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February 17, 2015

Taking "Development" Into Your Own Hands

Philippine villagers ignore progress that saps the life of their community

(Photo by uusc4all under a Creative Commons license)

OTC's late colleague Jonathan Rowe was an evocative writer, who could raise profound issues and insights from a simple anecdote. Here's an example from one of his On the Commons blogs later republished in All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons.  I ran across this story recently, and was reminded of Jonathan's storytelling gifts. For more of his memorable work, see the recently published anthology Our Common Wealth  ---Jay Walljasper


An in-law of mine who does rural development work in the Philippines  told me about a new water system he worked on in a mountain village. It proceeded in two stages. First, the water was piped to a common containment pool. In stage two it went from there to individual houses.

The assumption was that people would appreciate the convenience of doing their wash at home, the way Americans and Europeans do. Yet even after stage two was completed, women in the village continued to use the common pool in the morning to wash clothes, as is the tradition in that country. For these women the washing was not just domestic work. It was a social occasion.


This socializing couldn’t have happened in the “convenience” of their homes, because convenience in that case would be another word for loneliness and isolation. It would be what happens in an economy – such as that of the United States -- when the social content of life is stripped away, and all that’s left is stuff.