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MAZI Articles

Dreams Deferred?
Message from Denise Gray-Felder

I think a lot about children this time of year, and not just my own kids. In both of my countries (the one of my birth and the one I’ve adopted), it is nearing the time of year when students graduate from secondary schools and universities. My personal diary is filled with dates for parties, commencement ceremonies and “notes to self” to purchase cards and gifts.

The majority of graduates in my life—whether this year or in years past—face bright futures, full of opportunity and promise. They are excited, gleeful and nearly giddy with the possibilities ahead of them.

I contrast this with the futures of thousands of children – many nameless to me, but quite real nevertheless—who are finishing up school terms in countries facing shortages of so many types. Shortages of food, shortages of jobs paying livable wages, shortages of adequate medical facilities, or of well-trained physicians, nurses and teachers.

Consider what young people from these countries dream about on graduation day. Is it to have enough clean water to bathe daily or to rescue a sister from the long laborious daily walk to the nearest bore hole or well? Is it about getting a visa to emigrate to Europe, Australia or North America in order to make enough money to save the futures of their brothers and sisters? Is it about finally having enough to eat each day? Or escaping an imposed marriage, or some other forced relationship, to help feed the family?

I recently received a letter from a young friend living in a rural village of West Africa. Assuming she will pass her competency exams in a few weeks, she too will graduate from secondary school soon. Like most girls her age, she is excited about the next steps. Yet as pleased as my friend Josephine is, she was really writing—as several of her school peers have done—to tell me the unhappy news of her mother’s death.

My friend will now be responsible for her younger brother’s wellbeing and education. She is barely 19 years old.
As I prepare my reply to her letter, I am struck with a sense of life’s ironies. Despite working hard and bucking the odds against girls going to school, my friend still faces the necessity of deferring her dream of a career and a life beyond her village. Her mother sacrificed greatly to get her to school, and then died before graduation day. Several villages away, another young woman is applying to universities—despite being recently orphaned—with the support of her older sister who insists that at least one of their mother’s daughters will become a nurse.

What will the future really hold for both of these young women, and the thousands like them throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America? Or even for youth living in struggling communities in the world’s wealthiest countries? Can we help them articulate their dreams and passions at an early age, help them create life strategies, pursue those strategies and meet success, rather than despair, in their futures? Can development initiatives, especially those with heavy communication components, really reinforce the value systems, elevate voices and help aggregate resources for those who are rarely even seen, much less heard, within communities facing poverty? Are such young people even a consideration once they leave schools or their parents homes?

Most caring adults automatically gravitate to cute babies and toddlers. We instinctively want to protect them. Yet when those same babies reach young adulthood, they often become invisible to us or, worse yet, threatening.

Of course it is easy to make observations and ask questions. Facilitating the search for answers is the hard part. I do believe, deep within my soul, however, that development – in addition to building roads, schools, hospitals and housing—must also be about nurturing dreams. And building hope. For people missing large doses of hope cannot move forward.

We at the CFSC Consortium do our share of large-scale dreaming. In fact, it is a preferred pastime. Others might call it “visioning.”

In our vision, people who live in villages and countries that are poor can indeed own and manage radio stations, which they can use to tell their stories in their own ways. We’re working with the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), with support from the Swiss Development Corporation, to capture recent examples of how community radio stations are advancing democracy, influencing normative behaviors and affecting policy changes within developing countries.

In Nigeria, we envision entire states that will reach their goals of all their children fully immunized against polio, when parents, traditional leaders and healthcare workers work together, talk and plan together, and look collectively of how cultural patterns may be leveraged to improve acceptance of vaccines.
In Lesotho, we plan to work with Unicef and its government partners on the complex process of universal understanding of the value of education for all.

Elsewhere in southern Africa we will be working with communities and others in the public sectors to use communication for empowerment processes developed in partnership with UNDP Oslo Governance Center.

And, perhaps our biggest challenge to date, we’ve joined a collaboration of people and institutions known as aids2031, which hopes to suggest an agenda for change in how the AIDS pandemic is managed—at societal levels—in the next 25 years. For the next two years we will be overseeing a variety of communication for social change efforts including public conversations designed to hear what young people want and think about their futures – futures that unfortunately will include the dominant presence of AIDS.

As you can see, most of our work involves huge doses of hope. When we started the Consortium more than four years ago, it was a dream. But we were fortunate to have access to the resources to make this dream real. Since we’ve opened our doors, we’ve seen that hundreds of other communication and development professionals share—or even trump—our passion. Happily, our dream is contagious.

Within this issue of Mazi you’ll read more from others who share our passion for the field of communication for social change. A group of journalists share their observations about global development, and about how journalism often fails development initiatives. A communication for development graduate student reports on 20 years of study at Ohio University. Arvind Singhal, Corinne Shefner-Rogers, Ami Sengupta and Esther Long report on their work with Afghani women using communication technology to increase civic engagement. And we are among the first to publish “A Letter from Sydney,” written by the more than 500 participants at the recent OURMedia 6 conference in Australia.

Every piece in this issue gives readers a glimpse at the intelligence and commitment with which most communicators working in development approach their challenges daily. We have many reasons to be proud of our profession, and just as many reasons to dream that the field will only improve.

We at the CFSC Consortium take very seriously our dream that people living in poor communities should be in control of development in their countries. We hold fast to our dream that development reality must be defined by the affected people. And that “moving forward” includes every person in a country or community: young, old or in-between.

So my gift this graduation “season” to those young people I know and those I do not know is an infusion of hope and conviction: hope that your world can be better than mine and conviction that you will make it so.

Dream Deferred
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

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