The following interview deals with the particular vision of a change agent in Badalona, more specifically in the Llefià district. Luis Moreno is the president of the Juan Valera Neighbourhood Association where he observes the reality of the neighbourhood and proposes solutions to the different problems that exist in the area within its possibilities.
Luis Moreno began in social movements years ago and also belongs to a political party in a personal capacity, but when he shows up at events or performs some action he presents himself as Luis de Juan Valera. He works dealing with problems of different kinds, helping to provide food, solving conflicts of coexistence or providing other assistance. He tries to do whatever it takes to rise to the occasion.
From a psychosocial point of view, Luís is the perfect example of a change agent who works in a network with different groups and entities to create solutions and give continuity to the projects among the neighbours. From an ecological point of view, he manages to work at different levels, and in addition, with his political party he aims to be able to influence the macro context, where the social norms and policies that influence the most nuclear levels of Bronfenbrenner’s theory are forged.
As psychologists we could work from multiple perspectives, so the ideal in this case would be a work between different professionals in a network and following up both particular cases and the reports that can be given by institutions such as the city council, schools, youth organizations, etc. But, what happens if there are no teams specialized in conflict resolution in areas in need of them?
Luis brings a little light to the subject by reflecting on the specific situation in his area and on a particular case in which the neighbourhood association took in some 120 people so that they could be trained in freedom in the association’s spaces, as well as forming a self-managed food bank as an alternative to the conventional one. In cases where it is necessary to work for the environment but also to promote empowerment through participation , interpersonal relations, the promotion of community health and personal development .
The neighbourhood association as an empowerment tool
What is the role of a neighbourhood association?
It has many functions, and they come from far away. When they were created they were places where they demanded improvements for the neighbourhoods, problems with the neighbours, etc. This comes from 40 years ago, and there were four people. Today there are even more functions, from giving food to people who don’t have enough to eat, to helping people who have been evicted, people with very low income, and collaborating with the social worker who is also overwhelmed. I have here a huge list with which you drop your soul to the ground, they are unfortunately living badly, and from the neighbourhood association we give all the support we can, for example, every 15 days we help with food. And this is the current mission of the neighborhood association, given the complexities of the area. There is also the issue of payment by the residents’ association for the maintenance of the building where they live, of course, since they cannot afford to pay and cannot pay for water, electricity, etc., there are confrontations between those who pay and those who do not. And there we try to mediate between the neighbors, sometimes with more or less success. Basically, the neighbourhood associations are there to help the people and to demand the needs of the neighbourhood.
What are the specific functions of the residents’ association, such as offers of activities or participation in parties?
To give an example, in May, all the neighbourhood associations get together to set up the festivities. An orchestra would be brought in, activities would be set up for the children, cake and champagne would be distributed among the members, etc. But we finished this, because as the situation is what it is and needs were paramount, all that money was spent on food and was distributed among the neediest people.
How do social policies affect a neighbourhood association?
Specifically now and in this area, there are not because of the efforts of the council and the party that there is currently. The people have to find their own way, with the food bank that we have created we try to get the administration to help us but we find many obstacles. They work when the elections come, but day by day they do nothing, and do not look for the people in need.
And why do you do what you do?
I think this is something that has to be done, I think that anyone who sees the current crisis and helplessness has to stand up and say enough is enough. So, those of us involved in these actions are unfortunately getting older and we do not see a strong relief, it is that there are things that cannot be allowed. A person who sees what there is cannot allow it, that is why we do what we do. To try to change the situation of social injustice.
Who or which are the neighbourhood agents that are involved in problem solving?
So associations, groups, people who are not involved in entities try to collaborate, etc. But I would like people to be more involved, to have a little more understanding of the problems we have. It seems that most people only worry about personal problems but forget about collective problems. And in this neighbourhood, unfortunately, there are outbreaks of racism that the town council is encouraging, and we must support those who are most disadvantaged by current policies.
What is the relationship with the entities of the territory from the neighbourhood association?
There is a good relationship, in fact in our district there are 8 neighbourhood associations. One of them does not work because the party in power at the town hall closed it down. The rest of us work as a team fighting for health, for the culture of the neighbourhood, evictions, etc. Regarding the issue of food collection there are some schools that are helping a lot, public schools where the AMPAS also collect food to add it to the bank of the neighborhood association, etc. In general there is a good relationship. The only thing is that there are very few people on the boards of the neighbourhood associations and there is no way they can take over from some of them.
Regarding the neighborhood, what types of problems exist in the community?
