A visit to the Animation Project in Campbelltown, New South Wales, proved insightful for Mario Trinidad
When I was asked by the South Australian State Council to explore how to address poverty and hardship in Elizabeth—South Australia’s most disadvantaged metropolitan suburb—one of my first actions was to find out what has happening in Vinnies nationally and internationally. When I heard about the Society’s Animation Project in the Wollongong Diocese, I got excited because I sensed I was on the right track.
The Animation Project draws inspiration from the writings of Brazilian educator and philosopher Paolo Freire, so I felt it would resonate with my experiences of community organisation and development in my native Philippines, as well as Guatemala and Mexico. I was not disappointed!
My visit, which was a combination of discussions, meetings, reflections, video-watching and observation, was hosted by the animation team, composed of Project Coordinator Ella Hogan and Community Animator Irenka Bell. The project, inspired by an Indian animation project introduced in Australia by Caritas, was started in the early 1990s when the Campbelltown region identified the need for a special program to support residents of the large public housing estate of Claymore. Today it has spread to other nearby suburbs of Minto, Airds, Bradbury, Macquarie Fields and Rosemeadow.
When hearing the word animation, most people think of cartoons, but the verb ‘to animate’ has the following meanings: to give natural life to; to endow with spirit and vigour; to energise; to move to action. Animation is part of a broad tradition of community development, education and action whose principal goal is social and personal transformation. Animation is based on the belief that the poor and vulnerable maintain within and among themselves, often despite seemingly insurmountable odds, aspirations for a better life and the capacity to make their dreams come true.
Animation privileges the involvement and participation of the poor and vulnerable in all stages of a project. Action will arise out of the people’s self-understanding, their experience of community and society, and their aspirations for a better future. Therefore, animation does not provide a detailed blueprint for action. It is in the course of working together for social change that individuals rediscover their voice and their strengths and capabilities, as individuals and as a community. There is a strong emphasis on process and relationships.
Perhaps from an outsider’s point of view, what the Claymore residents have achieved—for example, fortnightly residents’ lunches organised and prepared by them, campaigning for an extension of public transport routes, and a community-run laundromat—may seem insignificant. But taken in the context of what poverty does to individuals, families and communities, these are giant strides. Poverty silences the poor into voicelessness. It invisibilises them into absence. It infantilises them into defencelessness. It takes time, courage and trust to cast off the stereotypes and judgmental attitudes and policies of wider society, which reduce the poor and the vulnerable to passive recipients of hand-outs. But it can never obliterate their resilience and sense of hope. As Ella said to me, ‘Residents working with residents is a movement from hand-out to hand-up to eventually hand-in-hand’.
With Ella, I visited the Claymore Community Laundromat and Coffee Shop, which opened in 2001. It was identified as a need by community members through a ‘learning circle’ facilitated by the Kalon House of Welcome (the host of the community lunches) and the Animation Project. Today it is still staffed by volunteer residents and is also the site of resident interaction.
I accompanied Ella in contacting other agencies regarding ‘community brainstorming’ sessions to be held at Claymore and Rosemeadow. The sessions were for residents—not for service providers, as Ella delicately insisted—at which residents share with each other ideas about a sustainable community project. Once they identify a few projects, training is offered in order to move from idea to implementation.
I attended two meetings: one with the Society’s Campbelltown staff members who shared the range of services they offer aside from the Animation Project, emergency relief, counselling and meals; the other with the Animation Project training committee, composed of residents and staff.
I left with some lessons that I hope we can put into action in our Elizabeth project:
- The centrality of people’s voices and actions in any community initiative. The role of the community development worker is like that of the grit in the oyster that facilitates the creation of the pearl. Leadership arises from among the people.
- The importance of process and deep listening. The effective animator first and foremost listens to people’s pain, giftedness, chains, potentialities and crucial concerns.
- The importance of structural analysis that identifies systemic barriers instead of locating the roots of poverty in an individual’s moral situation.
- Being clear to the people about what the project can and cannot deliver so that false expectations are not created.
Thank you, Ella and Irenka!
Mario Trinidad is a Community Capacity Builder for the St Vincent de Paul Society South Australia.