N E W S A N D N O T E S " O P E R A T I O N B O O T S T R A P...
N E W S A N D N O T E S
" O P E R A T I O N B O O T S T R A P " P U E R T O R I C O — A H I L L S I D E V I E W *
We left the main road about forty miles wood from rotting. A successful furniture
south of San Juan, somewhere between merchant had acquired a large parcel of
Caguas and Gayey. We were in the hills now land on either side of the road to use for
and one was pleasantly conscious of the grazing cattle and horses. He had also built
cooler air. T h e road was narrow and at a house which he occupied whenever
points in need of repair. At irregular inter-
he came to spend time in the area. It
vals on each side, dwellings stood, some on was he who had installed the water
flat land, some on sloping land, some larger, pipe and any one who sought water
some smaller; for the most part modest there paid for it. Presently the woman
shelters becoming more shack-like as one reappeared from behind the house with some
went further into the hills. Here and there fruit or vegetable she had gathered. T h e little
a high, thatched shed h a d been built for girl had been sitting patiently by the side of
tobacco.
the road, her hands folded in her lap, her
gentle eyes watching us as we stood nearby.
We stopped and talked with a farmer For all the world she was like a lovely flower.
who was returning from work. As we stood The woman then helped place the pail of
talking, a young m a n in a small truck drew water on the little girl's head, having first
up beside us. His face was aglow with eager-
dashed some water out to lighten the load,
ness, curious to know when they would be and then she fitted the much heavier
able to start building the extension to the container against her own hip. With a quiet
road. We motored on to the end of the road dignity and an "adios" they were on their
and then made our way by foot over the way home, down the rough passage that
very crude trail t h a t served as a road for wound its way among the hills.
twenty-five families scattered among the
hills.
While we were standing together looking
As we stood looking out over the land, a across the folding hills, over land t h a t seemed
woman and a small girl, both with bare not to be yielding its full potential in
feet, appeared from around the bend, one productivity, land that might well have
with a pail, the other with a large can. They benefited from the skilled attention of some
went over to the edge of the road and the one specialized in agriculture, an older m a n
little girl climbed up into the field to turn on carrying his macheta (long knife used in
water which then flowed through a short cutting sugar cane) came upon us. He was
piece of hose. T h e woman filled the two returning from a day's work. He was weary
containers and the water was turned off and worn, yet one could readily sense a
again. We inquired about the tin cans and quality of serenity about the man, resignation
metal pieces that had been put over the fence perhaps, but a proud independence notwith-
posts to learn that these were to protect the standing. He showed us where his home
*In this note, specially contributed to the Journal, Prof. Charles Hendry, Dean of the
Toronto University School of Social Work, gives a personalized and sensitive account
of a meeting of hill folk in far-off Puerto Rico and of the part played by a skilled com-
munity organizer in bringing them together.

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stood, around a bend in the distance. He the meeting soon to get under way. About
told us about his family including the grand-
twenty b a n t a m chairs, arranged in a circle,
children. He felt good when he learned that awaited those who were to participate. A
the plan so long in the making, to extend few older girls, dressed attractively for the
the road, h a d been approved that very occasion, stood expectantly a n d shyly in the
morning and that the community would be background. Women, in the house beside the
meeting a bit later in the evening to decide road, were busily engaged inside while
u p o n next steps. " M a y b e " , he said, "I will children played on the porch. T h e m a n to
live long enough to see an electric light bulb whom we had talked earlier h a d exchanged
u p here."
his work clothes for a fresh pair of trousers,
a white shirt and a straw hat. Others too
I watched this m a n intently as he talked had dressed with special care for the meeting.
with Carmen Isales in his native tongue. After the meeting had started, with some of
T h e maturity of a life experience laden the seats empty, a woman arrived wearing
with austerity, in intimate and continuous a large white bathtowel over her head and
association with the soil, found eloquent shoulders. Very soon she entered into the
expression in his easy stance, his relaxed con-
discussion. A young girl of about sixteen
versation, the weathered lines of his radiant came with her and sat awkwardly beside her.
face, the uneven wear of teeth, the dusky Before long every seat was taken, often by
hue of his ancient felt hat. At length, young children, while oldsters stood patiently
grasping his long knife in a fresh position, behind the circle of chairs.
he bade us good-bye and soon was out of
sight.
