Profugo, like many other organizations, aims to create social change, and better the lives of those who have less access to resources such as health services, education, and entrepreneurial skills. The work Profugo does is essential and has fostered great change in Wayanad. What is fundamental to the work they do however, is that it is underscored with the prioritization of choice, participation, and inclusion of the community they are serving. A crucial aspect of community development is not simply coming in as an outsider and deciding what is best. Rather, it is doing a great deal of listening.
When an individual or a group of people come into an area with the intent to change it, even if in their vision it is for the better, it cannot be done justly if the community members of that area are not actively included. Even within those communities being served, the opinions that are listened to should be from a diverse array of people including those of different gender, socioeconomic status, religion, age, and race. In order for community members in developing areas, such as Wayanad, to feel safe, respected, and dignified during this process they must feel they are a part of the changes that are occurring. This means asking what their personal needs are, what they feel would be best for themselves and their neighbors, and how these actions should be taken. Having a sense of autonomy and the ability to make decisions that will be affecting you and your family’s life is necessary in every step of the community development process. Providing the freedom to choose to get an education, to earn your own income, or to receive the necessary health services when you are sick, is essential to going about social change in a just way.
The programs that Profugo has brought to Wayanad directly addresses the needs of those living there. Where there was a need for clean water, Profugo initiated the Water for Life Program, in which villagers work together through water committees to achieve this goal efficiently. Similarly, where there was a need for sustainable agriculture practices to prevent pesticides from harming the water in Wayanad, Profugo provided workshops on organic farming techniques, as well as water testing in all wells. When women in Wayanad were in need of income, Profugo implemented tailoring training in order to provide a way to generate income among local women, as well as provide a sense of ownership of their own finances. What each of these programs have in common is that they provide a way for community members to actively participate in the development of their land and community. Not only are they being given the tools and resources to benefit their own wellbeing, but also the knowledge and skills to sustain this progress on their own. Furthermore, many of these programs provide community members with ownership, and a stake in this process. Whether it is an income, education, or a new set of skills, Profugo has aided the process of community development in a sustainable and just way.
In Before We Sleep, a documentary made by Villanova University students about Profugo’s work, field fellow Emily Davies expressed, “the goal is to not need people like myself”, and went on to explain the intention of one day having just the community members be the leaders of the changes made in Wayanad. This awareness is extremely significant because it emphasizes the mindset that community development organizations should have. The aim should not be to provide “bandaid” solutions that distract from the actual issues at hand, but instead implement meaningful programs that can actually help resolve the root problems in which the villagers of Wayanad no longer need help from outside organizations. When an organization is too focused on quick and simple fixes to what they believe to be the problem, systemic issues are not addressed and community members are stuck in a cycle of constantly needing assistance.
These values of inclusion, participation, and choice are principles that should be guiding the way we think about and carry out community development. Whether it is in a local neighborhood in our own city, or a village across the world in India, community engagement should always be at top of mind when seeking to foster social change. Profugo’s own mission makes this clear in their intention to work alongside communities, which emphasizes a culture of belonging and inclusion in the steps they take to bring about positive international development. This perspective is key to long term growth, progress, and a sustained quality of life.