Rural development throughout Asia and elsewhere generally comes in two
models: projects are designed and directed from outside and sometimes
constructed with local labor, or villagers themselves take the initiative to
transform their communities. Cases of the latter are rare. To wait for aid
is more tempting, especially since such assistance usually does not require
a contribution of goods or labor, or disturb the village leadership
Thus the modernization of rural Southeast and South Asia founders while
hundreds of millions wait for the modernizing process to be done for them.
Yet no government or foreign or domestic donor alone can construct the
immense water conservancy works required to double rice production in the
next 15 years. Roads can be built, but without local participation in
maintenance, monsoon rains soon make them impassable. Repeated national
campaigns for sanitation, health and increased production can succeed only
if farm families themselves want and will labor for improvements, and their
children are educated to value work.
ANTON SOEDJARWO first went to the countryside around Yogyakarta in Central
Java in 1968 when he and three fellow engineering students at Gajah Mada
University, not wanting to go home and be idle during the semester break,
were challenged by their Swiss Jesuit hostel master to help the farmers.
Realizing the neglected and impoverished lot of villagers, they eventually
organized Yayasan Dian Desa, Light of the Village Foundation, with SOEDJARWO
as director. They began seriously to apply their engineering skills, but
with a difference: they would work only where rural people showed initiative
Water was the first community need for which they devised solutions. With a
dry season frequently lasting five months, farmers or their wives were
squeezing water from banana stalks, or walking two to ten kilometers daily
for water, taken often from stagnant ponds. Simple gravity flow systems made
with bamboo pipes were tried successfully. These were soon augmented with
hydraulic rams for lifting water from lower levels. Building from 4 up to 25
cubic meter ferro- or bamboo-cement catchment tanks followed in 1977; water
used sparingly from these cisterns could supply much of a household's or
several households' needs until the next rain. With these various
innovations some 250,000 villagers now have a year-round water supply.
Fuel-conserving cooking stoves were another practical introduction. As
population pressure resulted in the denudation of mountainsides, wood for
cooking had become scarce and only a few families could afford kerosene.
Built of clay, sand, rock and dung, these modifications of the Lorena Stove,
originally designed in Switzerland, require only one-half of the wood
formerly used for household cooking.
As Dian Desa over the past decade became an "institutional entrepreneur,"
with maturing leadership, SOEDJARWO determined to practice what he preached
and instituted income-generating projects to reduce reliance on outside aid,
both by villagers and Dian Desa itself. A special highland clove provided to
villagers yields of buds worth US$10 per kilogram. Poultry farming on a
small scale has been made economic with a feed composed partly of snails and
earthworms, and by a method for preserving fresh eggs for six months. Eels
are raised commercially and coffee processed and marketed. The winged bean,
grown by the farmers, is manufactured into bean cakes and catsup by the
The crux of Dian Desa's success is that it encourages a radical change from
the mendicant mentality that governments and others unknowingly foster. It
tells villagers bluntly: "If you do not want to help yourselves and prefer
to starve, that is your choice. We are not Santa Claus. All we offer is to
show you how to work for what you need."
SOEDJARWO has turned down attractive job opportunities in Jakarta, but took
time to start a course on village-relevant engineering at Gajah Mada
University. Now 35, he has become an example. For a growing number of young
Indonesians impatient for change, he offers evidence that outside of
government there are opportunities awaiting their creative efforts for
bettering rural living.
In electing ANTON SOEDJARWO to receive the 1983 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his stimulating
Javanese villagers to genuine self-reliance with simple, readily applicable