By definition, development is “the state of being created or made more advanced.” Inherently, our global society has developed with the passing of time, but what characteristics embody this “development”? What or who has the ability to define what “development” is?
On Sunday, half of the Intensive students visited Segunda Cruz, a rural farming village among the hills of Pastores, a town just shy of an hour away from San Miguel Escobar. Here, the steep rocky ascent gives way to lush green hills speckled with tall, cartoonish trees and tin-roofed shanties. In the distance, a red schoolhouse establishes the center of the village. Seven years ago, Global Visionaries constructed this building, with the physical and moral support of the local community. The families of Segunda Cruz greeted us warmly as we gathered in the lot next to the schoolhouse. After being introduced to the members of the village, we divided into three small groups. Each group followed a separate family onto their rolling plot of land where their corn and beans sprout from the earth. These plants, in essence, are the livelihood of these families. The wealth of the family solely relies on the health and growth of their produce.
My group worked with a woman named Doña Juana and her three youngest children. With her dainty, delicate hands, she demonstrated how to properly uproot weeds from the groomed furrows that comb through the hillside. The rest of us followed her demonstration and proceeded to remove the weeds that scourged the crop of beans that sprawled before us. After completing our task, we had the opportunity to share lunch with Doña Juana and her sons. The students had prepared a few questions to explore but, instead, decided to engage in conversation with her family.
As many had astutely noticed earlier, there had recently been a road paved that carved itself through the village. One student began to ask if this had improved or declined the development of the village’s productivity or well being. Doña Juana paused and pensively glanced downhill toward the white concrete below. The road ends halfway through the village, trailing off into a rigid path. Originally, the road had instilled hope in the people of the village, creating means for access to healthcare, clean water, and jobs. But its incompletion acts as a symbol of their disconnection from Western society. The road is a vehicle for change, but with this change, the people of Segunda Cruz may just lose their cultural identity.
Doña Juana told us that among traditional Guatemalan villages, like Segunda Cruz, this type of development isn’t always necessarily beneficial for the community. While it provides opportunity, it also physically and metaphorically creates a barrier between the village and their livelihood. The road, and the change that naturally follows, is not something they’re yet willing or ready to embrace. But who’s to say the people of Segunda Cruz need to conform to the Westernized idea of “development”?