I live in a place called Bohol in the Philippines. It is a relatively laid back place where people are friendly, communities look out for one another, and each person is the member of a barangay (community group). In my observations around the world, this community atmosphere seems to be lost as development takes over. Sure, friends and family are still treated with utmost respect, shop attendants courteous, and friendly people are everywhere. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what part of community fades as we develop but I think it is the feeling of caring about everyone around oneself very deeply. It is having the time and freedom to permit this deep level of care.
To have four generations living on one bit of land.
To have doors open and people stopping for a chat that lasts more than 2 minutes.
To have barangay meetings to solve issues in the community.
To have vegetable gardens for the community use which everyone helps to look after.
To drop a child with a neighbor and not have to pay for child care.
To help those around us in countless ways and to be helped by others in countless ways.
A world where money is not always the buyer or seller but goodwill often dominates.
A world where favors are given out and returned.
To me this world is the Philippines. This is something that they do extremely well and something that I hope they continue to do very well. Of course I am generalizing here – and not all developed countries are devoid of this, while not everyone in the Philippines lives in this manner, it is just based on my observations living in Bohol.
The other night I started to get really worked up about certain issues – sometimes I wish I could just park my thoughts, not care about it, and move on. Unfortunately it is not in my nature. I was reading an article about the new Bellevue hotel which is being built in an area very close to my heart – Doljo, Panglao. The new resort is a 400+ room giant. Some would call it a monstrosity; others would call it a beauty – depending on your point of view. It will be the first five star hotel in Bohol, and it is a lot bigger than any of the resorts on the island. From the water it is the first thing you notice when you come into the beach. From the road small one bedroom nipa huts look out onto a wall of concrete. It is being built in an area where people might go for 3 weeks without water to their house, and electricity brownouts are common. The amount that people will pay per night in this hotel is equivalent to 6 months living for some of the local families. The land where the hotel is built used to be owned by locals who had beach access to the sea, and survival. Naturally, as these things go, all the local land owners traded it for financial security. The offers from a big hotel chain easily satisfying their needs and fetching a higher price than they could get from others in the area. For me seeing these vast inequalities right next to each other is hard to handle. Naturally a luxury resort in the middle of Europe will not agitate me as much as a 5 star hotel next to a nipa hut.
I’m not mad at the people behind the hotel chain because they are really only fulfilling dreams that they have for the world. They talk themselves into thinking that this development is good for the community and who knows maybe it is? The article I read painted a bright impression of the hotel and I know that many support this style of development. Boholanos themselves will be proud to have something so lavish on their island. Perpetual development is not just an aspiration of the west, but it seems the whole world. Of all the people I have asked in Doljo about the project, not one replies to me with excitement. When I ask if they like it the majority say No!
I’m no fool – I realise that big 400 room hotels mean numerous jobs for people in the area and more money. The hotel has also supported community projects and the article talks about this. But hasn’t the hotel destroyed a community in the first place – a group of people living in the manner I discussed at the start of the article? I wonder apart from salaries of staff what sort of money will flow back into the community long term. Discussions with people in the community tell me that most of the jobs are going to people outside of Doljo. Even when the money flows, it seems like it will only fulfil things that used to be provided by the community. Let’s say parents get great jobs in the hotel, but are working full time and can no longer look after their kids. If everyone in the community is now working in money-earning jobs then they will have to pay others for childcare. They won’t have as much time to look after community vegetable gardens so they will need to pay for veggies. Grandparents who are cared for by members of the family will have to go elsewhere. The money they earn will end up paying for things that used to get for free. Their interactions with people in the area will be minimized into spending time with their collegues, and their family/friends on their days off.
I’m just hypothesizing here, but I’m also telling a story that has already been told. A story that started long ago and looks like it will continue until it breaks. The story of “development”.
I’m not anti-change, but for me, buildings like this, next to nipa huts like that, make me anti-development. I’m not anti technology and I’m not anti using our human brains to further our lives. What I am anti is the increasing inequality that we have within our world, and I don’t think it’s good enough. I think it is something we need to deal with before we worry about developing. Maybe living this community style lifestyle would make people reconsider the need for perpetual development.
So here I am sitting here wondering why the money always wins, and why development is paramount. The reality is we often fit the following description from Nigel Marsh (TEDx, Sydney) – “There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.” We will pay a huge amount for a night in a hotel room when we could give this money to one person in the area and keep them living for 6 months. But we don’t see that person as someone we should care about. We can talk about policies for ending inequality and reducing poverty all day, but until the decisions we make, at a day to day level, reflect this desire it is just… Talk.
I don’t want to focus too much on the negatives. The world is an amazing place, filled with potential for prosperity, abundance, joy, and love. We have the bluest sparkling oceans to gaze at, stars that light our night sky, snow capped mountains, sunny days, friendly smiles, affection from our loved ones, and random acts of kindness from total strangers. Life is an incredibly beautiful thing.
Community is about getting back to the point where we do care about the people living on the other side of the concrete wall. Community is realizing that if we know about something in our world that we don’t think is right, then we have an obligation to try to change it. Community is reaching out your circle of care beyond friends and family, to include all of humanity. Community might just be the future so let’s work towards that. Ask yourself every day. Are we living it right? Am I living it right?
Stay tuned for Part Two – Solutions!