A framed family portrait placed on the pen tray of a white board gently reminded everyone in the room why they had gathered on a Saturday afternoon. There were 9 relatives from both sides of the family and a friend of the husband who was a cell-mate when he was incarcerated. The teenagers in the family helped to care for the children and both were not in the room. However, the views of 4 other adults were present even though they could not be physically present.
Those present were there to support the couple in building a stable family not troubled by substance use, the lack of money or a rocky marital relationship. They were there to craft a plan and to share the responsibility for making it work. They were more than aware that should they fail, the likely consequences would be 7 years imprisonment with 6 strokes of the cane for the husband, the end of the marriage and the well-being of 2 young children threatened.
The husband’s ex-cell mate is a recovering addict and he was a valuable resource and voice of reason in helping all present to appreciate the thought process of someone weighed down by an addiction and the resultant emotions and behaviours. Having been to “hell and back,” he offered credible advice on treatment and the ongoing role of family and community in safeguarding an addict’s sobriety. With the strengths of the couple listed on the white board and an assurance from those present that they had an awareness of community resources, we left the room for the family group to craft their plan.
When we were invited back to the room, we saw a 12-point plan that addressed both the individual and social aspects of the issue. It was a plan that looked very similar to one we would have created if we were case-managing, but the key difference was that it came entirely from them. People are indeed experts of their own lives and support often means holding a space where they are recognised as such. I mean this both metaphorically and literally and in this light; I would like to express our deepest gratitude for the generous hospitality of the Far East Organisation for hosting the family at their facilities.
As we were about to hand the framed family portrait to the couple to mark the end of the conference, a family member stopped us. He told us to face the portrait toward the floor before presenting it to the couple. Then he explained to the couple that the back of the frame was a blank sheet for them to write a better story of their life together. It is this story that is behind the happy family pictured in front.
Since 1993, every 17 October has been observed as the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity,” is this year’s theme and we believe that this begins when we listen deeply to what those on the margins are saying about their situation. Then it is about appreciating their efforts and accompanying them as they lead the way. As a result, many of our members have moved from the margins to the centre of their communities by serving as leaders.
This weekend we are most heartened to be able to accompany 7 mothers and 3 youth to Bandung-West Java Indonesia for a Global Learning Festival to acquire skills in facilitating a community’s ownership of their challenges. They will be learning together with women and young people living in communities with challenges such as HIV, the lack of education, poor health and such. We are looking forward to hearing from our members and I hope to keep you updated of their experience next week.
Enjoy your week.
Let us remember that ending poverty is not a matter of charity but a question of justice. – UN Secretary-General, António Guterres