The poor already have a voice. Let’s just get that out of the way.
It baffles me why the development community at large continues to market their initiatives as “giving voice” to this or that community. This includes large development institutions down to do-gooder initiatives.
The reason I have a bone to pick with this, is that terminology matters. The same reasons we need to stop calling the poor “recipients,” is the same reason we need to stop saying that we are uplifting them by “giving them voice.”
The poor don’t need to be given a voice, per se. They need to be given the microphone. So they can speak for themselves. We need to make room at the podium so they represent themselves. We need to give them the floor so they can stand up for themselves.
This is the very reason I thought Villages in Action was a good idea. We didn’t drop a 10 megabit connection in a village without water or electricity, build a stage, and install microphones and cameras so we could “give voice” to a community only referred to as numbers on charts and figures at UN MDG summits. We went there to extend the microphone, and to amplify the voice they already had to a global scale.
There’s something empowering about one’s ability to hear their own voice, amplified. It says, “I am!” It says, “I am present!” It says, “I exist!” and it says, “I matter!” More importantly, it says, “I can do this!”
So can we all agree to stop playing Master Voice Giver as if it is an entitlement program? How about we start giving the poor our ears and our our time. Speak less, hear more. Then perhaps, we’ll actually hear their solutions to their own problems. Or is it that we are afraid to hear how irrelevant we are?