I know what you’re going to ask.
I’ve been to South Africa twice now, so which trip was my favourite?
And that’s one question I just can’t answer. There is no way I can choose between both experiences because they were so different from each other.
The first time I travelled to Africa I was very much an idealist. Although I’d been told time and again that I was not going to change the world, I still believed that there was some way I could make a difference and I was shattered when I realized that I was just a blip on the radar, at best.
Now, I don’t believe I can change the world. But I do believe that no act of kindness (no matter how small) goes unnoticed. At least if I do something good for someone, they will pass it on or appreciate it. Like giving out school uniforms. Yes, one girl has one school uniform that might last her a few years. But it’s the fact that she now wears a new school uniform which will give her the confidence to raise her hand in class that is important.
Non-profit and nongovernmental organization work is about crunching numbers. It’s about getting the most bang for the buck you’ve been donated. Pinching pennies works wonders, especially in developing countries and although there are necessities that people need, some things are luxuries. I feel sad to admit that when you work with people who have nothing, they will ask for everything.
So organizations have to be thrifty with their compassion and with their money because there are other people with necessities – hundreds of thousands of people with necessities that must be met. Two school uniforms is a necessity, a paraffin lamp so your house doesn’t light on fire is a necessity.
Besides learning to differentiate between people’s wants and needs from a bare development perspective and becoming more of a realist, I found a large difference in my support back home.
There are some things I didn’t report on, or video. There are some things I photographed that I will not show you because I am afraid you would pity me for having seen what I have seen, and not grieve or find compassion for those I’ve helped. There is a difference between flaunting what I’ve seen that at the end of the day haunts me so that people will recognize what I’ve done, and giving people the information and the evidence of a world that needs their help.
Which leads me to another dilemma – how do we help?
NGOs are essentially useless – anyone who has taken a political science course has heard this before. Volunteer and relief organizations exist because governments have failed people. For this reason, I do not see any NGO as being anything but a relief organization (sustainability is just unattainable) that exists to take the place of governments that have failed their people.
And that’s what I’ve learned – or maybe I’ve just become more jaded.
I think it’s probably that I’ve just grown up. I believe that through knowledge and expertise I can change the world in a small way, not necessarily through actions. And that’s the biggest difference between my two experiences in Africa.
So none was better than the other; they were different.
I’m sure that’s the answer you expected.
Monday, June 1, 2009
I do apologize for that video blog and promise you, at the request of my mom, that my next one be much more uplifting.
I’ve already admitted that last year I gained so much perspective from my trip that this time around I wanted to help you gain some perspective and get to know Africa on a different level apart from what you see on TV or in movies.
And I guess this is it.
Strokes are extremely common here, a result of endemic high blood pressures that are probably the result of a very unbalanced diet in the region.
I’ve noticed that although commercials on TV show you the suffering of children (probably because that pulls on your heartstrings the most and gets you to open your wallet wider) the elderly suffer in painful silence.
Last year, because I worked at the crèches, I saw more sick children and rarely saw adults. Now, on home-based care, I’ve really been shocked by the way the elderly suffer.
This is not to say that the old are always abandoned. There have been at least three instances while I’ve been here that I’ve seen children abandoned. It's just that society back in Canada so often caters to the aging baby boomer population that it is such a juxtaposition with this society that has no infrastructure for the elderly.
This day was tougher than others just because of a combination of many factors. Normally home based care has a very uplifting house visit that counteracts the emotions brought on by a heart wrenching one.
And of course, learning from Jenna has been a great experience. She just graduated and is now a doctor so she’s been teaching me so much about dressing wounds and diagnosing the symptoms we keep seeing over and over again, mostly TB.
Which brings me to the last girl in the video, suffering from TB. This is the fourth individual we’ve seen with active, contagious TB and they all generally look like she does.
It has been suggested that this region has the highest HIV and TB co-infection rate in the world and it’s obvious with every passing day that it’s a problem. Mostly because TB medication is a strict six month regimen and people are reluctant to stay on the meds that long, can’t get to the clinic to receive their full rounds, or the clinic runs out of medication to give them.
It’s frustrating to see the faltering healthcare system in the country. But there is a silver lining; the construction of the new clinic in Khula is supposed to be finished by the end of the year and hopefully African Impact can expand upon their medical project to involve volunteers working at the new state clinic. There is hope for the future!
Until next time