Evolution to a New Paradigm

Single-Village Humanitarian Approach

During the late 1980s, CHOICE sent organized expeditions to Bolivia and Peru to help local villagers build a school, a health clinic, or a water system --whatever project would address their most pressing need. Expeditions tended to go to one village at a time and seldom went back to the same community. Participants would work for a week or two, constructing a project and often distributing food, medicine, school supplies, and other donated materials. While much good will for CHOICE was generated through this single-village approach, many of the projects – lacking a formal process for follow-up and long-term support – were short-lived and had only limited impact.

Multi-Village Project-Oriented Approach

In the early to mid-1990s, CHOICE altered the expedition model in an attempt to create a sustained impact. Rural Development Specialists (RDS) were recruited from each of the countries where CHOICE had a presence. After a number of villages in a given area had hosted CHOICE expeditions, an RDS would plan a follow-up visit. Such visits would ensure that completed projects were maintained and that local villagers could identify future options that CHOICE expeditions might support. Simultaneously, the expedition process itself was formalized in order to enhance the experience for CHOICE expedition participants.

One of the unintended consequences of this multi-village project approach, however, was the tendency for project implementation to be based on the particular field of specialization of the RDS involved. An RDS trained in water systems tended to encourage water projects; one trained in literacy or public health emphasized education or medical care. In addition, while each RDS worked with great skill in the implementation of projects, too often the villagers became dependent on this outside role. Rather than move forward with community development planning, they would wait for the RDS to come and identify projects for them.

A Change in Paradigms

Professor James Mayfield, CHOICE Humanitarian co-founder and author of the village Self-Development model.

Historically, development agencies assumed that the key to rural development was the establishment of projects through which resources, technologies, and services could be distributed. This “service delivery” paradigm considered the poor to be “beneficiaries” in need of care. They were thought to be dependent, unable to fend for themselves, and thus reliant on gifts of food, clothing, medicine, and supplies. The paradigm assumed that outsiders knew best, and, that villagers provided with free services and resources would not only be grateful, but would see significant improvement in their lives. Unfortunately, more often than not, the reality was that these “service delivery” programs ended up spawning dependency rather than development, leaving villagers frustrated, disillusioned, or even fatalistic.

Thanks in large part to the field research of CHOICE co-founder Dr. James B. Mayfield, a new paradigm for rural development began to take form in the early 1990s. Dr. Mayfield argued that villagers should be taught to mobilize their own resources. He asserted that the experience of achieving results based on their own efforts would instill an infectious and self-perpetuating sense of pride and dignity in villagers. The old paradigm emphasized physical and material needs, suggesting that people’s standard of living can improve when others take care of them. The new paradigm emphasized the power unleashed when people are free to choose for themselves, suggesting that people’s standard of living will improve when they participate in their own process of decision making. Thus, people can align their lives to a set of cultural values and moral principles that they personally find meaningful and significant.

The CHOICE approach today is based on this “resource mobilization” paradigm. Villagers are mentored through a process designed to help them develop the skills, competencies, and attitudes of self-reliance needed for them to help themselves. Graduated CHOICE villages are able to plan and design their own futures and reduce local poverty levels by creating better access to education, health services, and income generating opportunities.

CHOICE has evolved over the years through various stages of maturation, contributing to countless lives in 12 different countries. Many subsequent directors, staff, board members, and volunteers have shared resources selflessly in their support of the CHOICE vision. People have come from all types of backgrounds and expertise, some bringing their entire families to experience the work and joy of participation in such a vibrant global community. CHOICE Humanitarian is their story, too.