The Only Thing that Remains The Same is…..There is Always Room for Improvement

Latent Knowledge

In my last blog I discussed corrupt communication and knowledge hoarding. Just as knowledge can be strategically shared and utilized for personal gain, knowledge can be shared and known by the community, yet not used.

Individuals and communities may be aware that throwing plastic water sachets on the ground is bad for the environment, negatively effects tourism and clogs their drains-but they still do it. Nurses may know that they need to take protective measures, like wearing gloves, while working with patients-but they don’t. Parents may know that their children going to school is a good thing and that it could better their child’s future as well as their own-yet the children of these same parents must stay home to work on the farm. Businesses may know that accounting and finance make their businesses and projects more successful; however, receipts are viewed as unnecessary and projects are completed as money becomes available-such is a barter market.

Need to Change

These types of actions are the reasons that development and positive change are so difficult to achieve. These actions are the reason:  pollution, highly concentrated pollution, still exists- even with a waste management system in place; the standard of healthcare is so poor; children who have great potential as students, worthy and capable of completing University, never attend school past the age of 12; businesses fail and projects are halted mid-build, not to be touched again for years, or ever.

You can pull out all of the stops, plan the most “perfect” project and still fail if behaviors of a community do not change. Projects can never succeed without the investment of community members- however, the investment isn’t just in agreeing with the existence of a beneficial program, the investment is partaking and contributing to the sustainability of the change brought about by the program.

It really is interesting to me that people may be completely aware of the negative consequences of certain actions, yet they continue to do them-these behaviors are habits, they are a way of life whose benefits have outweighed their risks.

I am completely aware that there are circumstances that make behavior change difficult. Like any behavior, positive or negative, an individual’s ability to change a behavior is directly influenced by their own needs and their environment.  Culture, time, money, the inability to socially stray from the “norm”, are all examples of such circumstances that make changing negative behaviors, like those mentioned above, difficult and sometimes impossible.

It Seems Simple

It seems simple that people would just change a behavior knowing that it was detrimental to them and their life; however, the process of coming to acknowledge a behavior, a habit, as being detrimental can take years or even generations. Especially in a developing country context, making these realizations and acknowledging the negative effects of certain behaviors is that much more difficult when: you and everyone else exhibit the same negative behaviors; there are no sanctions impeding you or anyone else from continuing to do so; and the consequences of such negative behaviors are not immediately tangible or possibly, not conceptually understood.

If a child sees an adult throwing water sachets on the ground after drinking, they will, inevitably, do the same. If a nurse only has access to gloves while working if she is to provide them and pay for them him/herself, he/she will not see the worth in this investment- if his/her employer is unable to provide this safety measure why would he/she? If a parent’s source of income is their farm and they are unable to pay laborers, their children become their employees, increasing their profit and supporting their family. If no businesses are writing receipts or keeping track of transactions and finances, partaking in receipt writing and accounting is a waste of time and more bothersome to clients and employees than it’s worth.

Lawlessness

In a way, it all makes sense-people are doing what they think they need to do to survive. Yet it is not simply survival that makes a community successful- it must strive. Community development occurs when individuals in the community strive to make positive changes and hold each other accountable for doing the same.

In a developed country context, the solution to negative behaviors is to create a law, a fine, some sort of sanction that would outweigh the risk of the negative behavior. These kinds of sanctions are effective because there are checks and balances in place to ensure individuals are doing their jobs and doing their jobs appropriately.  In a developing country context, corruption runs so deeply in the systems that employ such sanctions, the effect and the worth of the sanction would not exist. When the population of an entire country ignores a law, aware it can pay off employers and police officers and evade court systems, these laws become obsolete and useless- negative behaviors continue, systems in place to correct the consequences of these actions fail, and nothing changes.

Selflessness

While education and knowledge can guide actions, actual behavior change is a process that entails utilizing knowledge to implement action that maximizes individual and community benefit because there is worth in doing so.

No one can force another individual to change their behavior. A community development program must not only provide the appropriate knowledge, it must empower individuals to utilize this knowledge for their benefit AND for the benefit of the community. As community members come to realize that others’ actions and lives directly affect and influence their own, they are encouraged to hold each other accountable for changing personal behaviors for the success of themselves and the entire community.

This level of commitment and investment from a community takes time, and may only be realized when the positive changes in a community begin to occur-less pollution and more tourism; higher standards of care and better health; access to higher education and more job opportunities; more successful businesses and a better economy.

Investment and Worth

Community development is directly correlated to behavior change and behavior change is directly correlated to worth created by a combination of knowledge and tangible successes. If you add honest communication and shared accountability, individuals may find it easier to change their own behaviors, not because they have to, but because they see the value in doing so-this is true individual investment and the most valuable advocate of sustainable change.

Garbage Bicycle - used to collect trash.

Garbage Bicycle in Kpando – used to collect trash.

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