Development: noun. The process of developing or being developed. A specific state of growth or advancement.
Being so general, the formal definition of the word “development” is open to many interpretations, and can be applied to an array of situations. Animals develop biologically, countries develop economically, plans, plots, and people also all develop. The definition of “development” can hold different meanings and significance at different times. The form of development I have been considering lately is the improvement of living conditions for those living in the “Third World.” With growing experience, the significance of “development” has changed for me, because of my changing point of view.
When I boarded the plane in California, bound for Quito, I was heading from a “developed” country to a “developing” country. In other words, I was heading from a land where people have cars, trusty electricity, and supermarkets, to a world where lucky car owners have rusty Datsuns, where electricity is a fickle commodity that shuts off on a whim, and where necessities are bought at local, family owned tiendas. That was where my line between “developed” and “developing” was drawn: a very material, very impersonal differentiation. I thought, naively, that development in a country just meant giving the people more stuff: more money, more roads, and more infrastructures. In particular I wanted to give my community a recycling system, to sanitarily dispose of waste; that was my little ambition in “development.” So when I arrived, this idea of planting recycling programs in schools, which I was certain the kids would gratefully take advantage of, was inextricably intertwined with my material concept of “development.” Namely, all I needed were the collection bags, the PowerPoint presentation and projector, and maybe a little confidence to present in front of a foreign audience. These were the necessary components of my devised “machine.” All in all, it was going to be easy.
Well, the rigid idea of development I had nurtured didn’t quite hold up like it was supposed to. Once I had given one half hour charla, left off the bags, and introduced a collection schedule to the local school, I was ready to sit back and watch the machine work. It wasn’t quite that simple however. For example, I realized that kids were still throwing trash in the streets instead of saving it for the bags, they still tossed an empty soda bottle into the bushes rather than tote it back to school. The new system was in place, but the old mentality hadn’t changed. I had a lot more work to do. I couldn’t stop at providing a system to collect recyclables – I had to get the idea to grow in the minds of these kids recycling required effort and commitment, even at home. I had to make it intuitive and easy. I realized that development isn’t just about planning and materials. I had failed to take into account the most important element of development: the human component.
Like the wild green creepers that droop over my wooden cabin, or the moss smeared trees that tumble up from the ground around my family’s finca, development is complex and organic. Namely, development isn’t a sterile improvement that can be injected into a community, it requires a lot of improvisation, collaboration, and most importantly, the ideas and motivations need to be nurtured in the community and grow from the people. Recently I’ve changed the way I think of my role here. I prefer the more involved image of “catalyst” to the detached, technical “mastermind.” In other words I’d like to be an element that provides opportunities and projects for improvement and also follows through with making their utilization as efficient and beneficial as possible. I’ll try to foster excitement and build on what works so that by my departure the projects will keep growing with the care of the community. Truly effective development isn’t something you install like a new light bulb – the inspiration, the light, has to start in the people of the community. If I can be a spark to help ignite and feed the light of inspiration, especially in terms of a passion for conservation and environmental awareness, I will feel that I have done my part towards nurturing the most constructive form of development.