and advocates for duty bearers to fulfill their duties. This happens in part through a restorative process that builds relationships and capacity without fostering dependency. Through those long-lasting, loving relationships, dependable justice can advance and human suffering diminish.
We worshiped on Sunday in San Ramon, Pueblo de Dios en Camino
I'm very excited to apply what I learned to my work in Haiti. I really believe the rights-based approach has a valuable place there--and is in fact already happening in some cases even if not by the same name. In light of this experience, my biggest immediate task is to analyze each of the initiatives I'm involved in from the rights-based perspective, identifying aspects that pass or fail the approach. From there, I hope to determine why the current approach exists and seek potential shifts in the ministry for a better way forward.

Thank you to all who made this experience in El Salvador enjoyable and educational.

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