The Informal Settlements and Cities Consortium (otherwise known as ISCC) is an amalgamation of 12 partner organisations who greatly value relationships and the sharing of stories.
It is a movement that understands informal settlements (otherwise known as slums) can play a major role in the creation of flourishing communities, both inside and outside the settlements themselves. The prevailing view is that based on the name, informal settlements must not have formal recognition, and are in that way illegitimate. People living in slums have also been seen as illegitimate. Conversely, CBBC believes that the people living in slums have inherent value and worth, as well as skills, gifts and agency.
Andre acknowledges it’s a bit strange that an organisation based in Melbourne is becoming a catalyst for a global movement of organisations and individuals living and working in informal settlements. However, most connections came out of training that CBBC has delivered in partnership with other organisations across Africa. "We wanted to create a way for us to stay connected and build on the strengths so evident in slums around the world," Andre said. "As COVID-19 started to impact communities, as a consortium, we designed some strength-based approaches that could be used in places where government restrictions were impractical. We are moving towards creating pilot projects based on this initial design work."
As you can imagine, there are significant challenges in staying connected. The ISCC has been meeting fortnightly over Zoom for more than a year. For Andre and Nigel, this means calls up to 2 am. However, for them it’s all worth it, as the relationships, stories and development processes are starting to make a difference, even if progress sometimes seems slow.
A highlight was the training on storytelling in February. Grace Dyrness- a sociologist with Hub for Urban Initiatives in Los Angeles- and Mary Racelis- a sociologist and anthropologist at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines- led the group in how to capture and build stories within informal settlements.
COVID-19 has definitely been the most significant challenge, with many of the members of ISCC facing the deaths of colleagues, and dealing with the trauma of both the disease and government restrictions, which often cause people in informal settlements to choose between getting the disease or starving.
In Burundi, there is internal displacement due to COVID-19 and recent flooding. This has left over 100,000 people without a place to live. CBBC is working with Rhema Burundi to put in place medium-term strategies to mitigate regular flooding, and longer-term approaches to see informal settlements and other communities, businesses and government work together on strength-based poverty alleviation strategies.
In Cameroon, domestic violence has become a significant issue. Since the storytelling training in February, Tanda- a worker with Development Associates International- has been able to help women believe in their own personal agency and power. Tanda says, “We are in a conflict zone and COVID-19 has impacted us severely. There are already problems with gender-based violence in our community and the pandemic has made this worse. What are faith communities doing to help the victims and even the perpetrators? This is what I want to hear about.” Through encouraging the women to share their stories, she has been able to help them to not see themselves as victims. She herself has found new energy and life in her role as an urban worker. Tanda will be featured in an ISCC webinar (August 25th), where she will share her journey with women who have survived gender-based violence.
Over the next 12 months, the ISCC is hoping to grow as a movement, including more organisations and individuals working in informal settlements around the world. They are also planning several projects.