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Review: Love in Action

A myriad of factors can prevent Westerners from engaging in efforts to provide relief for the world’s poor. Some are as banal as brute selfishness and blinkered narcissism. Among the more benign but equally regrettable reasons for reluctance is the sheer scale of the problem—can I really do anything to make much difference; and the bewildering disconnect between what we might do here, and the people over there. The result can be a paralysing fog descending on otherwise kind-hearted souls.

But a book just released by ‘Vivid Publishing’ gives even the most battle- scarred activist reason to hope. Love in Action is a hard-backed photographic essay that records a community partnership between Manly, on Sydney’s affluent northern beaches, and Manado, a city on the tip of Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province. Begun in 2005, the idea of the partnership emerged as a means of lending a hand to some 40,000 of Manado city’s marginalised population who exist on or below the poverty line of $2US a day. Some spend their lives scrounging an existence from the Sumompo garbage dump.

Beginning with a handful of concerned locals from a church in Manly, the partnership—Manly-Manado—has grown to engage over 13,000 people of the Manly community, capturing the interest of a broad cross section of businesses, schools, churches, and the local council. At the heart of the project is a deliberate attempt to foster a relationship between the two communities, based on a firm belief that the West might have resources to give, but also much to learn from the materially poor but relationally rich developing world.

The vision of Manly resident Jim Goddard was that the people of his community harness their abilities and interests for the good of the people of Manado, contributing to micro finance, and child sponsorship and essentially helping people to help themselves out of the most grinding forms of poverty.

In four years, over 120 community events ranging from Salsa dancing to sponsored ocean paddles; acoustic music and photo exhibitions to poetry nights, have provided personal connection, fun and a deepening of community in Manly. Along the way, some desperately poor people have been assisted in escaping destitution.

Love in action provides a vibrant record of the difference made to the lives of those living in Manado and Manly. Stuart Harris, a protégé of Australia’s most famous landscape photographer, Ken Duncan, along with writer Jim Collins travelled to Manado to see what difference the Manly initiative has made. Goddard’s original aim was that those involved from the Manly side would begin to get to know the recipients in Manado – putting flesh and bones onto the actions against poverty. Lots of people have travelled to Manado from Manly, and this book provides a window into the experiences of two of them.

The action from the Western side is so positive—harnessing existing passions, interests and abilities for the good of others

The photographs are a stunningly beautiful collection that stands in its own right as an artistic triumph. That they tell an inspiring story of small steps towards provision, dignity, and hope gives the book immense value. Embodying the spirit of the project is the clear sense that Harris and Collins felt enriched by the experience. Collins writes of ‘mutual transformation’, and how ‘[we were] challenged to consider our own treasured way of life, and to recognise that we have much to learn from how others live.’

The book was published to try to inspire other communities in the West to adopt a similar model of community partnership, as well as to further the work being done (all profits going back to Manado). It is a model that provides as attractive an idea in poverty relief as I have encountered. The beauty of it comes in at least two ways. The action from the Western side is so positive—harnessing existing passions, interests and abilities for the good of others. When the help is received, it comes with a belief that the giver gains from the relationship; that dignity and respect for individual circumstances is vital, and that a small amount of assistance is sometimes all that is required to break the most crushing cycles of poverty. 6000 people in Manado can now attest to that.

If Harris and Collins have their wish, this book, a celebration of loving action and tangible hope, will be the catalyst for many other communities to emulate what has been achieved in Manly, and to launch their own initiatives. Certainly Love in Action offers a crystal clear vision of not only great need, but what can realistically be done to address it.

Simon Smart is the Head of Research and Communication at the Centre for Public Christianity

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