HIGHLIGHTS

  • IIRR, incorporated in the U.S. in 1960 as an international rather than strictly Chinese movement, conducted a worldwide search for a physical site.
  • From the outset IIRR did not attempt to direct development. Rather it sought to serve the Rural Reconstruction Movement (RRM) already in existence in the Philippines, Colombia and Guatemala, and later developed in Thailand, Ghana and India.
  • The Board of Trustees recognizes “its training of agrarian development workers from four continents, enabling them to share experience and ideas for more effective progress.”

 CITATION

The INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RURAL RECONSTRUCTION, or IIRR as it is known to its intimates, is unique among government and non-government agencies attempting to promote development in the Third World. The concepts shaping its efforts had their genesis nearly 70 years ago in France during World War I, where Dr. Y.C.James Yen and associates were teaching illiterate Chinese laborers—sent by the Chinese government to help in the war—to read and write. From this beginning grew the Mass Education Movement (MEM) that was remaking rural life on the north China plain until its leadership was driven out by the Japanese military in 1937. After World War II the United States Congress lent new impetus to the movement, funding the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction that, using adaptations of MEM concepts, led eventually to the transformation of rural Taiwan.

IIRR, incorporated in the U.S. in 1960 as an international rather than strictly Chinese movement, conducted a worldwide search for a physical site. In 1961 it selected a 52 hectare site in Silang, Cavite, Philippines, for its training and research headquarters. Recruitment of the individuals who were to build the INSTITUTE began then, and included Dr.Juan M. Flavier, who became president in 1978 and manages a staff now numbering 160. From the outset IIRR did not attempt to direct development. Rather it sought to serve the Rural Reconstruction Movement (RRM) already in existence in the Philippines, Colombia and Guatemala, and later developed in Thailand, Ghana and India. Workers from these lands have been trained at Silang to return home better equipped to help their neighbors.

IIRR has suffered many setbacks but has achieved much. Soon after the INSTITUTE began its work its approach of small scale, one-on-one rural development went out of fashion; massive schemes to reshape the landscape and rural life commanded both national and international financial support. This change in priorities left the INSTITUTE in the shadows, with many of its hard-earned lessons ignored.

Nevertheless IIRR clung to its precepts: going to the peasants, living among them, planning and working with them, starting with what they knew and had, learning from them and learning by doing. In time this approach proved its worth as decision makers, often reluctantly, recognized that the means as well as the benefactor of development must be the individual.

International training began in Silang in 1965 and in 1971 participants—social workers, planners, donors and missionaries—came from 11 countries and 18 government and non-government agencies to the first training course to be given to non-RRM personnel. Lectures and discussions were matched by field practice in the villages—from building water-sealed toilets to helping farmers with upland rice variety test plots, vegetable and herb gardens and cooperatives.

By 1978 training had become a major aspect of the INSTITUTE. World Vision, Christian Children’s Fund, UNICEF, UN Development Fund, FAO, the Peace Corps and USAID sponsored trainees, as did Save the Children Fund, World Concern, Redd Barna and Foster Parents Plan. Alumni of the full-curriculum courses now total 800.

For the benefit of rural foreign workers who find travel to the Philippines costly, IIRR has instituted training courses abroad. In Kenya three training courses have been given jointly with Voluntary Agencies Development Assistance for 81 participants. In Indonesia similar joint training courses have been presented.

The exchange among rural workers from around the world is generating within IIRR new understanding of the stubborn problems that hobble progress, and some options for overcoming them. The INSTITUTE has yet to become a repository of farming expertise, however, and matching social concern with hardheaded and productive profit on the land remains a near-universal conundrum for development agencies. But by training workers and farmers to organize around their common concerns and thus build a more attractive future in the world’s villages, IIRR, with its accumulated insight, has become an international asset.

In electing the INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RURAL RECONSTRUCTION to receive the 1986 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes its training of agrarian development workers from four continents, enabling them to share experience and ideas for more effective progress.

