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People and power at Notre Dame and beyond

Barbara Vi Ho, Andrew Seelaus | Tuesday, February 23, 2010

 The University of Notre Dame strives to develop not only great students but, global citizens, who, through their education, develop an understanding and commitment to seeking justice for the world’s oppressed. But it is more than just talk, the University excels at putting this mission into action through the resources and opportunities that it offers to students each year. Like many of our peers on campus, we have had the good fortune to live, study and work abroad in developing countries in a variety of capacities during our undergraduate career. These experiences have both shaped and challenged our understanding of human development, highlighting the dynamic nature of the concept and the need for critical evaluation of its practice. It was the very complexity of the idea that spurred both of us to become involved as co-chairs of this year’s Human Development Conference at Notre Dame.

Although our experience abroad is limited, reflection has led us to identify an array of dichotomies that push us to question current development practices around the world. In northern Uganda, the Acholi people are a society with a rich culture and tradition and a strong sense of solidarity, but are bombarded by constant local and international messages of their powerlessness. In some regions of Ghana, the NGOs and mission groups seeking to “help the poor” or “spread the good news” are outnumbered only by the number of children who are consumed by the cycle of poverty every year. There is definite need around the world, but what is the best way to go about affecting change? Where is the line between the obligation to help, the danger of imposing our own culture and notions of what is right? How can we find the right balance between working for the common good without taking away the agency and power of the local people?
 
Our distinct experiences allow us to bring one small part of the answer to these questions, but they are by no means a full answer. In order for any development effort to be successful, the voices of every individual involved must be heard and considered. Authentic human development requires the knowledge and work of engineers just as much that of peacebuilders. It requires the commitment of business owners, architects and artists. It requires the involvement of international and local people alike. This is the fundamental inspiration for this year’s conference theme, People, Power and Pragmatism: The Future of Human Development in Our Changing World. The enormous task of alleviating poverty and realizing authentic human development is achievable only with the participation of people and leaders from all different levels and fields on a global scale.
 
The long-term goal is grand indeed but it is not impossible if we all realize just how much power lies within ourselves and each other. The Human Development Conference strives to employ multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to development that is consistent with the message of interconnectedness in Catholic Social Thought and will inspire a diverse group of students and attendees. Please bring your experience and voice to the discussion Friday and Saturday at the Human Development Conference and see how your vision of the future of development compares to that of your peers from around the country.
 
Barbara Vi Ho is a senior history and international peace studies major. Andrew Seelaus is a senior civil engineering major. The two are conference co-chairs. For more information, visit www.nd.edu/~hdc or email hdc@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.