Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pop Wuj and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Guest blog by Kelly Dent, a current Pop Wuj Social Work Spanish student.
Photos by Amy Scheuren

"A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggles, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust. Trusting the people is the indispensible precondition for revolutionary change.” – Paulo Freire

I read Paulo Freire’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, before coming to Guatemala. I found myself glued to the pages as I reflected on my inherited privilege and elitism, and my role in the war against oppression. I then arrived to Pop Wuj only to find the same messages shared with me during my cultural orientation here. This made me incredibly excited to work with an organization that had a philosophy of work with the people here and not for the people here. 

For example, when helping with a reforestation project the other day, I learned that the group (of mostly women) that we met with to plant the tress, existed for many years before Pop Wuj joined. Pop Wuj aids through volunteer support, relationship, dialogue and financial resources, but the group already existed. Pop Wuj did not join the group explaining how they should change things to make it better. They joined the group asking how they can help and support what the indigenous folks are already doing for themselves. This is the philosophy of Paulo Freire's book. 

Meeting with the scholarship families before planting the trees

Carrying the seedlings to the planting site

What does it look like to live in complete solidarity with the oppressed and be a part of their revolution? What more can we do? Much more I’m sure. It's a process of committing ourselves to solidarity with the oppressed and a constant process of humbling and re-examining myself in the process. This is the process that I see Pop Wuj living out and it is a privilege to witness.

“The more radical a person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, or to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history to fight at their side” (pg. 39).
According to Paulo Freire (pp 89-92), there are four very important concepts that are integral in the process of obtaining inner freedom and aligning with the oppressed to create change:

- Dialogue cannot exist in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people
- Love is an act of courage, not of fear. Love is a commitment to others

- Dialogue is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility
- How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?
- How can I dialogue if I consider myself a member of the in-group, of “pure” men and women, the owners of truth and knowledge?
- How can I dialogue if I am closed to - and even offended by - the contribution of others?
- How can I dialogue if I am afraid of being displaced, the mere possibility causing me torment and weakness?

- Faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birthright of all)
- The dialogical man believes in others even before he meets them face-to-face
- This becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence

- If dialoguers expect nothing to come of their efforts, their encounter will be empty and sterile, bureaucratic and tedious

- True dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking – which perceived reality as process, as transformation, rather than as a static entity

Being a part of Pop Wuj's projects is an opportunity to see these philosophies and concepts lived out in real time with the oppressed indigenous population in Guatemala. I highly recommend reading the Pedagogy of the Oppressed before arriving to enhance your understanding of these concepts and the great work of this organization. 

Even the youngest among us carried seedlings and planted trees!
Planting the seedlings

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