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Freedom and survival: Living the contradictions

17 May 2019

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Pedro Walpole SJ

We face the present grave realities of climate disasters, maldistribution of food, fossil fuels, unmanaged urbanization, biodiversity loss; yet, we need to live openly these contradictions – these wounds – with hope and in this way open a broader process for engaging the youth.

The contradictions of how we live, however, do create contexts where most people do not know how to care. For example, the shift from rural to urban life and the advent of plastics from the 1960s present a situation today where consumption packaging and city waste disposal do not work hand-in-hand and consumers do not care because they have lost, or have not developed the way, to care.

Humanity does care. Each human being has the capacity to care. Human dignity highlights the uniqueness of each person, who, in being human, is accorded the respect by which their needs and aspiration are heard. (Yes, there are those who do not care, ranging from the injured to the arrogant but let not these conditions define humanity).

In a recent workshop in Bali, Indonesia, the contradictions were evident. Bali, one of the most celebrated tourist destinations in the world with 10 million tourists, thrice the local population, has a mountain of garbage higher than any building on the horizonHow did we reach this scale of denial?

Every household in Bali lays out the known cosmology deeply honoring their ancestors and different Balinese Hindu gods in the pamerajan, a sacred enclosure in the family shrine of traditional Bali houses and generally the most focal point of the compound. Household waste used to be managed out at the back of the compound, but then came imported consumerism and plastics for which the local government organized the waste collection. So much was no longer biodegradable as people lost the responsibility and government cannot effectively segregate or adequately pursue regulation and implementation for serious reduction in plastic. Most efforts became dysfunctional and people entered a denial stage that believed that an environmental approach is not realistic.

As we wallow in plastics of the last 60 years, societies are beginning to move beyond denial and struggle for ways forward. A recent workshop on Caring for Creation, Caring for Communities: Faith and the Environment in Language, Education and Development Work gave us occasion to meet with people from around Asia and community efforts in Bali.

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Around the temple in Baturiti, the youth are involved in a clean-up, building relations and understanding different cultures.

A group from the workshop joined Merah Putih Hijau, Bali’s Green Village Project,involving the youth on a clean-up around the temple in Baturiti. It was mostly about building relations and understanding each other of different cultures.

Madè is a young man who has found purpose by staying in his village and is beginning to make a business out of segregation up the road in Badong that involves the local culture more than policy. Many individuals quietly segregate and reduce their use of plastic but if done alone, it can feel self-defeating. The effort must be part of a bigger initiative. People need to join a group who seek to contribute to actions needed and change the attitudes of a broader society.

Part of my family of friends who share this interest is SIL International’s Language, Education and Development (LEAD) Asia group. The LEAD Community of Practice (CoP) is a community of individuals, teams, organizations and networks all grappling with questions around language, education and development. The focus of the CoP is working with minority communities, often marginalized because of their unique culture and/or language but the engagement broadens to the land where these people live and care for neighbor and all life.

The LEAD CoP is good at framing the contradiction: “In this increasingly globalized world, communities are often required to choose between engaging in development opportunities or keeping their language and culture. This is a false choice. As groups develop a stronger sense of community – built on a firm foundation of their own unique identity – they are able to more actively engage in future opportunities.  However, this is rarely a simple process.” This is why the LEAD CoP provides an environment for practitioners and community members to share knowledge, experiences, and resources openly and honestly.

In our workshop, we also gave attention to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the need to collaborate from the local up through levels of government and onto the global. The SDGs are underachieving, and not surprisingly, as the focus is governments. Yet it is communities, where so many suffer, who are precisely on these issues and where the changes are being worked for.

One other visit we valued, while we shared what our personal and organizational actions might be, was to visit the Begawan Foundation’s Bali Starling Conservation Project. The white myna or starling is a common bird, not suffering from habitat loss due to its adaptability, but attractive as a caged bird at home and abroad. The birds are caged for their own protection and survive by loss of their freedom. How do we end up with these contradictions?

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Painting by Michael Harrar

We may be able to focus on one thing like the protection of the myna, but this does not mean I-do-my-own-thing, but rather I-collaborate-with-others and make sure my efforts connect with the broader struggle for change.  We need to break out of the cage, whether we or others have constructed it.

Several people are going home from the workshop recognizing the realities of the plastic packaging overkill and are making decisions to live by and share them with others. Many experience the connection of their faith, whether Koran or Bible, with creation and the call to act caringly on this planet. Learning from each other, the cultural and environmental context of seeking to be faithful to God deepens the commitment to change for a better world. This does not make people better than others, but better people of faith than they otherwise would be. While acknowledging that these activities can be viewed as insignificant, yet in the repetition, the learning and the spread of awareness there is growth and this can reach a tipping point; society does learn from its mistakes, slow and painful as it may be.

There are amazing experiences within reach of all of us to listen to people of faith and share how we care for creation while seeking a more integral way of living so all life flourishes.

Meanwhile a few pairs of myna birds have been released and are breeding in nest boxes nearby.

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