Cultural Competency (Part Three) – Why Am I Here?

“A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggles, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust. Trusting the people is the indispensible precondition for revolutionary change.” – Paulo Freire

What was my intention in taking this trip versus my intention now that I am here?

When planning this trip, I had one main purpose in mind: To learn as much Spanish as possible before serving clients in the Spanish in the fall during my internship.

Now that I’m here, although improving my language skills and comprehension is still one of my goals, I find a theme re-emerging in my life over the past few weeks. I read Paulo Frere’s book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, before coming to Guatemala. I found myself glued to the pages as I reflected on my inherited privilege and elitism, and my role in the war against oppression. I then arrived to Pop Wuj only to find the same messages shared with me during my cultural orientation here. I can’t ignore these messages and this opportunity to humble myself and reflect, critically on the recurring themes in front of me.

I am a social worker because I care about people and want to find my role in the world as a helper. Since I was young, I have been relatively aware of my privilege and the reality that I didn’t earn any of it or deserve any of it more than another. I am learning Spanish because I love working with immigrants and refugees and want to be able to provide services in their first language, rather than expecting them to learn mine. But, what does it look like to live in complete solidarity with the oppressed and be a part of their revolution? What more can I do? Much more I’m sure. That is the analysis in which I feel called: The process of committing myself to solidarity with the oppressed and a constant process of humbling and re-examining myself in the process.

“The more radical a person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, or to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history to fight at their side” (pg. 39).


How can my work as a therapist contribute to this process of freedom? I want to be a clinician because I believe there is significant power and freedom in the process of deep, emotional revelation and evaluation. And, if one is able to be courageousness and vulnerable enough to reflect on hard realities in their life, they can free themselves from the bondage of emotional pain, trauma, and mental illness. My role as their therapist is to create a safe place for them to make these explorations and I have the privilege of witnessing their progress toward freedom. Additionally, in the process of freeing themselves as individuals, my hope (in relation to these themes of oppression) is that the more free an individual is internally, the more free and empowered they will feel to stand up against oppressors. “Liberation action must recognize this dependence as a weak point and must attempt through reflection and action to transform it into independence. The correct method (for this process) lies in dialogue” (pg. 67).

According to Paulo Freire (pg.’s. 89-92), there are four very important concepts that are integral in the process of obtaining inner freedom and aligning with the oppressed to create change.

  1. LOVE

– Dialogue cannot exist in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people

– Love is an act of courage, not of fear. Love is a commitment to others


– Dialogue is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility

– How can I dialogue if I always project ignorance onto others and never perceive my own?

– How can I dialogue if I consider myself a member of the in-group, of “pure” men and women, the owners of truth and knowledge?

– How can I dialogue if I am closed to – and even offended by – the contribution of others?

– How can I dialogue if I am afraid of being displaced, the mere possibility causing me torment and weakness?


– Faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birthright of all)

– The dialogical man believes in others even before he meets them face-to-face

– This becomes a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence

  1. HOPE

– If dialoguers expect nothing to come of their efforts, their encounter will be empty and sterile, bureaucratic and tedious


– True dialogue cannot exist unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking – which perceived reality as process, as transformation, rather than as a static entity

My hope is that through this soul-searching process, I can continually search for concepts and tools for experimentation and make a significant contribution to the world in the years ahead. Thank you to Pop Wuj and to Paulo Freire (and more people to come!) in helping me to conceptualize new ways to help humanize the world.

– Kelly Dent

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