Values-based holistic care for communities in need: the example of Asha First Name John Last Name Peteet Terminal Degree(s) M.D. Title/Position Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Faith based organizations continue to provide much needed healthcare and emergency relief throughout the developing world. However, they have also been criticized for focusing on limited rather than comprehensive solutions, for failing to empower indigenous communities, for heightening tensions with other faiths, and for engaging in ethically problematic poverty tourism.
Nowhere are the needs for holistic solutions greater than for the millions of slum dwellers who are vulnerable to the effects of disease, poverty and despair, live on land that does not belong to them in constant fear of eviction, and are surrounded by substance abuse, domestic violence, garbage and political corruption. Few models exist for effectively providing healthcare, education, empowerment, financial inclusion, and care for the environment in such communities. In 1988, Dr. Kiran Martin, a young local pediatrician responded to a cholera outbreak in the slums of Delhi. After opening a clinic, she began holding public meetings for community dwellers and public officials, organized women into advocacy groups, worked to provide learning opportunities including through higher education, and helped develop loan and mentorship programs.
Slum residents may be illiterate, but once aware of their rights they quickly absorb information and eagerly pass it on to others. Women’s collectives, registered as charities, are a formidable presence when they visit government offices in groups. Today over 800 slum youth have attended college, and many have obtained internships leading to a variety of careers. Around 700,000 people in more than 91 slum colonies of Delhi benefit from the work of Asha, which means hope.
Asha is powerfully inspired by values which express the Christian message of individual and community transformation, along with social justice. These core values are dignity, justice, empowerment, non-violence, compassion, gratitude, generosity, optimism, joy, simplicity and the power of touch. Each is proactively defined: For example, “Non violence essentially means abstention from all forms of violence. This includes not just physical violence, but also verbal violence and violence of thought. There is a complete rejection of aggression and confrontation, of thought, of words and of actions. It is based on the conviction that forgiveness can change even an enemy into a friend.” Developed by a team of Indian Christians, Asha values are contextualized, and live comfortably in Hindu influenced society - neither simply restating local culture, nor foreign and hostile to it. By embodying values that respect the dignity of every person rather than by prioritizing conversions, Asha is respected in pluralistic and non-Christian contexts. Asha values are both holistic and comprehensive, describing what in the Christian monastic tradition would be called a Rule of Life. They are thus broadly useful - for example, in deciding whether a financial program would result in empowerment, in organizing children's group activities, or in mentoring young adults. Taught, modeled and discussed constantly, they live in the work, not in a manual.
Asha’s 31 years of experience of refining and implementing its values based approach has much to teach those working to help multi-faith communities in need.