Progress; building; justice; equality; modernity; intervention; civilization; liberation; disparities; international membership; poverty; illness; industrialization; growth; education; access; opportunity; democracy; backwardness; human rights; peace; aid; post-conflict; opportunity; freedom; wealth; empowerment…
These are just some of the many concepts my peers and I came up with, when asked to construct a list of “buzz words” that we often hear being used in the language of development work. As we all proceed to dig deeper into this multifaceted world of “development”, we are beginning to see just how varied (and often messy) the work in this field can be, and how these conceptual “buzz words” under the larger umbrella of development come with their own set of implications and complexities.
As of late, the discourse of “empowerment” has become a central piece in our discussions around development work, both in and out of academic seminar. What does the discourse around “the empowerment of a people” imply? Does it mean that a group of people must first be considered disempowered? And if so, how do a people become identified as disempowered? Who are the people making these kinds of calls? What does the end goal or objective of efforts towards the empowerment of a people look like? Does empowerment mean the same to all people, or does it hold many meanings, thus requiring multiple approaches?
Despite the constant flow of new questions that seem to become more intricate each day, I am having a hard time finding any concrete answers. It is a very different thing to assess the process of development and empowerment efforts from a seminar room in New York, than it is to try to formulate a set of answers and solutions while on the ground. From behind a desk, it is very easy for us to say that, “for a child to be empowered in the future, he needs to finish school.” It is not so easy to look a child in the eyes and tell him this, when contextual circumstances relating to poverty, health, and family may prevent him from completing school in favor of working to support the income and wellbeing of the household, and thus a sustainable livelihood for himself and his family.
Week 2 of Lang in Cambodia, and I most certainly have more questions than answers. But this is the complex world of “development” that we all chose to be involved in, and the process of making sense of the perplexing intricacies of the day-to-day is a central part of the journey.