“We must offer development as a process”,
says Dr. Brian O’Toole
Guyana Chronicle
February 26, 2007

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Director of the School of the Nations and Varqa Foundation, Dr. Brian O’Toole is urging a moving away from a top down model of development and an appreciation that if the people of development do not participate actively in the process there will be no change.

Dr. O’Toole, speaking recently at the United Nations (UN) on behalf of the Baha’i International Community on a child labour project that was undertaken in Parika, East Bank Essequibo by the Varqa Foundation, in collaboration with the National Commission on the Rights of the Child, declared: “Perhaps the greatest challenge is to see how to guide persons to take charge of their own lives when they have traditionally been led by others. Another challenge is to learn to listen more closely to people who may not at first be eloquent-but surely have something important to say.”

He added: “We need to move away from seeing development as a product to be dispensed to offering development as a process in which persons are intimately involved. We need to see how we can become more responsive to the real perceived needs of the community. We need to build trust, justice and equity into the development process. Partnerships have to be established and these cannot be dictated by the impatient timetables and alarm clocks of international agencies. We need to train persons to participate actively in the development process, to educate people in the community organisation skills, consultation, conflict resolution, needs assessment and evaluation. We need to be able to create a new model of evaluation and learn how to recognise and celebrate success. Above all else, we need to do all this before the peoples of the world dismiss our slogans, declarations and conferences as an irrelevance to their lives.”

According to Dr. O’Toole, this is an age of slogans, declarations and conferences while the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says 245 million persons are affected by child labour. But in many countries it is a pervasive and largely unrecognised problem because it is so widely accepted.

He disclosed that an ILO study in Parika revealed that 27% of children under 14 years of age are involved in child labour , and the majority work for more than eight hours per day-some work 18-hour days, while 17% began work before they were seven years old.

Many work in hazardous and dangerous conditions, being exposed to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and already 22% of them have been injured on the job, Dr. O’Toole reported.

In response to the situation Varqa Foundation undertook a programme which began 14 years ago, entitled “On the Wings of Words”-a literacy promotion that has trained over 6,000 persons, while another intervention, called “Youth Can Move the World”, has trained 3,500 persons in youth leadership skills.

Also, for 10 years, a primary health care programme for indigenous people living in the Rupununi on the border with Brazil was carried out and received a positive evaluation.