Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On faith-based organizations as reality checks

In the company of many fellow students from many developing countries, we—all participants of a seminar on international labor standards and global jobs organized by the World Bank Institute—went to visit an impressive state-of-the-art One Stop Career Center, created in order to find jobs for the unemployed.

During the presentation, we heard the official in charge tell us that the results achieved there came from a joint effort, a full partnership, among civil servants, like himself, the private sector, and faith-based organizations. I understood the role of the agency as coordinators and suppliers of information; the role of private enterprise as suppliers of jobs; but I could not make head or tails about the role of faith-based organizations. So I asked. The answer left many of us speechless.

In more or less these words, the director told us. “Yes, we the civil servants do organize all the activities intended to match an unemployed person with any of the opportunities that, yes, private enterprise does indeed provide, but all our efforts would come to naught, were it not for the members of faith-based organizations, who go out there on the streets and into homes and find the unemployed, wake them up, feed them, comb them, stimulate them to come, and, if there are jobs reasonably suited for them, try to make sure they take them, and that they keep them.”

I believe most of us thought that although in our countries this responsibility was usually the role of the social workers, this might very well be one essential ingredient we were all missing. After all, we so frequently could see our public employment agency’s offices empty; even though there were good working agreements between the public and the private sector; even when there were thousands of social workers; even when there were millions of unemployed.

Agreed, but what about the private employment agencies? Yes, they are great . . . as long as the unemployed wakes up, has breakfast, takes a bath, combs his or her hair, and pursues with dedication a job, of course with the intention of keeping it. And so welcome to the real reality, friends. Sometimes reality itself could really do with some faith too.

I wrote this many months after the visit when I recently read about an organization that was expelled from what seemed to be quite useful work at a prison—just because it was faith-based. The reason for it has to do with the Constitution of the USA, the first Amendment, something that I as a foreigner know very little about. Nonetheless I felt it was a shame that what only seemed to be an excessive faith in a no-faith principle could lead people to refuse good help, so unnecessarily.