Dependence on bureaucratic systems anywhere can be troubling, but dependence on governmental health agencies in Uganda for the provision of supplies is maddening. Though Suubi has (a surprising amount of) enthusiastic support from the sub-county and district health offices which confer some supplies, these are not always on hand. Each month, Suubi holds an Outreach Day to expand services to outlying villages who would likely otherwise likely not visit our health center. But for the past few months, each time our director or in-charge has attempted to retrieve necessary governmental goods for these Outreach Days, they have been unable to furnish us with what we need. Nurse Bonnie opens the doors to our Maternal and Child Care Day! Instead of reveling in this frustration or spending far beyond our budget for the April Outreach, we evolved this month’s Outreach into something different. We went back to our roots—the true focus of and inspiration behind Suubi lies in improving maternal and child healthcare in the region. Though Suubi provides low-cost services every day, on Wednesday April 8th Suubi hosted a Maternal and Child Care Day offering free antenatal care for pregnant mothers, free checkups and medicine for children, and free immunizations. 63 children received examinations and medicine and 72 received a round of immunizations. Additionally, 70 pregnant women obtained free antenatal check-ups and drugs, which more than doubled the number of mothers who’ve accessed these services since Suubi’s inception. Suubi Midwife Nepoline during one of 70 antenatal visits For the first time, Suubi used strictly its own resources to mobilize the community instead of accessing the government VHTs (village health team). Each Suubi Woman rallied her neighbors, family members, and friends by giving them small slips of paper which contained the relevant information for the day. Mukisa brought announcements to local churches and mosques to publicize over the holiday weekend. Our ambulance driver spent Tuesday riding around the villages with a pre-recorded message blasting on a megaphone. These tactics were cost-effective, community-based, and brought together more women and children than I possibly imagined would come. The brains and heart behind Suubi, Mr. Bernard Mukisa. With so many young mothers together in one place we also held a forum discussion, led by two of our spirited and knowledgeable Suubi Women, for pregnant women to discuss their needs, problems, and experiences. They talked together for hours in an open and accepting environment. They expressed their desires for supportive husbands and compassionate midwives, affordable treatment and comprehensive care. After the success of this dialogue, our team eagerly brainstormed ways to continue providing psycho-social support for pregnant women in the community. With the new Budondo Community Hall set to open in the next month, it will be home to a regular discussion group for these women. Additionally, we hope to hold sensitization seminars for young fathers on their roles and responsibilities to their children and families. Forum for pregnant women, led by our amazing Suubi Women I’ve always vaguely recognized that motherhood is possibly the most thankless and demanding responsibility a person can endure. But living in Budondo and witnessing the tireless effort that women put into caring for their large families has been humbling. The work is hard, but the community here is strong and the struggle is not isolating. As mothers around the world do, they make considerable sacrifices for healthy babies and nourished children. I’m keen to watch this program grow into something beautiful and to watch Suubi more deeply develop its reputation as a hub of love, trust, and compassion for women and children. Baby Praise is unhappy now, but this minute of pain will improve her lifelong health! 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
How one community in rural Ghana is solving complex issues with simple solutions Originally Posted on Medium.com/@mattbautista I think it was Dale Carnegie who first publicized the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It probably seemed pretty genius at the time but now it’s just plain obvious, right? Even in the face of adversity you can create something sweet with an optimistic and positive attitude. But tell me this — when you’re stuck with lemons, have no access to clean water, and can’t afford sugar, what the hell are you supposed to do with them? Suck em dry and convince yourself it tastes just the same? Lesson one in international development: turning lemons into lemonade isn’t always as simple as it seems. Sometimes the odds are stacked against you in a way that makes even something as “simple” as lemonade hard to produce. And, in this field, lemonade takes the form of things we need a lot more than a few satisfied taste buds: healthcare, infrastructure, education — to name a few. How do you even begin to address issues that are a lot more complex than a 3 ingredient summertime brew? What We Need Most According to a recent survey conducted in 9 nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, healthcare and education rank as the two highest priorities for improvement in every single one. In Ghana specifically, 87% of those surveyed noted that the quality of schools in Ghana was a “very big problem.” When a problem dramatically affects a large portion of any country’s population, it seems safe to assume that the effects of these problems are bound to be even more complex in rural settings where government involvement tends to be less present. As Kwode states in his article about education inequality between rural and urban students in Ghana, “rural schools are often characterised by inadequate teachers, poor classroom structures and in some case schools under trees.” When even a rainy day poses a threat to a child’s education it’s no surprise there’s a stark difference between the two settings. One At A Time After having spent the last two months in one of these rural communities, Bawjiase, it’s become obvious that the issue is much more complex than it seems at first glance. The biggest problem with public schools seems to be the lack of cooperation between teachers, the government that employs them, and the students left to suffer the consequences. “There’s no supervision, there’s no connection. The teachers do as they please because of an employer that doesn’t value them highly,” one former public school teacher explained. When most public school teachers show up less than their students and the cost of a higher quality private education can heavily offset the $2–3 average daily income, how is it possible to provide your children with the type of education they need to become self sufficient and, hopefully, take care of you when you’re no longer able to? Meet Dora Abdu One of the individuals able to shed some light on the situation for me was Dora, your typical Bawjiase, badass mother. Her story starts with the sort of story I’ve heard many times during my stay here in rural Ghana — the young death of her father and only guardian leaving her to make up for the loss of income created in his absence. When