You’ll often here this old adage or “African proverb” to succinctly state that a whole community raises a child, or that it takes all of us for community development. Unfortunately, I think it also gives us an outdated and neocolonialist view of communities like the one in which I now live.
The overall idea is a good one: everyone is responsible for youth, family and community development. What I’ve seen is that the people in my village are moving toward more individualistic habits, and why shouldn’t they? When you have money, you make cement blocks to build a wall around your compound so that you can have a garden and some privacy. Countless “community gardens” and “community skills centers” sit in ruins after disuse because of diffusion of responsibility. When a community initiative is initiated, even if there is a leadership committee appointed, motivation and enthusiasm may be high at first but it will slow down when people get busy with their own lives.
I knew this, and I still made a mistake recently. Peace Corps has a bean multiplication program where we receive a kilo of beans to plant with a counterpart, and then have to return a kilo to PC after harvest and keep another kilo for next rainy season. I worked with the teachers and Mothers Club to plant the beans and do the first weeding. But then when Tobaski, the major Islamic holiday, and farming season got busy, people refused to come for another weeding or for harvesting.
They wanted to see immediate results: beans in their food bowls. We’re putting the harvested beans toward school lunches, and some mothers couldn’t see the long term benefits of doing that. The grasses are high and some pests have eaten the beans, but we’ll probably still get a good harvest (I have no idea, I’ve never farmed beans before. Another reason why they probably should have come). This enthusiasm is completely changed with something like improved cookstoves – something in their kitchens that they can clearly see.
Large scale, community wide initiatives are flashier and better for charity publications, but are eventually not as effective as small family based campaigns. Bore hole water pumps managed by communities are almost impossible to manage, but when each compound has its own pump with its own water meter, the management is infinitely easier. The world is changing, cultures are growing and expanding and with that our views and actions toward development also need to change.