Empowerment is the ability to resist oppression and create inclusive opportunities for yourself and for others. Empowerment builds from the individual through the family and into community. It is a common thread running through all contexts of community life and all CBR programmes.
Personal Resilience and Resolve: There is potential power within each individual. Individuals can resist the negative influence of oppression; learn and grow from experience; and gain in the effort to control their unique and special place in the world. Empowerment grows in our feelings (A: Affect), our actions (B: Behaviours); our thinking (C: Cognition); and in our social capacity (R: Relationships).
Social Resilience and Resolve: The lone individual is quite vulnerable without family and friends to provide support. The empowered individual is secured in a network of strong family bonds. They derive strength from relationship and efficiency in sharing work. Extended family and friends represent our first, last, and most important community.
Collective Resilience and Resolve: Families interconnect with others to create a common voice, to speak to power and assert their rights. Families and friends come together over a shared desire for inclusive community development. From the individual. to the family, to the collective movement empowerment creates systemic change by building community.
CBR is a product of the pursuit of empowerment.
CBR the Pacific Way recognises family as the origin of identity, value, and power in inclusive community development.
Lewis, T., Millington, M., & Marini, I. (2015). Counseling in the context of family empowerment. In M. Millington & I. Marini (Eds, pp. 47 – 65). Families in Rehabilitation Counselling: A community-based rehabilitation approach. Springer: New York
Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Domains
CBR has been a mainstay in the Pacific for decades. It was created as an alternative to traditional rehabilitation that worked well in highly resourced countries to provide formal care delivered by experts in medically oriented service centres. The original CBR model focused on a person centred approach to health and rehabilitation that replaced the institutionally based medical model of care. This community approach put the person first, and recognised the importance of supporting family carers. Services were developed using local expertise and resources, under local control. The desired outcome of CBR was full community inclusion and participation.
This model has evolved as people began to talk about health in the context of community. Now, CBR recognizes need for care and support in all domains of community life. CBR services in the domain of Health has been joined by CBR programmes pursuing full community inclusion in the domains of Education, Livelihood, Social life, and Empowerment. This has broadly expanded community capacity to support people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of life.
Empowerment is a unique domain in the new model of CBR. Unlike the others, it does not suggest a specific physical environment and social interaction, but a quality of interaction that cuts across all of the other CBR domains. This is a very important link for DPO’s. The special case of empowerment in CBR tells us that we now recognize that social justice is a crucial issue in rehabilitation and perhaps the greatest barrier to full community inclusion. It also suggests that individual and collective self-advocacy are essential tools for productive systems change.
DPOs are, by definition, the formal, collective voice of people with disabilities in the context of Community Based Rehabilitation. The evolution of CBR services into social justice and the biopsychosocial model of disability has only intensified the importance of DPOs in their empowerment role. DPO’s in the Pacific provide a range of resources and supports, depending on local needs. They build stakeholder networks, promote public awareness of disability/human rights, pursue funding, counsel and refer people for service, and play an important and central role in CBR systems growth and change.
Zolekha’s story was borrowed, with permission, from the “End the cycle” library. “End the Cycle” is an initiative of the CBM. It promotes tools and resources to help international development practitioners advocate for disability-inclusive development. In it, persons with disabilities from low and middle income countries tell their own stories in their own words and retain control over how their stories and pictures are used. End the Cycle uses this rights-based methodology to ensure that people like Zolekha are empowered and given a voice on a global platform to share their stories.
Zolekha’s story was chosen among many on the site. Her story reflects the realities of oppression and disenfranchisement of people with disabilities. This is important to witness, but more important for our exploration of empowerment is how she responded to these barriers to full community inclusion. Her story exhibits empowerment at all levels. Her story reflects relationships with friends and family that are quite telling and evolve from beginning to end. CBR services are implied in her journey, and one can imagine the role DPO’s might have played in supporting her efforts to get an education, a livelihood, and an audience with the government official.
Zolekha’s story offers us a perfect illustration of individual, social, and collective empowerment. Let’s unpack the characteristics of empowerment in Zolekha’s story.
- What features of individual empowerment can you find in Zolekha’s story?
- Discuss Zolekha’s social participation, education experiences, and livelihood. What care and support did Zolekha receive (or not) from her family and the community?
- At the end of the video, Zolekha asks, “Is there no limit to the things I can do?” What role did advocacy organisations play in Zolekha’s story? How did the collective stand together to create change?
What are your stories of empowerment?
Think about one project or service that empowered individuals, families, or communities.
- What motivated the project? What was the issue or need? What did you want to achieve?
- Who was involved? How did you work together?
- What methods, tools, or approaches did you use?
- What supported your efforts?
- What were the challenges or obstacles?
Give your story a title.
Tell your story (text, video, podcast, etc…)
Highlight the experiences of empowerment in your story.