Sustainable development can easily be thought of as development projects which enhance the every day lives of the people of a given community with long term benefits which do not require continued outside resources. Friends of Malawi (FOM) supports sustainable development because it empowers Malawians to take more control of their own lives and encourages problems to be solved at a local level. Using local resources, everything from the knowledge of the community residents to the materials needed for building, ensures that the community will have all necessary resources in the future for growth and continuation. It taps in to what already exists, builds on what is available, and creates new venues for the community to better their own lives.
Essentially, it can be thought of in the old proverb: If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day; but if you teach them how to fish, they eat forever . Sustainable development teaches the community how to catch fish using local resources for nets and fishing lines, what is locally available for bait, how to not over-fish to maintain the food source, and how to dry and store the fish for the future. After the development worker leaves, the community should be able to continue fishing.
Factors Affecting Sustainable Development
Many factors can affect sustainability, but most people in social development work agree on a few basic principles.
- Locally driven: the idea should come from the community, belong to the community, and be a part of the community. Outsiders who come in and tell the community what will be done merely enable the people, disempowering them to make decisions for themselves. The solutions belong to the outsider, not the community, and may not be appropriate for the community.
- Local resources: as much as possible, all materials should be obtained locally and projects should tap in to local knowledge. In the future, if something should fail or if questions should arise, the solutions are obtained in the community.
- Long term plan: the project should build on what already exists to create something that will continue on in the future. Sustainability, by definition, means it will have long lasting consequences. Those consequences should be nourishing to the community, allowing both the people and the resources to prosper.
- Logistical plan: carefully considered plans take into account the changes that may occur in the future. Prior to any implementation, a plan should be written on how to replace materials or how to overcome obstacles that may arise in the future.
- Impact on the community: just as it must come from within the community, it must also have an impact on the community as a whole, not just a few individuals in the community. If more people feel they are benefiting from the project, more people will see to its long-term survival.
Sustainable Development and Community Empowerment
There is a story told in development circles. Perhaps it is a legend, perhaps it is true; more likely, it is somewhere in-between. The story gets told because it exemplifies the concepts of sustainable development in a simple tale about community and those people coming in "to help."
Once, in a developing country, there were two communities that lived along a water's edge about 50 kilometers apart, and each suffered from high levels of diarrhea-related illnesses. Both communities harvested fish from the water, but the beach along the water had become polluted due to a lack of pit latrines. In one community, a large government-sponsored aid group came to the community and built 50 pit latrines to reduce sickness and keep the beach area clean. The pit latrines were dug, cement floors were poured, and brick walls were put in place. However, when the aid organization left the people continued to use the beach instead of the latrines. They simply did not understand why they couldn't continue what they had been doing for so many years.
In the second village, a volunteer came to live in the community. She asked the community about their biggest needs, and repeatedly she heard people say, "The children and youth have no where to play sports like football." She laughed, saying "You have this huge beach. How can you say you have nowhere to play football?" "The beach is dirty. You can't play where people are going to the bathroom." The volunteer asked the youth if they would want to change things a little so they could play football. They agreed and went to the community elders who said they would support efforts to clean the beach. In a community meeting, the families agreed to dig pit latrines; some would dig, some would gather reeds for the walls of the latrines, and still other offered their knowledge on how to craft sturdy floors. The volunteer taught the community how to make hand washing stations out of sisal and the old plastic bottles that littered many of the pathways.
The youth raked the beach and cleaned out the sand. They were soon able to play football. The youth were happy, the community was proud of their new pit latrines, and no one really noticed when the diarrhea illnesses went away.
For more information on sustainable development, consider checking out: http://www.sustainablemeasures.com .
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