Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Heeding the Call: A Program on Justicemaking for Junior High School Youth

Activity 1: Basic Needs

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Create a workshop copy of this tool by taping one copy of Handout 1 to poster board for display throughout the program.

Description of Activity

Youth define basic human needs. defines social justice as the "distribution of advantages and disadvantages within society." Nowhere are the disadvantages more evident than when it comes to fulfilling basic needs. Ask participants if they agree that justice includes making sure everyone is able to fulfill their basic needs. If they agree, ask, "What are the basic human needs? Air, food, and water? What about shelter? What about security? What about love and/or companionship-is that a basic need? Ask, "Who defines the basic needs?"

Distribute Handout 1, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who, in A Theory of Human Motivation (1943), proposed a theory to explain human needs. Review the handout, opening the floor to agreements, disagreements, and questions. Ask if there are any words on the diagram that are unfamiliar to youth. Tell them that the pyramid representing human needs is part of the Justicemakers Guide.

The needs at the bottom of the pyramid are the most basic. Maslow's theory is that an individual cannot concern themselves about meeting the needs in the upper portions (such as self-actualizing needs) until the basic needs at the bottom are met. Yet, "poverty" or feelings of oppression can result when any of these needs, no matter where they are ranked, are not being met. When people cannot meet basic needs, they exhibit anxiety and distress. This could lead to depression. It could lead to anger. It could lead to violence. It could also lead to social action.

Maslow's theory is just one theory. Some people agree with the needs Maslow identified, yet do not believe they are hierarchal. Other theories propose a different set of needs and others argue that needs are culturally based and therefore the same set of needs may not apply to all humans. Participants need not embrace this theory. However, being aware of our needs and the needs of others-particularly the less obvious needs-is crucial to the work of justice making. For example, even if gay couples may feel less physically threatened in public in some areas, the inability to cover loved ones under family health insurance policies could leave a couple physically vulnerable and unsafe because of prohibitively expensive health insurance. What other examples can youth add?

Remind youth that as we work together with communities in need of justice, we want to always ask the community what their needs are and not assume we know what is lacking or needed the most. For example, a youth group working to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina approached community leaders to ask what help was needed. They thought they might be asked to build new houses. Instead, they were asked to paint the fence surrounding the schoolyard. It was not that the community did not need houses, but that what the community needed more was to send their children to a school they feel good about and to have beauty return to their lives.

If participants are keeping paper copies of the Justicemakers Guide, add Handout 1 as a page. If keeping the guide electronically, let them know how to access Handout 1 to add to their CD or hard drive.