The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Pacific Rising: A Strategic Approach for International Funders of Climate Justice Work
By Deanna Johnson on November 29, 2023
Between October 11 and 14, UUSC supported the second annual Pacific Rising Convening in Lautoka, Fiji. During the three-day event, activist groups from countries around the Pacific Islands gathered to discuss their experiences confronting and responding to the effects of climate change. Additionally, participants in the convening had the opportunity to visit three different Fijian communities and learn more about how they are contending with the climate crisis.
One community visited, Tukuraki Village, is home to 10 families who were forced to evacuate from their homes in 2012 due to numerous climactic events including a cyclone and a landslide. At first, the residents of Tukuraki found shelter in a nearby cave. Then, they moved to temporary housing for five years until settling in their current location. However, the present-day Tukuraki Village sheds light on one of the major gaps in mainstream crisis response. Tukuraki’s present-day village was completely planned and developed bythe Fijian government with support from the European Union and without the input of residents. As such, housing is basic and lacks many of the features necessary for daily living. One of the village elders explains:
“We never decide anything. Everything has been done by government. And see the planning of the houses: When it’s hurricane oh [inaudible]. That is what I told the government—better for us to go back to the old site and live in that cave because how they do the planning. When it’s hurricane we can feel the house shaking like this. And we got small kids so we have a recreation center—that hall—and that, too, is not safe because we are living in a landslide place […] government just do like this—put the villages, finished.”
Support without the leadership of the community that is supposedly being supported causes harm. Besides the instability of the housing in Tukuraki, the exclusion of community members from the development of the community also leaves many voids in accessibility and functionality. One Tukuraki woman is paralyzed from the waist down so she cannot walk. Since the residents moved to the village’s new location in 2017, they have repeatedly asked the government for a wheelchair to support the woman. Six years later, a wheelchair has yet to arrive. Because of this, the woman must drag her body across the floor to complete daily tasks including operating her kerosene stove. The bathrooms in the village are made of concrete and kitchens are located within the single room houses that completely lack privacy for couples with children.
It is critical that international organizations and governments recognize the importance of following the lead of the communities they are seeking to “help.” It is not enough to simply invite affected communities to the table—funders must step aside and allow the people affected by the policies and programming to set the table and direct the discussion.
The Pacific Rising convening was an excellent example of how international actors and donors can provide real support. During the convening, UUSC’s role was not to direct conversations or even develop the agenda. Everything was planned and led by the Pacific partners in attendance. Rather, UUSC took responsibility of the logistics—booking lodging and meeting spaces, providing per diems, arranging thank you gifts, and booking transportation, for example. This should be the role of funding organizations in the human rights, social justice, and international development spaces.
The future of international support needs to shift from a “development” or savior approach to a community action network approach. It is time for funders to take a step back and assist community problem-solving, not direct it. Nongovernmental actors must use their voices and power to logistically support spaces of learning and solidarity building among communities. Not only that, but organizations must use their platforms and privilege to support communities of the global majority to lobby governments and advocate for themselves. A community action network does not lead the development of solutions, nor does it speak on behalf of people who can speak for themselves.
Rather community action networks support, connect, and amplify the voices of a community while including its members in executive and board leadership positions. UUSC will continue to follow the lead of its partners supporting however it is asked to. UUSC understands that the mainstream approach upholds oppression while purporting to dismantle it and continues to be in solidarity with its partners for social justice and human rights for all.
Image Credit: UUSC