Self-Esteem Building and the Action-Reflection Process in Community Organizing

Self-esteem building is intertwined with community organizing on the personal and collective level. People who perceive themselves as not deserving of respect, especially if that respect is coming from people in power, learn to unlearn the notion that they are less. The perception of being less in comparison with the “haves” has been an imposed belief system from an economic-political-cultural arrangement that trivializes the poor’s contribution to society. Self-esteem building has been overlooked by the poor because of their daily struggle to survive. The poor need to revisit their own concept of self-esteem building. They need to go through all the unlearning processes that would help them reverse an imposed belief system that conditioned them into accepting the idea that they are nothing.

Self-esteem building is also experiencing power collectively; experiencing victory collectively or experiencing respect collectively for achieving the objectives of a common agenda. Through this, the poor are able to reclaim the dignity that they thought they have lost to poverty. Learning that there is power in number, for instance, is learned through a show of warm bodies at city hall to let the city mayor know that the well-being of citizens when responded to by the government is not a favor granted but is an entitlement. But being at city hall to make sure that their issues are listened to is not done in a day. The process is not something like just getting a letter from a leader in the community asking them to be at city hall. And pronto, people go to city hall. Far from it. People need to be motivated by something that hits their self-interest to want to do something. The preparation for city hall is part of a coherently joint effort that make people see that acting as a group makes sense.

For a community that has not experienced collective action, the first successful action means a lot. A successful group action by the poor after years of frustration and apathy is self-esteem building in action. An example of this is the experience of a group of mothers who were able to let the Municipal Health Officer visit the community together with medical volunteers to address a dengue fever epidemic is a powerful learning experience. Poor women whose role in the community has always been confined to their mothering roles got a new sense of purpose. Their small victory taught them that they could make things happen;that they could be taken seriously at city hall; that what they did was not asking for a favor but making a claim of what were due them as citizens. This was a self-esteem building moment too.

An experience of victory becomes a powerful material to reach a realization that people can make change happen. Throughout the poor’s life, experiencing victory and an affirmation of their self-worth rarely happens. What happens most of the time is rejection, discrimination and all related negative experiences. In the action-reflection process, the facilitator of learning needs to be sensitive to the people’s individual histories of frustration. The first issue around which learning will come from should be simple and easy to resolve. The principle in community organizing that should guide the facilitator of learning should be: Start where the people are but do not end where they are. So, the reflection process starts reviewing, for instance, the successful action at city hall mentioned above. Women who haven’t gone out of the confines of their domestic cares are now thrust into the role of looking after the health of the community because of their individual self-interest which is the health of their respective families. During the reflection session, they realize that their support for community action is not just something that comes out from the goodness of their heart. The bottom line is that their action come from their respective self-interests. Then they learn that self-interest is not a narrow concept but too broad an idea that it covers everything about a human being’s need.

From the reflection session, the community organizing process builds on one realization after another until people’s state of apathy and fatalism has been shaken and from it the process of transformation begins to develop. It’s during the reflection sessions that participants in the process are led to identify the sore spot in their sense of self-esteem. The participants may or may not want to share the sore spots in their self-esteem but suffice it to say that the reflection process has taught them to see the forces inside themselves that make them unable to explore the possibilities of making their dreams come true. The reflection session is a way for people to review collectively and individually their collective action in relation to what they can do better , given their present circumstances.

Self-esteem building