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January 27, 2011
Cooperative Self Help in Hard Times

circle and triangle joke

ATLAS is based on the principle that everyone has a talent to offer, and everyone is in need of resources. In a world of unequal distribution, we are always struggling to get hold of “our fair share.”

Let’s borrow Plato’s theory of soul mates, or twin flames. Humans originally had two pairs of hands and legs, and two faces on a single head. Zeus feared the potential power of “their might and strength” (Aristophanes’s Plato’s Symposium) their  unity, and split the humans in half. From then on, humans were punished to spent the rest of their lives struggling to find their other half. Only then shall a human be whole.

What have we to gain from this tale? One half has something to offer which the other half doesn’t have, and vice versa. This brings us to the the principle of giving and receiving. If we brought to group of people, each with a different need, chances are someone in that group would have the resources or skill to help the other in need, thus finding “their other half.” While we don’t propose they are soul mates, we do see “might and strength” in this unity of two opposite sides, the unity which Zeus feared.

A Cooperative Model

ATLAS is a center of shared ownership, in which we believe in recognizing and harboring that unity. Members of ATLAS will not only receive services, but also make them possible. How so? If Maria needs help learning English, ATLAS will have a member that can help. Maria could then help the legal staff translate pamphlets or  prepare a meal for dinner time. She would have not only developed as an individual, but also developed ATLAS. So, in opposition to the vicious cycle of impoverishment, ATLAS will be a renewal cycle of progress. Each developed young person will effect positive change in another person and ATLAS, enabling ATLAS to extend aid to more young people.

To get a sense of how a cooperative model of organization works, let’s turn to the 1930s, when people organized to help themselves, not out of careful analysis, but out of sheer necessity. A man housed forty homeless people in a rent-free building in exchange of providing renovation work. There were over 300 self-help organization, in which ordinary people exchanged goods and services: doctors, fishermen, barbers, gave their skills in return of other things. Maybe it would also help to point out that a significant portion of that struggle for unions, rights, and helped these “self-help organizations were immigrants. But’s that’s blog.

How will it work at ATLAS?

This NGO is run by volunteering teens, for teens. Decisions are and will be carried out collectively, based on a youth-integrated board. Teens will participate in the maintenance of the programs. This results services which they truly need. By giving leadership to young people that are otherwise vulnerable and under(mis)represented, we are initiating social change.

Teens alone can’t solve the problem. We would need lawyers, counselors, and life coaches to begin with. Our paid professionals will be bilingual and multicultural. Other organizations do not have all bilingual staff. More dishearteningly, most programs require documentation. These barriers prevent helping those who need it most. ATLAS will be different. Our services will be available to all young people in need, without regard to their status, gender, race, orientation, or ethnicity. Only through an extensively diverse staff, volunteers, and members, can we work towards making a more accepting, democratic society.  Join us.




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