Can DFID really work with faith communities?

By Severine Deneulin

In June 2012, DFID launched a new partnership with faith communities, working together for poverty reduction and sustainable development. Amongst other things, it calls for  for mutual understanding between DFID and faith communities.  The question of whether this was really possible was vividly highlighted to me when I was in Ecuador last year attending a government-sponsored conference on sustainable development alternatives. The conference opened with a religious ceremony by a Kichwa man and an altar of harvested goods. He began by singing songs of praise to God for giving abundant food and sustaining human life. He then gave a short introduction to the Kichwa indigenous cosmovision which is encapsulated in the Kichwa greeting: Not ‘how are you?’ ‘Fine’ but ‘You are me’ ‘I am you’.  This was to expresss how our individuality is found in our relationships to others and our lives are intertwined with the natural environment. He finished by some petition prayers that we may live in harmony with each other and nature.

It made me wonder whether, if a DFID partnership was proposed to Kichwa indigenous communities, they could in fact reach a mutual understanding.

In many ways this Kichwa ceremony was similar to a Christian service with its songs of praise; recitation of a type of Creed that affirmed belief in God as Creator of nature and human life; and prayers for people to respect the created world and work for human dignity and protection of nature. As a Kichwa craftsman, don José, told me: ‘We are only transients in this earth, the earth is not ours. We need to pass it on so that those who come after us can enjoy it too. We, indigenous people are not worshipping the sun, as Westerners think. We are worshipping God and giving thanks for each harvest.’  This belief in God implies that the source of human dignity lies in communion with God and God’s Creation. It implies acknowledging that God is the source of life and that there is a close connection between respecting life in all its forms and God.

However, DFID sees the private sector as an engine of poverty reduction and one of its top priorities. Indeed, don José would still have walked bare feet because he couldn’t afford shoes as a child had it not been for the small cooperative business he set up. But his buying and selling of goods is a means to an end: ensure that people in his community can live in dignity. Belief in God implies for them  – as it does for believers throughout the world – that humans are called to live together in relationships of solidarity, for we all share a common parenthood. Therefore, the buying and exchange of goods is done within that perspective of solidarity. It is a means to an end. When the means becomes the end in itself, markets become alienated from the purpose they serve.

So for it to have real meaning, this new partnership must challenge the idea that our food and subsistence, indeed our very lives, can be fulfilled by clicking a button on some online shopping website. Instead it needs to be about searching together for forms of production and market regulation which enable nature to be respected and people to live in dignity.

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