Home » Transcript: Cormac Russell on Sustainable Community Development: From What’s Wrong To What’s Strong at TEDxExeter

Transcript: Cormac Russell on Sustainable Community Development: From What’s Wrong To What’s Strong at TEDxExeter

So let me just share one. This is a school where the community builder came alongside parents, people without any credentials, people who had huge self-doubt in their power to change anything but the community builder invited them to identify what they cared about enough to act upon and then invited them to take action on those issues. And they identified two things that they felt really needed to change, if their school and their village was to realize its potential.

The two issues that they took on: the first was the fact that there were street children each of their villages that were not connected to community, not connected to family and not connected to school, they didn’t gang press these kids into school. What they did was they came alongside them and they formed relationships with them and they found out from them what it would take for them to reconnect back into community life and back into school. And the kids said very clearly: we do not want to go to school and learn book.

School is boring. Hands up who thought school was boring? I certainly did. They did not want to go to school. What they wanted to learn was how they could connect with people who are interesting, people who knew how to make tables, people who knew how to fix engines, they wanted to connect with people who didn’t have any formal teacher training but who could teach them the skills that would allow them to have a life they wanted.

Today they’re in school but it’s not like any school that most of us have gone to. They are in a school that looks as much like an economic hub as it does a school. It’s a school that is focused not just on educating people but also giving people the skills they need for life.

The other challenge they had was supporting teachers who lived on meager salaries, to be able to live with dignity and pride and have a morale in teaching their children. What did they do? They sourced local produce and they created a supermarket in the school, so the teachers can use their salary to buy the food they need at reduced prices. These are ordinary people, uncredential people doing extraordinary things and we see this every single day when we start with a focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong.

Imagine what the world would look like, if we were able to take those stories and proliferate them and to look at the significance of the stories and see that the two things that mattered most was the grassroots action of citizens but also the help of community builders. In each story there was a community builder who was supporting the village and the individuals to identify what was strong within them and figuring out how to use what was strong to address what was wrong and make what was strong even stronger still.

Imagine the world, if everybody who was defined as the problem, secured the power to redefine the problem. Imagine how more inclusive, how more beautiful world we’d have, how more fruitful world we’d have. I believe that the solution to the most intractable problems that we face starts from the grassroots, from inside out and it starts with a belief of the fact that there is no two-tiered society where one group of people with all the problems are rescued by another group with all of the solutions. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’, there’s only us.

Lilla Watson, the great aboriginal elder educator and activist once said, ‘If you’ve come to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine and let us work together.’

So as we look to a brighter tomorrow, and as I conclude, let’s recognize the fact that we are the people we’ve been waiting for. We are sufficient on to the challenge and we are becoming a change we seek.

Thank you.


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