For many years I worked as a pastor in a slum in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. I remember the blood splattered on the walls as soldiers and bulldozers destroyed our slum. Church members helped the residents load their housing materials onto trucks and rebuild their homes in the new ‘relocation area’. This new site lacked water and was nine miles away from the city jobs that the people depended on.
The life of a slum pastor is to stand with the people who are losing their homes and land. This is Step One.
But I wondered, could this confrontation have been prevented? The priest who worked in the community before me had been wiser. He had organised the community members before an earlier confrontation, so that when the bulldozers came, the people lay down in front of them. The priest called the newspapers. He then called the mayor, telling him the reporters and cameras were there. He advised the police chief to avoid bloodshed because the mayor was coming.
Of course, when the mayor arrived and saw the news reporters, he said, ‘We must settle this peacefully through discussions.’ In the end, the people were given half the land. This is Step Two: the wise leadership of a trained community organiser.
Step Three is community organising and advocacy. Community representatives need to spend time with government officials, attending the conferences of social workers and academics. This will allow them to build a reputation and be able to make calls to the right people when needed, as the priest did in the example above.
Step Four is advocacy with knowledge. Research is essential. Each week, I have Skype calls with workers in eight cities around the world. These workers have to learn the complex systems for gaining land tenure. There are often 40–80 steps. Questions to research include: Which offices must issue which certificates? What information do they need? Who in those offices will help, and how can we avoid those who will seek a bribe?