What is community development? The Tamil word for “community” is samudayam. It is a compound word composed of sama (“equal”) and adayam (“resource”). When Tamils talk about their community they are literally talking about their “equal resources.” I don’t know to what extent this linguistic denotation is also the conceptual understanding of the word for most people. After all, what native English speaker fixates on the root derivatives of more complex words? Nevertheless I like the Tamil construction of “community,” which to me has an inherent element of social justice not found in the English construction. Samudayam expresses something above and beyond a body of people that share similar characteristics. A community is an entity in which each member contributes to, and has a right to access, the combined products of that entity. Community development involves increasing and improving assets for everyone through, I would argue, the combined effort of everyone in that community. I wonder what the world would look like if more people adopted this progressive interpretation.
It’s now been three weeks since I returned to the U.S. Our last few weeks in Padavedu were rather whirlwind as Rebecca and I rushed to analyze and report on the results of the survey, and also take advantage of as many cultural opportunities as possible before leaving. I learned a lot about rural community development in Tamil Nadu through observing SST’s strategies for community engagement and participation. In an effort to be able to better contribute to NGOs like SST in the future, my coursework this year focuses on organizational and human resource management, program evaluation, and issues of international social welfare (with a focus on rural development strategies). Moving forward, SST will always serve as a case study against which I can test development theories learned in the classroom or during future experiences.
So much of social work involves forging relationships, and “terminating” those relationships (as one says in social work parlance) when the time comes can be difficult. I like to think that my “termination” with SST does not signify a complete severance, but represents more of a transition in my relationship with the organization and its staff members. As I learned during first year in my Direct Practice class, it is foolish to think that only the “client” changes and that the “practitioner” remains static. The “practitioner” may change just as much through her experiences with the “client.” I’d like to think that whatever changes I imparted on SST, its staff, and the Padavedu community were as positive as the changes they affected in me. I look forward to going back at some point, and that I’ll be able to learn a bit more Tamil next time.