I’m in my third year of International Development Studies, and I think development is something we all need in our lives. Despite popular belief, development isn’t something that an individual can take and deliver to someone in need like pizza. It’s a process which explores important questions of privilege and power imbalances. It teaches individuals to build relationships centred around trust and respect.
At CMU, we are encouraged and challenged to understand how our perception and theorists’ definitions of development is defined by worldviews and values. It is difficult to provide a simple and concise definition of development because good development is fluid, taking the shape of the context and people that create it.
On the other hand, destructive development can be easier to define. A development worker once shared with me a story. She knew a development worker who was riding to the city in a packed community bus through winding roads. Someone got car sick and threw up all over the floor of the bus. No one in the bus seemed disgusted or did anything to clean the mess that seemed to be spreading. Grandparents hopped over the mess and women carrying chickens struggled to navigate their way around it with their children.
The development worker could not believe no one was cleaning the mess and decided that he was going to use his newspaper to cover it. While the bus waited on the side of the street for individuals to lower their produce from the roof of the bus, he quickly covered all the mess. The worker went back to his seat.
To his horror, as soon as the bus started moving, the wind came through the open windows and caused the newspaper to fly around the bus and smack passengers in the face. The worker slouched on his chair and pretended to take a nap for the rest of the trip! He was unaware that everyone was waiting for the next bus stop, which was near a house where the driver was planning to clean up the mess with a bucket and mop.
That story helped me understand that even with the best of intentions, we can cause harm to those we hope to help. As development practitioners, we need to be attentive to local knowledge – and remember that eating before a bus ride can be a bad idea!