Rethinking rural and small town life

By: Charlie

When I first heard of the business immersion course in HKU, I did not hesitate to join since I knew it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to garner knowledge about undeveloped rural areas in Southeast Asia and help people who are not as fortune as me in terms of material wealth. And I expected to know interesting people and make friends with whom I would probably never had the chance to meet otherwise.

Developing nations are not strangers to me as I come from China, a developing country. I have already seen plenty of muddy trails, old fans, and even bathrooms without showers in some Chinese villages. Therefore, frankly speaking, I did not expect that my world view would be changed by the experience in Philippines before this journey. However, I now realize that I was wrong.

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Tricycles are commonly used at Jagna and  many other tropical areas in developing countries

I used to hold the notion that folks in impoverished villages and small towns were extremely unfortunate. They have fewer opportunities of obtaining good educations, adequate health care, up-to-date information, and modern facilities, which badly hinder them from getting rid of poverty mentally and physically. In another word, they have fallen into a poverty trap. More pessimistically, I believed that foreign aids and government relief could not help much. Because local bureaucrats are likely to be corrupted and efficient financial systems are usually absent there. Consequently, indigent people in rural areas or small towns are constrained by very limited resources and often lack proper incentives to work hard. This, in turn, creates laziness and despair which deteriorate the situation. To be honest, I have to admit that I am a little biased against people living in rural areas in undeveloped countries. This may arise from my understanding of rural China. I once tried to romanticize rural lifestyle but disappointingly found it is not as good as I thought. Many people there are addicted to alcohol and mahjong (a traditional Chinese board game). Additionally, the worship of power and money may be more severe in poor towns than big cities.

Nonetheless, my experience at Jagna seems to contradict my original thinking. People here are not sinking into a backwater, and I have known many kind, vigorous, and ambitious inhabitants. Certainly, the material conditions are inferior to those in metropolitans (such as inconsistent internet access), but spiritual poverty can not be inferred. In fact, I am amazed by simple and virtuous locals at Jagna. I have spent lots of words introducing my host family on my first blog, but I still want to express my fervent gratitude for their great care. They really treat me a family member. Besides, I really appreciate the waiter at cliff heaven resort who took the trouble to take back my note which was blown onto a hillside and the waitress at idea garden café who kept and returned my lost umbrella. Moreover, tricycle drivers have never intended to unreasonably overcharge me on account of my foreign look. Obviously, there is little evidence that suggests a lack of wealth causes greed or rudeness at Jagna.

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This is where the warm-hearted waiter helped me to get back my note

On the contrary, people here are working hard to live fairly decent and respectable lives just as we do in Hong Kong. For instance, Anna Ria, the warmhearted government lady, is surely devoted to Jagna’s development of agricultural industry. It is revealed by her generous help and enthusiastic Facebook posts about Jagna. Besides, those female entrepreneurs and their employees are eager to learn from us. I observed that many of them were absorbed in taking notes throughout our presentation. It is such great honor that they find our presentation valuable. Moreover, these diligent folks are quite positive about their futures, and many talk about market development and even expand to Hong Kong. As for Chles Bolabon, our dear sister at Tobud Mar, she is a college junior majoring in English. Although her parents want he to be a teacher, her first priority is to become a policewoman. Her parents’ main concern is her safety rather than making money. In fact, they all agree that Chels has the right to determine her career path based on her personal interest.

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The owner of Mais Kape corn coffee enthusiastically showed us her new machine

Personally speaking, I think the main reason of peace and hope at Jagna is that people here have religious believes. Here at Jagna, the most magnificent building is a beautiful chapel rather than the municipal hall (The most splendid buildings in Chinese counties and towns are usually government buildings). These devout Christians are passionate about life even under harsh material conditions. For instance, Villagers at Tobud Mar frequently organize basketball matches or even singing contests to enrich their lives. More importantly, people tend to treat each other equally. I saw a high-ranked government lady greet a vendor in the Jagna market. And I have not sensed any tension between the relatively poor and the relatively rich at Tobud Mar. Instead, dozens of neighborhood kids come to our home every night to watch TV and have fun together.

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St. Michael The Archangel Parish

After these fantastic weeks, I eventually realize that I should be more optimistic about conditions in rural areas and small towns in developing countries.  A vicious cycle of idleness, selfishness, isolation, and severer poverty can not be inferred from current relative material poverty. The world can be better with courageous efforts of people around the world!

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