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By Mirwais Jalalzai ::  Korea was broke by Japanese colonization and civil Korean war. In 1950s, the plight of Koreans was miserable and the nation was extremely poor, with very little food to survive. Harsh winters added to their miseries and ‘food n shelter’ was first priority for all Koreans.

Per capita income was $79 in 1960, while that of Afghanistan was  the same during the same Year.

Koreans studied deferent development plans of the regional countries and they started seeing the results in shape of industrial growth and development of cities, but the rural areas were still lagging far behind.

Koreans by the strong leadership of Park Jung Hee the father of the current president of South korea,  soon realized that sustainable growth cannot be achieved without villages development. The standard of life in the villages was very low, with only 20% of the villages having electricity and only 20 % houses having roof.

Many Koreans did not have access to 3 time food and other life gods.

Roads, infrastructure, tools and equipment for farming were missing altogether.

The only positive thing was that literacy rate was good and mandatory military service for all men above 18 produced a disciplined workforce.

In 1970, Saemul Undong (New Village Movement) was launched, aiming at improving the life of villagers.

The idea was to pave the gap between rural and urban life, improving the living standard in rural areas and increasing the opportunities for the villagers to earn more. The idea was to stop migration to cities. ‘A better village to live in’ was the goal of the movement.

Korean Journalist

The underlying spirit was to work with diligence, as the ‘early bird catches the worm’, there is no freebie in the world, so make an effort to achieve what you want.

The spirit of cooperation was also very important, as one cannot wash their face with one finger.
Government started with SMU in a unique way.

They asked the villagers to participate in the program on self-help basis. Three principles of ‘diligence, self help and cooperation’  were decided to be the basis of the movement.
When the movement started, government was not in a very good financial situation, so they asked for the cooperation of residents of villages.

It provided 335 packs of cement to each of 33,267 villages in the country. Government suggested ten projects such as making roads, reforming roofs of homes, constructing public wells, making small water reservoirs and small bridges etc .

Villagers had to decide one of the projects and then implement it. They had to arrange the material such as sand and pebbles themselves, and had to work together to execute the project. They had to select Seamaul leaders for themselves, who were volunteers, and would play the role of coordinators and arbitrators.

This produced amazing results; a lot of villages improved very quickly, and more and more were joining the movement actively. Based on this, government classified the villages into three categories according to their progress, and supported the outstanding villages more, which generated high competition.
On that time Projects were focused to improve roads to the farms so that tractors and other machinery could be used in farming. Farmers were provided with basic tools and were trained for the better productivity.

Irrigation system was improved and small water reservoirs were built to preserve water. Also green houses were developed to do farming in winters. Investments were done in live-stocks and villagers were encouraged to grow live-stock for better income.
Agricultural complexes were made for profitable products such as mushrooms and tobacco, which helped to increase over all income. Greenhouses allowed farmers to harvest during harsh winter season. Fishing villages changed their production methods from fishing to breeding fish.

All of this improved the income level of villagers.

As a result, agriculture household income was more than that of city workers. After only four years, the rural community household income was $674, more than that of urban household income of $644. This economic growth led to subjugate poverty and brought revolution in the mindset of people.
Electricity and water supply, agriculture machinery, irrigation system, all were aimed to improve the life of villagers with their involvement. The concepts of hard-work and self-help were embedded in this whole movement.

Korea today has become one of the top growing economies in the world, the 20th expansive country, with GDP of around 24000 USD per capita, (remember in 1960, Korea was at $79, and Afghanistan was  almost   the same ).

This is despite the fact that Korea has no natural resources, and it relies only on its human resource.  It is now one of the most advanced countries in internet usage, banking system and industrialized nation.

Even Afghanistan have also reach main sources but still the people are in very poor condation and the GDP is under 550 USD.

Our villages are usually big, and we lack consensus on leadership and projects. We are heavily divided and our women don’t work usually as labour workforce in building the bridges and widening the roads. So we need to make certain changes in this model and in our society too, for our growth and development.

In my country Afghanistan , ‘actions must speak louder than words’, so the projects must be aimed at ‘doing more-talking less’ spirit.

The basic element in these projects should be consistency and continuity, learning from past experiences and improving with time.

We can learn from these experiences as we are a resource rich country.

We don’t have the problem of poverty similar to that of Koreans, our infra structure is not very up to the mark, but we do have something to build upon, so we don’t have to start from zero.

Another point to focus is to increase the income of villagers, to stop urbanization which is a big problem in our country now a day .

We believe in giving alms and charity,  but instead we should focus more on trying to make poor people earn more money. Increasing their income will change their mentality.

As I mentioned earlier, Saemaul Undong wasn’t focusing on education and public health in the start, because people were mostly concerned about food and shelter, but as the movement went on to bring the change, people started thinking about education, health, learning opportunities and community life. Koreans did that successfully and now their rural life has almost all the facilities of their urban life so more and more people are preferring rural life.

In short, collaborative efforts will bring change, and rural development is the key to sustainable development even in the industrialized nations. Following are the words of President Park Jung Hee.

‘Unless the residents have a desire of self-help for the change of their life, even if they wait for 5000 years, there will be no change. If the village residents try to change their life now, even with little support of government, they will be able to change their life in 2-3 years’.

These simple words underline the spirit of the movement. No one will bring change for you, if you don’t want it yourself. And small consistent changes, will lead to a big and visible transformation.

Afghan people and government  have storng support of interrnationl community spical the support of the  South Korean government, and a tem of 15 members of deferent afghan governmental ministries are here in Korea to learn how to open the way for  rural and agricultural development in there country.

This program is lunched by KOICA ( Korea international corporation agency) and afghan experts will soon sheer what they learn from the Korean experts with there colleagues in Afghanistan.

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