We’ve made a mess.
Devastating wars, extreme poverty, more slaves than ever before, violence, resource depletion and environmental catastrophes rage the globe. This is our species doing.
Despite all darkness, there are some shining stars. You are among them. I see and hear many individuals taking action for change and connecting, sharing knowledge and spreading ideas. I hope today I can contribute to your ambitions for a better world. I will tell you about what I know and about some of my sources of inspiration.
Starting the eighties last century, Manfred Max-Neef, economist from Chile, felt depressed over the state his country was in. Deprivation on all terrains; political, social, ecological, economical. Max-Neef saw no solution in neo-liberal ideas, such as trickledown economics. Trickledown economics comes down to stimulate growth by enriching the rich and empowering the powerful, than the accumulation of wealth in some sort of magical way trickles down to the poor, which of course does not happen.
He was looking for a profound development model to benefit the people and nature. He came up with fundamental human needs.
Four existential needs: Being, Having, Doing and Interacting.
Nine axiological – that is value related – needs:
- leisure / idleness
Today we take the liberty to play with a part of the model and confine to the nine value related needs, something Max-Neef might not agree to, but we are not in an economics class and he is in Chile. We talk about how to come close to each other.
The fundamental human needs are interrelated and interactive, except for subsistence, which is merely staying alive.
When there are needs, satisfiers are required. Max-Neef qualifies food and shelter not as needs, but as satisfiers for subsistence. A mother breastfeeding her baby is fulfilling multiple needs at the same time: subsistence, protection and affection, maybe even identity and leisure as well.
And this is the interesting thing for our discourse today: the needs are the same throughout history and in all cultures. What changes is the way the needs are satisfied.
If we look at each other with the fundamental human needs in mind, we might come closer to each other.
Please keep the fundamental needs in mind and allow me to tell you how I got close.
Back in 1996, one still read newspapers. So was I that one morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee. All of a sudden I got blown in the face by this line: ‘The woman was thrown out on the street by immigration police’.
National authorities? Putting people on the street? In a country as rich and tolerant as the Netherlands? Maybe I was naïve, but it had never before occurred to me that such a thing was possible here. It made me think of my own responsibility as a human, as a citizen. Am I going to allow this? Just turn my head and go on with life as usual? That would make me an accomplice of a thoroughly immoral act performed in the name of democracy.
The next day I visited a shelter for irregular migrated women and children in the city I lived, Den Bosch. Since then I have been working with sans papers, sheltering people in our own home and writing about it. Since then I got close. And I have met very valuable and dear friends, who all have one characteristic in common: the will to succeed. I’ll come back to that later.
The women and children, some eighty in total, in the shelter in Den Bosch were all denied asylum. They were undocumented, irregular migrants, living in a country that did not accept their request for help. They were liars, economic refugees, profiteers.
They came from all over the world, except for the rich countries. Some fled gender violence, such as female genital mutilation. – At that time not a reason to get help, luckily this has changed. Some had run away from police abuse in the country of origin. Some had been lured into travelling to Europe for a job by human traffickers. The job invariably came along with a pay-back contract. These girls owed their so-called travel agents up to $60.000. The job invariably had not been the type of activity that was promised, like childcare or studying, but it was forced prostitution. The women had to lay down with multiple men in filthy hotels or dark brothels for fl. 25,- with a condom or if the guy preferred to have sex without protection: fl. 50,-.
Looking at the fundamental human needs of Max-Neef one can easily conclude that except for the first one, staying alive, no need was fulfilled.
But what happened… without knowing Max-Neefs’ theory the women in the shelter of VAST in ‘s-Hertogenbosch satisfied each others’ needs.
How it worked:
Although the shelter was housing people who had no legal staying permission, the local authorities tolerated it. They were kind of relieved these women and children did not roam the cities’ streets as homeless. Sometimes even the police asked for our assistance.
They called upon us after they found a fourteen year old Nigerian girl while raiding a brothel. The girl refused to speak. Maybe she’d speak to me? Maybe I could convince her to report on her traffickers?
No, I thought, she is never going to tell me her story while in a police cell. She’ll think I am one of them, being white and Dutch. She will not trust me at first sight.
And she will be much too afraid of her traffickers who might have used voodoo to seal the contract. They often used voodoo on African girls. A ceremony performed by a priest is a powerful tool. It is a kind of remote control, for the girl knows that if she should break the contract hell awaits her.
Your plan is not going to work, I told the police officer. But I have a proposal. Let me enter the police station with a Nigerian friend. Promise that you will not ask our ID’s, nor any other questions, and, promise that we will walk out free after visiting the girl in the cell.
He agreed. I asked Hope (not her real name) along. Hope had undergone the same abuse as the girl in the cell. A customer helped her escape and brought her to an asylum application centre. Needless to say, Hope had no papers. Furthermore she lied about her country of origin. She said she came from Sierra Leone, which was in a devastating civil war at the time. The lie was easily detected. Hope was rejected asylum and put out on the streets again, carrying a letter in Dutch that said she had to leave the country within 24 hours. A volunteer worker of VVN took pity on her and brought her to the shelter in Den Bosch. Now Hope was considering to report on the traffickers, but had not decided yet.
The decision to report is much harder than you might think. Trafficked persons put themselves at risk by doing so without any guarantee of success. Should the authorities be able to track down the perpetuators and convict them, the victim has to return to her country of origin. Facing a judgemental community.
Should the bad guys not be found, her situation is worse. She’d be sent home as well. And the traffickers will seek to punish her for betrayal, for breaking the contract. I know of a Nigerian girl who was sent back, recaptured by the traffickers and again put to work in bondage in the prostitution. You can imagine that escaping a second time requires much more of a person.