T h e radio by now h a d been turned off,
but the store was kept open, creating a busy,
T h e group organizer had arrived late. sometimes a very noisy thoroughfare. Several
An emergency in the community where he persons and one man, in particular, kept
himself lived, a failure in the water supply, themselves well lubricated during the
h a d prevented him from coming earlier, to evening. Children ran about having a
go from home to home, to tell the people of glorious carefree time while a group of ten
the meeting. He had his jeep station-wagon, or twelve young boys turned the back of a
capable of going almost anywhere, and in it truck into a miniature playground. Only
the equipment needed for his work - a pro-
once did the group organizer attempt to lure
jector, batteries, electric lights, small folding the younger element to the meeting. No one
metal chairs, etc. W h e n we came along he really seemed to be the least bit disturbed
h a d parked his jeep in front of a little store by the commotion, so intent were they on the
beside a private home in a clearing by the meeting itself.
road, midway along the route.
I judged the meeting lasted about one
Darkness was falling. T h e night air now hour and a half. Although most of the
was on the chilly side. Music from a radio talking was done by six or seven persons, as
in the store supplied gay background as many again had something to say, and there
children romped about. Adults gradually, was no one who failed to follow the discussion
one by one, sometimes two together, con-
with intense interest. T h e group organizer
verged on the place of meeting. T h e group who acted as discussion leader had his hands
organizer h a d strung a wire from his truck full. O n e man, the political leader in the
across the open area and attached a light to community, a m a n accustomed to the
a pole to provide needed illumination for exercise of authority, but now aware of the

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371
usefulness of full and frank discussion taminated. Others were equally convinced
spoke with such vigour and with such that the water was pure. It became
extreme animation that one who did not apparent that those who thought that the
know him would have thought he was about water was safe for drinking and general use
ready to annihilate anyone who opposed were friends of the m a n who controlled the
him. Another man invariably would lean water outlet. He himself was not at the
over and pick up a small stone, each time meeting. T h e old fellow who provided the
he was about to speak, throwing it up and running commentary joked about it all. He
catching it, time and time again, as he spoke, would say, "Why sure, the water is fine.
more controlled but no less vigorous than All you have to do is to patch up the water
the political leader who sat across from him. cistern with a little cement and everything
O n e m a n moved about in back of the will be o.k." And then, after a pause, he
meeting circle, physically removed but psy-
would add with variations, "But I tell you
chologically very m u c h a part of the group. I won't touch that water with a ten-foot
He was one of the persons who fortified pole." T h e political leader, for his part
himself at frequent intervals at the store. insisted that they must invite the expert on
His unscheduled commentary on the pro-
water supply to inspect their water. T h e n ,
ceedings brought laughter and broke the and then only, would they know, scientific-
tension when the going got rough. Two ally, the truth of the situation. "When we
other men, also standing back of the circle wanted our road we consulted an engineer.
of chairs, got into the discussion. O n e of We must do the same with our water."
these men stood directly behind the
discussion leader. He tried initially to
Although I could not understand what
whisper his ideas to the discussion leader, actually was being said in Spanish, I could
but the discussion leader skilfully encouraged follow the dynamics of the meeting. T h e
him to say what he had on his mind to the group organizer obviously h a d to work h a r d
whole group. Twice, toward the end of the to help the group move forward. T h e field
meeting, two other m e n h a d scarcely spoken supervisor, beside whom I sat, from time to
at all, jumped to their feet and participated. time undertook to redefine the situation,
O n e simply wanted to say that there had sharpen the focus of discussion, recall to
been enough talk now. W h a t he wanted mind earlier discussions, help them to build
was action and the response clearly demon-
on what they h a d already accomplished.
strated that that was the mood of the meet-
When she spoke one could sense the respect
ing. T h e other m a n who jumped to his feet in which she was held. She brought clarity,
was the older m a n we had spoken to conviction and confidence into the situation.
beyond the end of the road. Not only did Morale took on new dimensions as she spoke.
he stand u p ; he went across the circle in As we made ready to return to San J u a n the
front of the political leader, waving his arms group organizer, with one or two volunteer
and expressing the delight over the deter-
helpers, folded the chairs and dismantled the
mined though delayed action agreed upon. temporary lighting arrangements. Carmen
He had done this when the group organizer Isales went over to check with him on a
asked what the members of the group had few points about the meeting as he put the
thought about the meeting.
equipment back into his truck. T h e n we were
off to the city.
