A couple of years ago I was invited to partake in a professionally supervised ministry that was taking place in some communities of the parish of St. Hermano Pedro, in the township of Chinautla. The scope of the ministry was intriguing because it encompassed multiple facets of community and parish life.
Social, economic and political changes that have occurred in recent Guatemalan history have had a strong impact upon the present urban and rural communities here. Faced with this reality, there are obvious areas where interventions that promote social change and development are needed. Emancipation that brings about or enhances human dignity is a central building block toward empowering people in their societal context. Social psychology is a scientific approach to understanding individual behavior within social situations. It can be used to analyze and understand the particular situations of a community: and that information can be utilized for development strategies.
Understanding the potential value of such an approach, the notion of employing it as a ministry within our communities affected by poverty and exclusion was born. The parish formed a team comprised of many disciplines: pedagogy (the science or art of education), psychology (science of mental functions and behaviors) and sociology (study of human society and its institutions). And we got involved in this combined effort in the township of Chinautla. This ministry was designed to give the students, social organizations and the inhabitants of various communities here the opportunity to realize combined work and shared goals, based in their own needs and the unique problems they face.
An important position was taken at the starting point: that the human person is a whole, of biological, psychological and spiritual components. It is therefore necessary to attend and respond in an integral way, to all its needs. Supervisors of each discipline, together with the parish priest of St. Hermano Pedro, accompanied the process. The initial task was to “diagnose the community.” Interviews of more than seventy residents were conducted. From these interviews, a prioritized list of deficiencies or problems affecting the people at the present time was generated.
The overwhelming priority shortfall described by the community was concerning children and the youth. The appropriate disciplines were woven together to focus in on that need first.
Sadly, development opportunities for children and young people in Guatemala are few. The availability and quality of education is poor. The government reports statistics of around 70% completing their primary education (6th grade), but that is not the whole story. There are huge disparities based on gender, ethnicity, and poverty. Even those completing their sixth year show waning attendance in favor of increasing child labor, which plays significant role in the very high drop out rates. Poverty and historical exclusion force many children to attempt to help their domestic situations by entering into the labor market very early on in life. The children who are drawn so early into a work life are then restricted from the possibility of future integral development.
The majority of the children and adolescents of Chinautla are faced with these situations. Many socio-economic and psychosocial problems we face around Guatemala are a reflection of the realities described for our youth. The vacuum of stable structures robs children of the opportunity to participate in the development and articulation of their skills, capabilities and proposals for society. Even more tragic, is the prevalence of abusive, exploitive, and violent outcomes for these forgotten members of Guatemalan society.
There are some laws, such as the law of Integral protection of children and adolescents, which oblige the State to respond to their needs. But there is little practical application or impact. As such, we see it as an urgent priority that we build a united plan to grant these children dignified and integrated treatment. Is it not the mission of the Christian community to work for the dignity of every human being? We want and need to construct a culture of respect for the protection and rights of the children. The late Bishop Gerardi made this very point in a report about the Guatemalan children: “the most clear social indicators are the ones that portray the development of children. They make translucent the health or the sickness of a people, they reflect the balance or imbalance of a society.”
The group that was formed is committed to the problems of the youth and the adverse effects of poverty and social exclusion on our communities. They have conducted many successful workshops involving the youth and other residents, who are people with great potential and active agents of change in their own reality. Their combined skills, perspectives, and sharing help them to face the difficulties and challenges they each encounter. This ministry allows us to give a psychosocial companionship to institutions, organizations, or communities interested in the wellbeing and dignity of its people. They are rendering a great service, and nurturing their communities from within.
We thank God for generous attendance of compassionate co-missionaries. Unity builds strength.
Isidore Ndjibu, cicm
Fr. Isidore Ndjibu, cicm, is a native of the Kasayi region of the Democratic Republic of Congo who joined Missionhurst-CICM in 1984, and was ordained in 1994. Fr. Isidore is currently working in the parish of St. Mark the Evangelist, Tierra Nueva I in Guatemala.