But Hope was a strong woman with a bright empathic character and optimistic view on life. She was willing and able to come along to talk to the girl at the police station. We’ll call her Yessica.
We entered the small police cell and Hope started to talk softly to Yessica. Finally Yessica agreed to come with us. The police too thought this was the best option. For they couldn’t legally keep Yessica in the cell much longer and they knew she was at great risk.
Yessica came with us and guess what happened. The first thing the other ladies did, was make her feel at home. They gave her a bath and clean clothes. They cooked her a Nigerian dish. They lovingly braided her hair.
In other words they satisfied the fundamental needs: subsistence, protection, affection and identity.
This happened every time a new woman came to the shelter. The other girls took care.
And mind you, with very little means. It was a daily struggle to feed everybody.
The following week Yessica was introduced to the other residents of the shelter. She was shown the way to the supermarket and city center, but always in the company of others, for her protection. Plus one for the needs participation and understanding as well.
She started to relax, learned how to use a sewing machine. Leisure and creation entered.
After a while it was my job to take her out for coffee and small talk. I’d ask her what was the strangest thing she’d seen when she first entered the country. She’d say ‘an escalator’ or a drawbridge, a bridge that opens.
We’d go to second hand shops for clothes. Slowly Yessica started to trust me. After some weeks she told her story. How she travelled, what happened, where she worked et cetera. Sometimes she just cried. Sometimes she did not remember things. Sometimes she gave valuable information to set up a case for an asylum request. I wrote it all down and looked for evidence.
This is how it went most of the time. There was not a standard method or procedure. The women took care of each other’s fundamental needs in a natural way and the organisation provided for the things they could not access themselves.
After the story was written, we spoke to a lawyer about starting or re-opening some kind of procedure to obtain a legal stay. But the woman involved was in charge. She decided what, when and how. The first signs of freedom.
The will to succeed
We owe the term to John Kenneth Galbraith, advisor to president Kennedy and US Ambassador to India. Already in the 1960’s Galbraith stated that migration benefits the country of origin as well as the country of destination. The migrant is the one who deconstructs. She or he decides not to accommodate and is many times even prepared to risk his or her life for a better future.
A characteristic most migrants share is: The Will to Succeed.
You do not leave everything and everybody you know behind – for an uncertain future – to fail.
Those who succeed, share their success with those who stayed behind. They perform as rolemodel. More often than not, migrants send money, ideas and goods back to their families and former communities.
This money, for instance, goes straight to where it has to go: to a mother that needs medical care, to a brother or sister for education et cetera. It does not fall into the pockets of cleptomanic regimes and their bunch.
The will to succeed benefits the country of destination as well. Migrants tend to contribute to the receiving society in many ways.
The people I’ve met, have proven this statement. Yessica is now married with children in Italy. Hope has a job in geriatric care, studies and provides for her three kids. Other women started a cleaning company or opened a restaurant. They offer employment. For most of them it took ten years of their lives to get where they are now.
One girl from Azerbaijan who lived in the shadows for 18 years, completed a MBO study of 4 years in just one. Then she took up HBO. ‘I have no time to lose,’ she explained. She is 25 now.
The access to society can and must speed up. For it is not the migrant who needs this amount of time to build up a live of productive wellbeing. It is society that prevents people from entering.
High fences and military will not stop those who are determined to change their and their children’s lives.
Apart from the fact that force will not stop them, but costs valuable lives – and we’ve seen that happen multiple times!. And aside from how you might feel about the moral aspect of closing borders and excluding people, it is very unwise to keep migrants out.
I quote JK Galbraith: ‘Migration is the oldest action against poverty. It selects those who most want help. It is good for the country to which they go; it helps break the equilibrium of poverty in the country from which they come. What is the perversity in the human soul that causes people so to resist so obvious a good?’
Access – How?
Access is important, not only for the women and children in the shelter in Den Bosch, not only for the millions of displaced persons, refugees and other national or international migrants, but also for the migrant receiving communities.
Doug Saunders wrote about this. He researched arrival cities worldwide. An arrival city is the growing community of migrants who set themselves up at the outskirt of a metropolis such as the favelas of Rio or the shanty towns of Mumbai. They struggle to reform their lives and try to integrate themselves socially and economically. These migrants want to build communities and strive to become middle class. It is all about upward mobility. Unlike most think, the slums can become fertile ground and stimulate local, national, even international economies.
This is not by bulldozing them down or excluding the residents. Such acts will lead to the opposite: a violent unsafe place where crime, drugs and radicalization flourish.
Saunders: ‘If an impediment can be removed, if the state can provide the basic fruits of the city, than an arrival city will take care of itself. Its’ residents know what to do. They have been trying to do it for years.’
Saunders talks about access. Access to citizenship and access to opportunity to fulfil one’s aspirations, to be able to live the life one has reason to value. I think this is what we need to come close: access while bearing the fundamental human needs in mind. The women in the shelter in Den Bosch showed us the way.
Caro Sicking, May 17, 2016
speech at: I am Local – meeting UvT organised by STAI, May 17 2016.
Other speakers: Mohammed Elgizoly Adam and Angélo Schuurmans
Satisfiers for ‘Understanding’:
- The women & children of Stichting Vast, Den Bosch
- M. Max-Neef: Human Scale Development – free pdf
- J.K. Galbraith: The Nature of Mass Poverty
- D. Saunders: Arrival City
- A. Sen: Development as Freedom
- F. van Empel & C. Sicking: JES! Towards a Joint Effort Society – free pdf info @ nonfixe.nl or printed version
NonfiXe, May 22 2017