They had been talking about water. Some
T h e journey back to the home of Fred
expressed concern that the water was con-
and Carmen Wale gave me a chance to ask

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a lot of questions. Fred Wale had remained of the country, food nutrition, water, roads,
in the background during the entire meeting. etc. were introduced, as the people reached
He is the Director of the Division of out to consultants for technical information
Community Development within the Depart-
and advice, and as they worked together
ment of Education in Puerto Rico. Carmen contributing their own labour, securing the
Isales, his wife, is in charge of field opera-
co-operation and financial support of the
tions. She works very closely with the group municipality and drawing on financial and
organizers, each of whom has eight comm-
technical assistance from the central govern-
unities for which he carries responsibility. ment, they gained self-confidence, discovered
T h e group organizer who chaired the comm-
unimagined resources within themselves and
unity meeting we attended, had been active, moved forward to greater self-realization.
at one point in his career, in the labour
"Operation Bootstrap" it has been called by
movement. He had demonstrated an un-
the m a n who inspired this magnificent initia-
usual commitment to the well-being of the tive, Lusi Munoz Marin, the Governor of
6000 labour union members with whom he Puerto Rico. I had read about it first in the
had been associated. He had demonstrated Journal of Social Issues in 1953, and I had
also, to the satisfaction of Fred and Carmen, written a letter to Fred and Carmen telling
that he could shift his orientation from them how deeply impressed I was with their
promoting activities to promoting a process, account of the undertaking. Since then I have
from doing things for and to poeple, to help-
visited and studied "community develop-
ing people work creatively, responsibly and ment" programs around the world, in many
constructively in identifying common con-
different countries. I have now, at long last,
cerns, working out possible plans of action been able to visit Puerto Rico. I have not
and learning progressively to solve their own been disappointed. Here one finds a philoso-
problems.
phy as a program. Here one finds an accent
on growth as well as on development. Here
I learned that it had taken at least one one finds something more akin to gardening
hundred meetings, over several years, to than to engineering. Custodians of human
achieve the level of communication we had resources and their fulfilment. This comes
observed that evening. Before this profes-
reasonably close to describing the rare blen-
sional intervention, most of these people had ding of commitment and competence. I
never attended a meeting or taken part in a discovered in Fred and Carmen Wale whose
formal discussion in their lives. T h e y had spirit gives both vitality and validity to this
come to depend almost entirely on traditional highly significant enterprise.
leaders, men with political connections, men
who were active in municipal affairs, men who
T h a t was Thursday. Today, Saturday, as
were familiar with the big city and who I write about this experience, I am high
could talk with those at the centre of above the Amazon in a Varig-operated jet
political power. Very few came to the propelled French-built Caravelle, enroute to
meetings in the beginning. It was even Rio de Janeiro. T h e contrast between the
difficult to find a place to meet. There was sophistication of this flight and the circums-
a tendency for those who exercised political tances of our meeting with those humble
influence to want meetings held in homes folk back in the hills of Puerto Rico is a
offering a congenial setting. Gradually, as measure of the immense gap that exists the
posters, films and books, each focused on world over between those who enjoy the
a common subject, such as the geography great advantages of scientific and technolo-

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373
gical advances and those for whom even be destroyed. In our massive cities, amid the
water and roads are a luxury almost beyond complexity and confusion of an unpreceden-
their reach. But, I would hasten to add, one ted acceleration of change, anxiety follows
needs to be reminded also that men in remote closely upon the heels of achievement and
places can be alone without being lonely, anonymity threatens individual autonomy
sustained by profound wisdom if not by and integrity. Community development can
great knowledge, filled with the calm of quiet only be built as individuals rediscover that
places between the green of the land and independence and interdependence rest
the blue of the sky, secure whatever Nature's ultimately on individuals who are fit to be
mood, confident t h a t man's soul cannot ever free, with the courage to be—themselves.
Charles E. Hendry