Reflection by:

Meenakshi Chhabra, is an Associate Professor in the Global Interdisciplinary Studies Program at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She received her BA in Political Science from Delhi University, her Masters in Intercultural Relations, and PhD. in Educational Studies from Lesley University. She was a post doc., at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where her research focused on teaching and learning about historical events of mass violence, in conflict and post-conflict contexts. She has published her research in national and international journals and presented her work at several platforms and think tanks including, The Hague Institute for Global Justice. As a scholar and practitioner in the field of Peace Education and her long association with the Seeds of Peace Program, Dr. Chhabra has worked extensively with youth and educators in conflict zones in South Asia and the Middle East. She is a Fulbright Senior Scholar and has been recognized as a Fulbright Specialist in Peace and Conflict Studies. Her most recent publication is a co-edited book titled, Culturally Responsive Teaching and Reflection: Promising Practices from the Cultural Literacy Curriculum Institute.

The dictionary meaning of Dignity is stated as, “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” References to dignity are found in various religious traditions, national and international resolutions, and, declarations like the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Dignity as concept has been adopted globally across various disciplines and fields; legal, education, medicine, business, environment, development and others. One could say that dignity as a value has a universal acceptance compared to none other.

Although it is widely used, there is no explicit definition of the term in any of the documents where it has been used. What is dignity? What does it look like? These are questions that have not been explained in any of the charters or agreements. Dignity has been largely understood in abstraction, as a condition, an inherent and unconditional worth that is ours simply by the fact of being human; our birthright. If dignity is a given, it implies then that all people, without exception merit treatment affirming this birthright. Hence, it is in the experience, that dignity can be recognized. We can all agree that if we saw an act of dignity or its violation we would recognize it. It is through the doing that dignity in the being can manifest. The affirmation and violation of dignity can only play out in our actions and behaviors as human beings.

What would that look like in practice? In a recent proposal to the United Nations, a renowned Buddhist peace scholar shares the following parable: There was once a traveler who saw a grand three- story mansion, which belonged to a rich man. On returning back, he employed a carpenter to build him a similar house. The carpenter started working to build a strong foundation on which he would build the floors. The traveler considered this a waste of time. He was impatient and wanted the carpenter to finish building soon. He said to the carpenter, “I don’t need a foundation just build the first and second stories.” To which the carpenter replied in exasperation, “I’m afraid that’s impossible. How do you expect me to build any story without the foundation?”

In a similar way, any effort of addressing human needs, any service to the human condition, or response to any human crises, to be effective and sustainable, must be based on the foundation of the affirmation of human dignity of each person.  While physical support and resources are important, these are often rushed and provided from a deficit and a patronizing stance, i.e., to fix a “less than” development for both humans and States alike, or, to “feel good about giving to those in need,” rather than from a perspective that acknowledges the uniqueness of each individual and group, irrespective of age, ethnicity, nationality, class, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other categorization.

In terms of action this would mean including those who are in the periphery, those who do not have a voice, or are silenced in any arena of the human experience. Paradoxically, the very individuals and groups whose needs and interests the interventions are supposed to address, are the ones who are excluded from these conversations. In any field or endeavor that we may be engage in, recognizing dignity would mean, asking ourselves not only, “who is at the table,” but more importantly, “who is not?”

Further, affirming dignity would mean, creating spaces and platforms to include the people in the margins whose lived experience is of crucial significance in offering valuable lessons and capacities to effectively address related concerns. It would mean that the starting point in any and every human interaction is “you are valuable the way you are, you have a unique role that you can play, and a unique contribution that only you can make.” And, “in supporting you in bringing forth your uniqueness, I honor my own dignity as a human being. “

 

The Practice of Theory by Kelvin Ramirez

The idea that all humans possess an inherent value to be loved and respected regardless of class, race, gender, nationality, culture, sex, sexual orientation, education, religion, immigration status or any other divisions forms the foundation of human dignity. Theoretically, ascribing to these values seems simple especially if we identify with marginalized populations. The practically of living those values requires a constant vigilance to refrain from creating oppressive systems and a commitment to deconstruct the ones that exist, especially the ones we benefit from. What have learned from history, countless times, is that individuals and societies are manipulated to act against their own self-interest through the superficial politeness of circular debates masked in bigoted resentment, fear of others and/or individuals who are hyper-focused on self-preservation.
 
FNE International through its mission, vision, and actions, partners with communities in Peru, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic to ensure that our collaborations amplify human dignity. Our “hand in hand approach” models our values through meaningful and constructive dialogue, shared leadership, and deep admiration for our collective, and at times, unique worldviews. As an organization, we are not interested in changing individuals, that is their responsibility. We are committed to eroding the colonial systems and practices that create inequity and injustice. As such FNE International ensures that 91% of donations received go to directly supporting the initiatives and projects in Peru, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
 
I want to acknowledge the impact on individuals committed to deconstructing oppressive systems, they are subject to micro-aggressions, retaliation, burnout, depression and apathy – amongst other things. That is why it is more important to recognize “self-care as a political act”, as Audre Lorde says. We must challenge ourselves and others, to understand self-care in the collective context of a different worldview of survival, and not get trapped in the singular, Darwinistic, western survival model. From this perspective, our best lives come from mutuality, reciprocity, support, humility, sharing, respect, consideration, communication, transparency, and humanity.
 
Tangibly, we (FNE International, our partners, collaborators and supporter in Peru, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic) have been able to:

  • Construct with families and in country organizations over 200 houses.
  • Assist over 173 students by providing $40,000 in scholarships.
  • Facilitate medical care for over 300 patients weekly.
  • Established and maintain partnerships between medical professional in Peru, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and medical professionals abroad.
  • Develop innovated creative arts programs that meet the individual needs of children diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, developmental delays and physical disabilities.
  • Designed and began construction of a sensory garden to enhance the educational experience of children enrolled at a special needs school to be completed June 2017.
  • Design and construct a library that services a community of over 8,000 people.
  • Organize over 400 volunteers annually from high school students to medical professionals that interact and collaborate with their counterparts and community members in Peru, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

We believe and live the words of Lilla Watson who stated, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Please visit us at www.fneinternational.com. We look forward to hearing your thoughts as we envision and jointly work towards a more socially just world.
 

In Solidarity,

Kelvin Ramirez, Ph.D, ATR-BC, LCAT