Whither Development?

by David Porcaro

While recently attending the funeral of a dear friend and colleague, Absalom Phiri, I was struck by the overwhelming community support that coalesced at that trying time for the Phiri family.  Thousands of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and church members sat with the family and sang together to say “we are all here with you.”  I thought about how different this was from most Western funerals, where it’s not inconceivable to have a funeral with no one attending.

As an American colleague and I discussed this we asked “Is this progress?  Is this development?  Is this what we are trying to help these countries move toward?”

Earlier that week, a more humorous manifestation of this idea flooded my senses.  Everywhere I looked I could see something that has become trendy in the West–something the young, rich, and educated are willing to pay more for here–but are simply a way of life in Malawi.  These include:

Local food

Local food markets in Malawi

Local food markets in Malawi

Local food markets in the West

Local food markets in the West

Free range poultry/livestock

Free range poultry in the West

Free range poultry in the West

Free range cattle in Malawi

Free range cattle in Malawi

Distressed clothing

Distressed designer jeans in the West

Distressed designer jeans in the West

Distressed jeans in Malawi

Distressed jeans in Malawi

Handmade wooden toys (though the same could be said about just about anything hand made  such as clothes, furniture, tools, etc.).
Handmade wooden toys in Malawi

Handmade wooden toys in Malawi

Hand Made Wooden Toys in the West

Handmade wooden toys in the West

While I liked the parallels between these Noah’s Ark toys, the average Malawian would probably be playing with something like this:

Kid-made wooden toy (from Central African Republic but similar to toys in Malawi)

Kid-made wooden toy (from Central African Republic but similar to toys in Malawi)

Thatched roofs (and even brick homes)
Thatched roof in the West

Thatched roof house in the West

Thatched roof house in Malawi

Thatched roof house in Malawi

Baby slings
Baby slings in Malawi

Baby slings in Malawi

Baby slings in the West

Baby slings in the West

And of course, media-free retreats.
Media-free retreat in Malawi

Media-free retreat in Malawi

At the end of it all I ask, which way are we heading?  In terms of development, which way is up?
 

(All pictures come from Flickr’s creative commons collection or Wikimedia; except wooden toy Noah’s Arks, which link to the originating websites).


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