by John Kurien, Trivandrum
(section titles by the Editor)
There is a well-known saying that it takes the water of many rivers to make a mighty oceana samudra.
And so it is with our Collective. It has takenand will continue to take many, many numerous small initiatives by people all over the world before the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) becomes a force to be reckoned with in the realm of world fisheries. Looking back, particularly over the last four years, I have no doubts about our ability to achieve this goal.
I’ve often been asked how the initiatives that led to the formation of the ICSF all started. One answer is that the rivers have existed for ages, but have all flowed at their own pace and in their own direction without influencing one another. Some rivers were small and slow; some large and swift. In certain parts of the world the rivers had already flowed into small regional seas. But it was when the idea of holding an International Conference of Fishworkers and their Supporters (ICFWS) was first initiated that the possibility of merging all the rivers and regional seas into a mighty samudra became a dream capable of fulfillment.
A planning meetingheld in Hong Kong in January 1984 to announce officially our intention of organising the ICFWSwas next step towards ensuring that as many rivers as possible would low into a single ocean.
In July 1983, prompted by a letter from a person whose heart was with the fishworkers but whose feet were directed by international policy makers, I wrote to seventy-five people round the world who sailed these rivers and regional seas. In that letter, I suggested the idea of the ICFWS. In two months I received fifty-seven lengthy replies all but one enthusiastic about the idea and pledging support. A planning meetingheld in Hongkong in January 1984 to announce officially our intention of organizing the ICSFWSwas the next step towards ensuring that as many rivers as possible would flow into a single ocean.
By June 1984 many more rivers round the world who had been represented at Hong Kong, pledged their support in helping form the ocean. All of this was done on the basis of a great deal mutual trust with only circular letters and telex messages evidence of our earnest. Two goals inspired us all to work together to a common end: a fairer deal for the men and women engaged in small-scale fisheries and greater participation by them in the issues affecting their lives; and a sustainable future for fishery resources.
Minor differences of opinion as to how these objectives should be achieved proved no obstacle to wholehearted and enthusiastic collaboration.
A surprising exhibition
The best proof of the success of this approach was to be seer the exhibition organized at the ICFWS conference entitled The life, work and struggles of the Fish workers’. From the coordinating office of the ICFWS in the little coastal to’ of Trivandrum in Southern India a poster proposing this exhibition was mailed to the fishworkers’ organizations and the NGO’s planning to attend the ICFWS.
With no centralized planning, the success of the exhibition depended entirely on the exhibits brought Rome by the participants. The response was overwhelming models of fishing craft and tackle, posters, paper cuttings, slick working clothes, photographs and pictures of fish. The display all these exhibits around the foyers of the conference hall was electrifying and gave the whole of the ICFWS a special atmosphere.
Beaches on the move…
Post-ICFWS collaboration between fishworker groups has been on the increase. So, too, has the interaction and assistance given them by supporters.
News about this close collaboration between supporters’ and fishworkers’ organizations flooded in from Columbia, France, Senegal, India, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippinesand many other countries. Very few of these contributions could claim to be national, but the qualitative nature of the links they helped establish gave them special significance. In some cases fishworkers and supporters worked together to achieve technology transfer; in some instances, to strengthen organizational initiatives; on other occasions to discuss and implement programmes for socio-economic welfare. The perceptible increase in such types of cooperation and the manner in which they were being appreciated by fishworkers’ organizations lay at the very heart of the Collective concept.
A new form of consultation…
Following a letter I wrote in mid-1986, many of our supporters round the worldgenerally social and physical scientists and social organizersendorsed the overall idea of the need to work together more closely so that their activity on behalf of fishworkers in their respective countries could be given a broader dimension. Such combined effort was also seen as an effective means of creating greater solidarity across such barriers as culture, language and national territory. The idea was also endorsed by many fishworkers’ organizations and NGO’s working closely with fishworkers.
The November 1986 meeting in Trivandrum of supporters from 18 countries hosted jointly by a research institute (Centre for Development Studies) and a fishermen’s organization (South Indian Federation of Fishermen’s Societies) formally endorsed the idea of the Collective. The joint resolution basically sanctioned the creation of the ocean the samudra. But creating an ocean does not mean that the rivers will cease to exist. On the contrary their role is greatly enhanced, continuing to pour in the fresh water of ideas, to be replenished in turn from the ocean through the rainfall of inspiration.
The Cycle of mutual dependence that binds rivers and ocean together must be greatly strengthened if the Collective is to evolve into a meaningful initiative for the fishworkers and their supporters.
The very name Collective and the nature of its organization emphasize the international dimensions of a forum built on the strength of its regional/national links.
Every member of the Collective has pledged a small portion of her or his time to further its objectives. The Action Team which is to breathe life into this enterprise and provide it with leadership must imitate the waves of the samudra rise to take the initiative and act, and then, when the task is accomplished, subside to give rise to a new wave.
The task the Action Team and its members address is unique and challenging. Let us all devote our energies towards ensuring that our aspirations for the Collective will soon come to fruition.
In total commitment
John Kurien, TRIVANDRUM
If you are interested in indigenous fisheries and the people working in them, the complete report of the Trivandrum Workshop (held in November1986) provides a rich source of information on a wide range of issues, including the basic options confronting the Collective, its programmes and women’s views on fisheries.
ORDER YOUR COPY OF
TOWARDS AN INTERNATIONAL COLLECTIVE IN SUPPORT OF FISHWORKERS
from: ICSF Secretariat rue Gretry 65, Brussels B-1000
Reports signed by Nenita Cura and John Garbutt Published in 60 pages by DA GA, Hongkong. Price $US 5.