Dana Loatman, MSW ’16, Reporting from Brussels, Belgium
This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Stay tuned during the spring for ongoing updates through student-crafted blog posts, video diaries, and photography.
Blog 2: “For the People”
By Dana Loatman
Wake up, pray, shower, turn on CNN; this is an everyday morning routine for me here in Brussels before catching the train to my field placement. The typical work day which follows usually involves:
- Leading two nonprofit organizations to conduct a mapping exercise on their needs for the Sustainable Development Goals
- Accompanying my supervisor to an advocacy event at the European Parliament or Commission
- Returning back to the World Vision office to develop governance structures, and identify new organizations to join SDG Watch in its efforts to hold the EU accountable on the implementation of the SDGs.
Tuesday, March 22rd was another typical morning so I thought; same routine, checked my calendar; today’s agenda included the Lifelong Learning Platform, Cooperatives Europe, and Caritas — three organizations working on education, poverty reduction, development and trade. Preparing to walk out the door to head to Art Loi station, I was stopped in my tracks as I noticed the attack at the Brussels airport glaring across my television screen. My heart sank and my schedule immediately went out the window. Soon after, I heard the news of sadly another attack at Maelbeek station (yes the very next stop after Art Loi) right near the Lifelong Learning Platform where I was headed…
Let’s be honest, CNN could tell you all you need to know about what happened next on the morning of the Brussels attacks. However, what it won’t tell you is why it is so important for social workers, human rights activists, and change agents to be present in a city like Brussels on a regular basis.
If you listen closely, behind the constant sirens, helicopters flying over my house or the security guards with guns on the streets, there is a people, a world full of citizens crying out “don’t forget about me!” Being here advocating for the EU to keep its promises to the people is what my daily work requires. It’s a constant fight for the belief that both organizations and governments in the West can refocus to put people back into programs and policies, ultimately developing solutions that do no harm and truly change the economic and social outcomes for everyday citizens.
The Sustainable Development Goals are the first of its kind; an international standard signed by world leaders everywhere to combat our greatest ills from a cross-sectoral approach. This “utopian” type of global policy requires a “utopian” response: from both a government that follows through on its promises, and from organizations equipped with the resources to serve people in need.
I cannot credit one specific population as the beneficiaries of my work here in Brussels. Instead, I am charged with the challenge to strengthen the organizations and institutions in the European Union that exist to serve people no matter their race, place, religion or background. Yes, that means people living in poverty, families migrating in search of protection and safety, youth without access to equal education in neighborhoods like Molenbeek, and the homeless guy I met on the street in the city center last week. And the list goes on and on.
Some may call me foolish; but I still believe that despite the current climate in our society and politics we can still see great change in the world if we put people back at the forefront. Not greed, nor fear, nor power… but people.
My hope comes from one of my most memorable days at my field placement last week at the European Commissions CSO Forum (video referenced above). Here hundreds of civil society organizations, activists, and political leaders gathered to discuss human rights based approaches in programming, funding, and policy that do no harm.
So yes there may be attacks, poverty may prevail, discrimination may still infect like a disease, and people may still flood into the border from Syria, but there can still be some light of hope here in the EU. When strong organizations, strong governments, and strong citizens unite to put the “human” back into the right, the possibilities remain endless.
Dana Loatman is working for World Vision International, with a particular focus on a budding network called the Sustainable Development Goals Coalition.