I’ve been thinking for days about what to write and admittedly, I’m still at a loss. I’m not hearing bombs explode around me, I’m not seeing sick children or poverty-stricken villagers as I travel to work. I see nice suburbs, new cars, modern skyscrapers and clean parks. But, this can be as much a curse for Malaysia, as it is a blessing. Sometimes I feel like the situation is too comfortable to make a compelling story.
My lack of inspiration and the difficulty of finding a story that pulls at the heartstrings, to some extent mirrors the development dilemma that Malaysia itself faces. For news (and sometimes blogs), the saying “if it bleeds, it leads” all too often applies. In some ways it is the same with development assistance. If you don’t appear needy enough, the world assumes you’re all doing well and looks for more desperate cases to help. On the surface, Malaysia looks like an incredibly advanced country, and indeed, in several areas, it is. But, like many countries that experience rapid development the benefits are not always felt equally throughout society and there are many who very much still live in Third World conditions. These are the growing pains of economic development. Those that are part of a business enterprise will experience growth more quickly than the people at the bottom of the economic ladder who must still struggle to make ends meet everyday. Not only that, but the effects of the country’s development can even make their lives more difficult.
This all stems from a conversation I was having recently about how the baskets from eHomemakers’ Salaam Wanita project (www.justmarketing.info) would face price competition on the world market if we hope to supply internationally. With development come rising prices – so the group of disadvantaged women that we help actually now find it more difficult to buy the foods and other products that they require to meet their daily needs. For them, the situation has become worse, not better. As the cost of living goes up, people need more money to survive and thus want to charge more the baskets that they weave. But their skills do not always increase in tandem with the economy. They must now compete with neighboring countries, whose standard of living is much lower, who are skilled in some of the same crafts, but have much lower costs. When we talk about exporting to far-flung markets like the U.S. and Europe, the Salaam Wanita women must compete with an even more diverse range of craftsmen – now even including Africa and South America. Malaysia’s handicrafts become too expensive because the women must earn more here in order to attain the same living standards. So, while the country is very advanced in many aspects of its infrastructure, those that don’t directly participate in the development find themselves at a crossroads – this is the situation for many of the women that we are trying to help and it becomes a daily challenge to find innovative ways to assist them, without going under ourselves.
Appearances mean a lot. Individuals and organizations become less interested in providing assistance to a country that seemingly, is doing quite well. This outward appearance does not mean, however, that everyone in society is flourishing. The difficulty is in convincing those on the outside that the sparkling Petronas Towers and newspaper articles about prospering businessmen are not necessarily representative of the conditions of the entire whole population. Malaysia is making great advances, true, but it is still a developing country in many ways and there are still many people that need outside help. Unfortunately, because of perceptions, the story becomes a harder sell.
Posted By Melissa Muscio (Malaysia)
Posted Jun 23rd, 2006