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Grassroots participatory development: More than just buzz words

Kids in Kiberia

Photo from the CFK website

These words can have a variety of definitions depending on where you look. According to the literature, participatory approaches provide the people in a community with power over decisions that are made in the social change process.  Grassroots means that such programs come from the ground up.

In a slum of Nairobi, Kenya, through the program Carolina For Kibera, grassroots participatory development is shown through actions. Carolina for Kibera, or CFK, is an international, nongovernmental organization that provides a number of programs that have been developed with and for the people there.

For example, a few years after the program was founded, two undergraduate volunteers from the United States helped young women in Kibera create the Binti Pamoja (Daughters United) Center that created a safe place for young girls to address issues  such as HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, a lack of reproductive health care, and many other issues.

The program offers girls a form of participatory communication through LightBox, which is a collection of photographs taken by girls in the Binti Pamoja Center that include accompanying essays. According to the CFK website, “Their photography and essays display a powerful message—one of struggle, perseverance and hope.”

In addition to the programs, CFK provides a connection from Kibera to the United States. UNC student volunteers help capture information and events in the community and then tell them from their own perspective through video, according to a blog by a former intern, Brendan.

Applications for graduate and undergraduate interns interested in participating are due Nov. 21. The year-long fellowship allows students to work on program evaluation tools, create a map of CFK’s impact or teach video-making and production to girls in the program, according to Julie Goldberg, CFK program assistant. Students develop a project in collaboration with CFK staff in the spring and then travel over to Kibera in the summer to implement the project, completing it in the fall. For more information or to apply, visit http://cfk.unc.edu/about-volunteers.php

According to the CFK website, development programs should really start from within:

“Concerned outsiders can help by mobilizing communities, advising, networking, and providing resources. Ultimately, however, the community possesses the knowledge and motivation that are necessary to solve its own problems.”

Aside from this program, what are some examples of grassroots participatory development that you have seen? How would you define it? What do you think of it?