A Lesson in Development from Makuleke, South Africa

Development is only successful if those living there can sustain it. A single project that just ends when someone leaves, improves some part of a person’s standard of living, but it can go no farther than what was accomplished during that time. When I think of development, I think of providing the locals with the tools they need to improve their own lives for years to come. This may be anything from teaching them construction, to how to start and run a business, to giving them the ability to think and act in a way that might deviate from tradition.
The experience of development that has opened my eyes is in Makuleke, a rural village in South Africa. Life there revolves around basic necessities, where food, water, and energy are still hard to come by. There is a 70% unemployment rate in the village, with many adults moving to Johannesburg to find work. They send some money back to family in the village to provide some income. The problem is that the income from Johannesburg has not created jobs in the village, keeping it in a cycle of unemployment and poverty.
There is also the lack of adequately educated people living in the village. The local high school is known as the “serial killer of learners.” This is due to the teachers not showing up at school often and when they do, they are drunk or talk about their families. This is very detrimental because the students do not have the resources to teach themselves. Only around 30% of students earn a high school diploma.
That means very few have the opportunity to go to a university. Those that go to university do not return to the village because there are no jobs for them. This means that those that can actually make a positive difference in the lives of the villagers do not have (or take) that opportunity, creating a ‘brain drain.’ If all of those that acquired skills to assist their village leave, the village is stuck in its cycle of poverty. Growth and development is not sustainable when there is no one there that can participate or lead it.
A non-profit I worked with in the village, “Sharing To Learn”, is attempting to change that. They have established libraries to provide the youth, as well as the adults, with information and knowledge. With this acquired knowledge, the villagers will be more able to participate in improving their own lives. This creates a sustainable method of providing the knowledge and skills necessary for development. The libraries are run by locals, allowing for the continuation of the program without an outsider being there all the time.
The only element of the program that could improve on the sustainability of it is covering the cost of keeping the libraries running, which is small but still requires outside help. This issue with sustainability is small compared to most programs and may be solved over time, since this program is relatively new.

The main issue with sustainability in Makuleke village revolves around creating an environment that gives the educated local residents job opportunities in the village, eliminating the ‘brain drain.’ This would allow the locals to improve their own lives, and in turn, those of all the villagers. There is much potential in the locals to be the ‘engine of progress,’ but they need help in developing the tools that allow them to do so. I have found that the best way to influence successful development is to help people help themselves. You just have to give them the chance to do so.

Author: Danielle Hoffer (Pangea Proxima Intern)

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