Holding the tensions of local worlds in transition

Holding the tensions of local worlds in transition

Pedro Walpole SJ

Transforming the process of present-day economic development in the vast margins of the planet and peoples is a global challenge for a sustained ecological economy, but there are some footholds locally happening that can be occasions for change.

All over the world, many women go out daily to collect from the land the food they need to cook such as bamboo shoots, squash, beans, among many crops. The list is long and the basket can be heavy. The daily human burden also may be great and given the weather, many children may be sick with the flu, upset stomach, or infection.

Other parts of the world are caught in the grip of the war in Ukraine, the disaster in Libya, the genocide in Sudan, and the migrants in the Mediterranean and Mexican border, while in the background, there is the broader food and water vulnerability that is growing globally and the UNFCCC meeting on climate change in November in Dubai, UAE. How can these tensions and their diversity, that are not simply resolved and continuously go on, be held together?

During a recent visit to see the lives of people in Kalimantan, Indonesia, their daily gratitude and struggle on the land remind me of similar challenges in Mindanao. In the different parishes and initiatives in West Kalimantan, the biggest problem as described to me is the lack of education.

As a result, there is poor participation in what is happening in the area overall and a level of ecological degradation is generally seen, including loss of drinking water sources due to the massive expansion of oil palm plantations preceded by the large clearing of forests by companies, not local people.

To enter the economy, people are willing to sell their land for oil palm and mining activities. They enter somewhat rich with the initial sale of the land, but with much less resources and buffer when the fluctuations and challenges come. This situation affects jobs and leads to increased urbanization.

Many of the communities have subsisted on the land for generations, opening up patches of hill rice a hectare at a time that would regenerate according to the local ecology. Now the whole area is being driven for economic expansion.

Whatever that shift means to become part of the economy, each family or person makes a chain of decisions whereby they or their children stay with more traditional practices, try to get a foothold in the benefits of change, or migrate to the emerging cities.

The subsequent outcome of their actions locally is never clear but the collective impact determines a more pronounced natural loss and economic gain. People need money for food and often for water, as plastic waste abounds and the heat levels can become more serious. “Anyway, what can I do?” is more the answer than the question. Even the outcome as seen in a city like Ketapang in West Kalimantan is seen as acceptable, even if there will be connecting problems of water availability that can be seemingly solved by technology and money.

Problems grow in complexity with selected participation, sustained absorption into consumerism and wastage, and new ways of spending time and of experiencing community. The knock on to the global is however too great to understand in a way that allows people to act.

While the marginalized (who are the greater percentage of the population) are not the cause of the global problems, they contribute to their own demise and that of their future generations. Locally-learned lessons, capacities, and gatherings are generally lost.

Society needs to face humbly the existential problems of how to live together in the world and face questions on how to change the negative impacts of a consumerist society, how the poor can share in the economic and social benefits of a neo-liberalism policy model, what and how is justice served in such a society, and how the youth are empowered.

Weaving in the local school to community life is critical in developing appreciation for local ecosystems and connectivity of all life integral with the community. Activities such as having a forest block for children and youth use for handicraft, art events around culture, dialogue with the elders, and highlighting cultural celebrations can be accompanied with deeper reflection to begin to open up possible paths forward.

Pastorally, the emphasis needs to be with and in community, giving strength to those who work for the collective participation of people and attending to their needs. Sharing spiritual experiences deepens peoples’ faith and hope in very practical ways of sharing in the real challenges. Often the pastoral and educational needs of the people may have the oversight of a parish priest but with limited occasion to engage more strenuously in community and culture. This form of engagement requires others who can knit the community experiences together in ways community can grow.

In these challenges, tensions have to be held in ways that lead us to prayers and discernment in accompanying the poor, addressing the education sought, and the cultural care of creation. We are challenged to build and to plant the seed of care for our common home at the beginning of any apostolic plan so that it contributes and forms the life of community in their landscape.


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