 RESPONSE

In the name, and on behalf, of all my fellow-workers at the INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RURAL RECONSTRUCTION—and as representative of the countless and nameless rural workers laboring in far-flung villages—I accept this great honor.

In keeping with the institutional nature of the Award, I have with me tonight representatives from every level of our organization.

To begin with, it is not every day that an agency can present its founding father of 63 years ago, himself a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Dr. Y.C. James Yen.

By a stroke of happy coincidence we have visiting with us from the United States, a member of the IIRR board and president of Schott and Associates, consultants in international development, John Schott. We have also two of our vice presidents—Vice President for United States Operations Robert O’Brien, and Vice President for Philippine Operations Antonio de Jesus. Representing the IIRR Senior Staff are Conrado Navarro, Director of Field Operations and Assistant to the President, and Terri Bumanglag, Director of our International Training Division.

Representing IIRR’s six affiliated national rural reconstruction movements—in Asia (India, Philippines, Thailand), in Latin America (Colombia, Guatemala), in Africa (Ghana)—is Saran Kumar of the lndian Rural Reconstruction Movement.

Representing the middle level staff of the INSTITUTE are Lorna Labayen of the Cavite social laboratory, Lito Pastores of the Bicol social laboratory, and Ed Macapal of our Negros operations. Representing the rural reconstruction workers and community facilitators are Bartolome Facun and Lerma Dino. Representing the support services are Rosie Legaspi of the Manila office, Empeon Mallari of the canteen services, and Lily Espineli of the clerical pool.

Representing the barrio farmers are Aling Oyang Tercero of Barrio Tibig, Mang Gorio Reyes of Barrio Pasong Kawayan II, and Juanito Llorente of Barrio Buenavista.

Last but not least, representing IIRR wives and families is my wife, Susan Flavier.

May I request all those from IIRR to stand and remain standing to receive the recognition and thanks of all of us.

In turn we of the INSTITUTE pledge to keep faith with the greatness of spirit, integrity, and devotion to duty of our late, beloved president, Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay.

 BIOGRAPHY

The INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RURAL RECONSTRUCTION (IIRR) was formally incorporated on October 20, 1960 in the United States of America, to “conduct and operate a non-profit school or schools in the Philippine Islands . . . . to prepare men and women from the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America to teach the peoples of these countries the information, skills and abilities necessary to combat poverty and disease and to develop self-reliance and self-government.” Its incorporators—William O. Douglas, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; John W. Leslie, industrialist; DeWitt Wallace, publisher of the Reader’s Digest; and Y.C. James Yen—were building upon an older movement, one whose roots stretched back to the tumultuous 1920s and 1930s in China, when young Chinese reformers sought to achieve solutions to rural problems based on the Christian spirit and democratic means.

The link between China and IIRR was James Yen (1960 International Understanding Awardee for “sharing the wealth of his experience and creative leadership in rural reconstruction in Asia”) who, as a young man in 1923, founded China’s Mass Education Movement. In the 1930s he initiated successful pilot programs in rural reconstruction which emphasized education, public health, economic improvement and self government, an approach he called the Four-Fold Plan. By 1937 there were some 800 Yen-inspired rural reconstruction centers throughout China. Yen and his young admirers, most of them university graduates, some with doctorates, did the then extraordinary thing of teaching, working, eating, drinking and living with villagers.

By the late 1930s, even as Japan advanced steadily throughout China, Yen’s projects were being implemented by the Nationalist government in Hunan and Szechuan provinces. His College of Rural Reconstruction, founded in Pa-hsien County outside Chungking in 1940, was designed to train future leaders attuned to the needs of rural people. In 1948 the Joint (US-Chinese) Commission for Rural Reconstruction (JCRR), which Yen had been instrumental in persuading theU.S. Congress to establish and which was based in large part on his ideas, allocated US$1,000,000 of United States economic aid to his programs. These reached some 60,000,000 people before both Yen and the JCRR had to retreat before the communists to Taiwan.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)