APRIL 19, 1961
NEW YORK—There is a fascinating project now at work under the inspiration of the International Mass Education Movement. Dr. James Yen, who inspired and started the project, sent me the other day a report written by Dr. Carter Davidson, president of Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., who recently made a special two-week visit to the Philippines to see the work of the Rural Reconstruction Movement, a civic movement which the International Mass Education Movement began to promote in 1952 and to which it has been giving financial and technical cooperation ever since.
Dr. Davidson visited 38 villages and his conclusion is that the pattern being carried out in the Philippines might possibly be one that could be used in other areas of the world.
Dr. Davidson remarked that we are inclined to forget that the United States, Great Britain and two or three other nations of Western Europe are the only countries in the world that are not primarily agricultural in their economy. In our nation he says the farm population is only about 10 percent of the total population and yet it produces more food than the rest of the nation can consume!
On the other hand, in the Philippines, China, India, Burma, Indonesia, Africa, and South America an average of 85 percent of the population still lives in farming villages and are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.
In the Philippines alone there are 23,000 farm villages with a population averaging from 400 to 1,500 in each village. During the time when the U.S. occupied the Philippines we established elementary schools throughout the country, but in spite of this fact there is a large percentage of illiteracy in the population of these rural areas. Even those who have learned to read soon forget because there is so little reading material to keep them interested.
The four great problems in the underdeveloped countries are poverty, ignorance, disease and bad government. With these problems in mind the Mass Education Movement began by recruiting university graduates in the Philippines who, after a period of training, signed up for two years' work in some farm village. The cost is about $1,000 a year per student. The remuneration is only $50 a month to each teacher but, since the average yearly income of the head of a family in the villages is about $150 in American money, this must seem magnificent pay in the villages. The rest of the money is used for supplies and materials needed on the project.
Dr. Davidson says: "My wife and I were, of course, impressed first of all by the physical changes that were visible in the villages which we entered. The fencing along the roads, the planting of flowering shrubs, the installations of sanitary toilets, the improvements in the breeds of chickens and pigs, the barrio (village) centers with their clinics and their seed nurseries and experimental farms—these were all clear evidence of improvement in the village life.
"But the spiritual changes were apparently even greater. There was a new vision and a new hope which shone in the eyes of the Philippine farmers and their families. We shall never forget the spirit of joyfulness which pervaded so many of the occasions when we visited the villages."
Helping people to help themselves is the most rewarding way of working for others that I know of, and this method of work started in the Philippines may well be a pattern for much other work throughout the world.
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Now to a question which is purely national. This came to me in a letter the other day from Illinois and I think I can best bring it to you by quoting from the letter:
"Sunday commercialism! What is going to happen in a few years after a small group of rich, powerful men, with merger after merger, control and by doing so destroy small business people throughout the country by being open Sundays? And by doing most of their business on Sundays they also destroy an America of family life, on the day of for rest and worship."
The lady writing me is middle-aged, of Irish-German parents, born in Chicago. She has two children and several grandchildren. She is troubled because these wholesale mergers make it possible to sell at a lower price than the retail stores can manage and to keep open on Sundays when the little stores observe the traditional day of rest.
The answer, of course, is that our country is a religious country and our people should not use this day of rest to do their shopping, even at lower prices. It undermines the structure of the family because it means that those who serve in these shops lose their day with their families. They may get time off on other days to make up, but this does not in truth make up for the day which was intended to be the day when families worshipped together and played together.
In many cases we have added Saturdays to the Sunday holiday and this has become a traditional day for rest and pleasure. But we should not forget the meaning of the Sunday of rest from all "commercialism."