Artisans of Democracy 2

“Beyond Harassment: A Parish Priest, a Village and an Outcast Family”
by Paul Arnesen with Bruno Tardieu

This is the next chapter in the book a friend and I are reading about how ordinary people, families in extreme poverty and social institutions become allies to overcome social exclusion.

From the introduction to the chapter:
Before: Poor families leading chaotic lives have a difficult relationship with their neighbors and local communities, who see them as causing trouble and representing all that they try to protect themselves against. Some families become the constant target of defamation and public outcry, and spend their lives being hounded out of one community after another.

After: The story told here is about such a family [in Britain]. Yet their fleeing from place to place stopped when one man, a parish priest, and then others stood by them, found means to support them, and created dissonance in the consensus to scapegoat them. They ended up finding their place in a community that had initially rejected them. Gradually, they found permanent housing, obtained education for their child and found friends in the village and beyond. … [This story] explores the dilemma of creating a link with the excluded while not alienating the rest of the community, so that they in turn can create links.
One of the real problems in this story was that the family’s needs didn’t fall into any one box. They didn’t exactly fit the criteria for intervention by any of the state agencies. The Fourth World Movement was able to support them as a family unit, which isn’t the usual way that government agencies treat cases.

One of the turning points in the family’s struggle was when they went away for a vacation together for a week at a FWM family center. The mother was able to help prepare activities for the children. The step-father was able to use his skills in gardening and forestry and to teach others. The son was able to stop fighting to defend his mother all the time and to play the lead in a show put on by the children for their parents. They were respected as a family unit and they drew strength from it.

The priest took a stand in his church on behalf of the poor and excluded. Even though parishioners threatened to stop coming if he married the couple in the church, he felt this was his mission as a priest.

This support helped other professionals to really listen to the family’s needs and seriously look for solutions. It also helped the parents to speak up for themselves once someone had seriously listened to them.

What my friend and I talked about was how hard changing the dynamic is. To facilitate a vacation trip for families who are only used to the difficulties and chaos of their lives, to help them each to succeed in something and to have time to relax, is a lot of work. Helping a woman who's been humiliated before to tell her story and expect respect is a lot of work.

My queries:

Do I take the time to really listen when people are trying to tell me about their problems?

Do I look beyond first impressions to really try to get to know people?

Do I reach out to people who are being excluded even if it would be embarrassing for me?

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