There are many and above all there is coexistence. It is a neighbourhood that has always been working and now there is a very high rate of immigration. In fact, in the neighbourhood next door there is a 25% immigrant population of different nationalities, there are all of them. And they are different cultures and ways of thinking, some people do not manage to adapt and the natives sometimes do not let pass even one, and there are outbreaks of racism in communities where you can find cases of violence for these cases. We are mediating in many communities, but we cannot dedicate ourselves exclusively to this, because we do it in a disinterested way and we get where we can. But come on, the main problem is coexistence. Like everything, everyone has their own rules and beliefs, but we have to have more respect for people and be more tolerant.
And what is the implication of the administration in the problems of coexistence? And of the agents of the neighborhood? Do the police play a sanctioning or cooperating role?
The police are somehow commanded, and the orders they receive are to fine uncivil conduct, even if it is insolvent. The city council doesn’t cooperate at all. From here we try to make a neighbourhood of all for all, that there are no problems because we come from different places, that we all go to one and respect the environment. Being equal without looking over our shoulders, but it is very difficult, since the cultural level influences people’s perception as well as the level of tolerance, as well as the degree of effort in integration that outsiders can have. Sometimes we are in the middle of a crossfire, but we practice the example of tolerance.
Are there teams from the administration specialized in the management of these conflicts?
Yeah, there’s a local police task force called the OCU that goes undercover and mediates, good people. I have a pretty good relationship with whoever’s handling this and doing a good job. They go to the sites talking about the problems, etc. And we have achieved good results, although they are less and less. Previously we had in this area a number of mediators hired by the council, but since the current political party has not been any team like that, and we were very satisfied with them. We were making good progress, but the team disappeared. And these problems are also growing because of the economic situation, but we are working as we can.
Leaving these conflicts aside, why are there more than 150 children studying in the neighbourhood association?
It turns out that there was a Muslim association that rented a place next door to it to teach the children because they don’t want their children to lose their customs, and they teach Arabic as if they were in their own country. There were also local people. But the town council closed the premises on the grounds that they had carried out construction work without permission, and this is false. They asked for permission and had it in hand, although it was already expected that they would close the premises because of the prevailing policies. Because the area they were in was likely to attract votes, and now as the elections are coming up they are doing well. And demagogy is present at their expense. So the people who were in charge of the premises came to the neighbourhood association and told me about the problem. The children who were studying no longer had a place to learn. When they demonstrated to protest, I was there too, because you have to support the causes of the people in the neighbourhood, and I offered them a solution, which was to give up two rooms in the neighbourhood association so that they could give classes until they found another place. And there they are giving classes with qualified teachers from their country of origin, and they have been doing so for two months and there are no complaints, they behave in a very orderly and cordial way. I told them that there would be no problem with the administration because of this, what I don’t want is to leave people in the street having spaces, and this is the town house. It’s there for those who need it. They have offered to collaborate with the neighbourhood association in whatever we need, in short, very well, and they will be there as long as they need.
Do you give refresher courses for the classes you teach at school?
They are all in school and they take refresher classes as well, but most classes are the ones related to their roots.
What is the opinion of the neighbors?
There are neighbors who see these people as the people they are and others look at them with suspicion. But what is clear is that they will be here as long as they need to be. Something big has to happen before they have to leave, but this is for everyone in general. And if there were external pressures to leave, I would go with them.
Are they involved in the neighbourhood association or in the activities of the neighbourhood or has the opportunity not yet been given because of the recent nature of the case?
So far they haven’t been able to do anything, but I’ve been told that if we have parties for the kids or activities they will all come and do whatever it takes. At the last town hall meeting they came with me to support the local demands, that is, if you need them to be with you, they are there. And that is very important, in fact, they collaborate more than many local people. They are very grateful. It seems that to the people here, if you help them it is because it is your obligation, and it is not really.
All right, at this point we’re finishing the interview. Thank you very much for the collaboration. Would you like to add anything else?
Seeing what’s in this area, which seems to be the most needy in the whole city, I think there’s a lot that can be done, but it’s a question of people wanting to work. Look, we did a solidarity concert to collect food and, thanks to that, we spent 4 months distributing food to 120 families. And I would like an alternative food bank to be formed so that those who do not have access to the conventional food bank can come, because it has little capacity, and there is more need than places to receive food. So, for those who are left out, I would like the neighbourhood association to be able to cover this need. But to be able to do this I need people to go and collect food from different points, and to distribute it, because I have been carrying out all this work alone for a long time and there comes a time when I am very tired. I need people to help out and give long-term viability to this self-managed food bank. Even if it’s just to cover 130 people, whatever we can get to. The people who receive it are really grateful, and it is necessary. I would like to add that people must be helped beyond their individual problems.