During the Commission for Social Development at the UN two weeks ago, one group hosted a side panel and came up with a solution for homelessness in low-income communities: build a community center.
It was not just any community shelter, though. It is specifically designed to fit into the lives of the people around them and act as a center of town, almost like a town square. In order to make the community center, though, the town must go through four phases:
Phase 1 is mobilization through workshops, community-initiated projects, leadership and training in microfinance. Phase 2 is about the actual construction of the center through donated land, materials and labor. The center will be made of small L-shaped buildings, demonstration farms to grow crops and herd animals and national bank recognition. Phase 3 comes after the physical build and focuses on teaching and training members of the community with upkeep. The community members are educated on food and nutrition security, health, sanitation and adult literacy. The final phase is a period of transition to self-reliance through Epicenter income generation, a program headed by the Epicenter Committee Leadership of Continuing Development.
Now, what is the point of all of this? Why spend so much and take the time to make a center for the community?
The goal of the Epicenter Strategy is to get the people within the community to self-reliance. That includes all of the amenities found within the buildings, amenities that will help the community grow and flourish.
The amenities can be subdivided into three categories: physical needs, social needs, and educational needs.
The physical needs are the most immediate solutions, though they are not the only ones needed. Latrines are installed in the main building, vastly eliminating the risk for disease and giving people dignity at their most uncomfortable and most vulnerable. A clinic is right next door, offering literal life-saving services. Joined to the clinic is a pharmacy, so people will not have to trek so far to find medication right after a doctor’s visit. A delivery room for births is built conjoined to the clinic, providing a clean, private space for mothers to bring children into the world. Clean water, the most necessary part of the physical life, is guaranteed; too many diseases are caused by drinking unclean water, which decrease health and cause more doctor visits. A food bank is built, providing the human right to food (Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Working at a food bank can also inspire empathy and compassion, two strings that help stitch together a community.
Fulfilled social needs, although not the life-or-death issue on the table, can be just as important in building a community. Give a man food, water, and access to healthcare, and he will survive. But give a man friends, and he will live. Social verandahs are built onto each building, destroying the idea of class systems by encouraging everyone to coexist with each other. How much can you learn, and how many friends can you make, by just sitting in a rocking chair for one afternoon? How can your life touch theirs unless you give a man community? The importance of fulfilling social needs to is prove that there is more to life than just eating and maintaining a clean bill of health. Living is having friends, staying in touch with family, and starting a new one of your own.
The Epicenter Strategy understands generational differences in socialization and incorporates that into construction. There are social verandahs for older people to stay on, and there is an activity hall that is geared toward a younger audience, though every age is welcomed at either place. Is there a better way to forge new friendships or build better ones than by shooting some hoops or the breeze? Though united by mutual need, communities are born from relationships.
The last subdivision of the Epicenter Strategy is the educational need. Article 26 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that everyone has the right to education. Two types of education are presented and covered in the Strategy’s plan: school and life. School education is covered by nurseries and reading rooms for young and old alike. Life education is covered by a bank and a demonstration garden. As the Strategy emphasizes adult literacy, school is a top priority. However, a community will benefit from hand-outs in the short-term, but not the long-term. No one can last long on charity, so the Strategy set up a bank to teach financial literacy and a demonstration garden to encourage self- sufficiency. As the saying goes, give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry again.
The Epicenter Strategy is a brilliant way to help low-income communities get back on track through fulfilling physical, social and educational needs.