her father passed away, she was taken in by her grandparents and forced to forgo her education so that she could be put to better use (read: make more immediate income) selling food in the local market. At the time, it wasn’t her choice to skip class and spend her days learning how to turn a profit, but back then, she didn’t have a choice. “I wanted to go to school, I wanted an education, but they wouldn’t help me get one. They wanted me to start earning money instead.” Although it’s easy to shame her grandparents for forcing her to miss out on such a valuable experience, let’s not forget that it’s not the fault of an individual stuck inside a system that seems to be working against them. Had the circumstances been different, had they had more support from their local government and more opportunities to generate sustainable income, her situation might be different. Because they lacked proper support, Dora paid the price of going through her adolescence without a single day of schooling. All of this results in one thing: a lack of valuable skills/knowledge people are willing to pay for. Now, Dora works selling snacks in a nearby town and, between her and her husband, a taxi driver, she’s able to make ends meet — most of the time. But, because of not receiving an education, one thing she still struggles with is affording one for her children. Eric & Beatrice have been enrolled in school ever since they were old enough to attend, but Dora was never happy with the kind of education they received for free in local public schools. She knows she doesn’t want to sacrifice her childrens’ education for extra income, but paying for it seems too difficult to manage when her income sources are never guaranteed. Teaming Up For a Solution When Sofo Elisha, a local community member and foster parent here in Bawjiase, witnessed the lack of quality education being provided to local children he started drawing up plans to build a school to rival city standards while still considering rural drawbacks. In 2013 he started United Hearts and offered a different approach to families looking to invest more in their children’s education. The goal: to provide quality education, comparable to the kind found in urban environments, while understanding the financial constraints of families in the local community. Sofo Elisha, Headmaster Gabi & Nana B But goals are nothing without a plan to put into action. Elisha needed staff that knew the issues his community faced and had personal experience in coming up with unique solutions to these complex issues. His first recruit: Nana B, a young and energetic local who knows this town better than anyone having spent most of his life here with his family; and his second: Headmaster Gabi, with over 10 years experience working in rural education and knowledge of urban standards. Together, they are helping Elisha change the game of education in small town Bawjiase. When Dora found out about United Hearts, she withdrew her children from public school and went straight to Elisha to see about getting her students a high quality education — even if she would have to figure out a way to afford it. Although he would charge school fees like the other private schools, missing a few payments would result in discussing ways the school could help rather than threatening expulsion, making a world of difference for parents like Dora Abdu. 0 0 0 Badass mom tip #1 — Make It Work The financial struggles still continue for Dora, but because United Hearts operates with a different mentality — one based off community support and engagement — she is able to delay payments when she can’t afford school fees. (School fees are $5/trimester, Dora’s income is about $10/month). Now, Eric and Beatrice are enrolled at United Hearts and come home in the evenings bursting with stories to tell about the lessons they’ve learned instead of pocket change to help buy the sugar they were missing. “If they go to school, if they follow what they’re taught and keep learning, they will never be able to say that someone has kept them from getting an education. For that, I’m willing to make some sacrifices.” Thanks to individuals like Sofo Elisha and his team, community organizations are being created to make up for a lack of support and are affording mothers like Dora the opportunity to find a way to make some sweet, sweet lemonade with what she’s been given. I can’t imagine what that tastes like. If you would like to make a donation to United Hearts so that more children can receive the same opportunities Eric and Beatrice have been lucky enough to receive click here. Help us invest in the next generation with one of the most powerful resources available — a quality education.
Mlali is a very small town in the middle of Tanzania. It lies on a plateau at the base of Mt. Mlali, overlooking an iconic and stunning savannah. The roads are made of red dust, which finds its way onto every inch of my body by the end of the day. The sun sinks down peacefully every day beyond the horizon of acacia trees, then gives way to a moon that looks red each night when it rises. I believe it’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I was welcomed to Mlali by Mama Faith, who is married to Athanas Sekwiha. Athanas’s sister, Kilines, started the Queen Elizabeth Academy. Athanas is a teacher at the school, and Mama Faith is the school cook. It’s sort of like a family band, except instead of forming a band, they started a school. I live in a lovely little apartment on the family compound, which also houses Athanas and Kili’s parents, Babu and Bibi, as well as other nieces, nephews, and relatives, all of whom play a role at QEA. The Queen Elizabeth Academy is sort of like The Little Engine That Could: in spite of countless setbacks, it has persevered. The team of people who run the school are change-makers with heart and grit that are extraordinary. There are dozens of times when it would have been far easier for them to bow down to the status quo as something acceptable, yet their love-driven work is turning their dream into a reality, one piece at a time. In addition to the school’s strong academic standing (it was ranked #7 in the district last year), QEA is a beautiful little microcosm in its community. The school farm began three months ago and employs a parent as the head gardener. In addition to providing food for school lunches, the farm has already sold enough produce to pay the salary for the gardener and the watchman. Over 2,000 trees have been planted on the 36 acres of land, which were granted to QEA by the town of Mlali. These trees will provide additional income as the delicious bananas, papayas, and mangoes grow and sell. Equally as important, other trees have been planted specifically to help prevent erosion. The foundation for the boarding house is coming along very nicely! I do believe the boarders at QEA will have the nicest view in all of Mlali! The masons are working very hard each day to make sure the kids have a safe and beautiful home. I feel happy and whole here in Mlali. In the two short weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve had laughs that made my belly hurt and heard stories of grace and beauty and inspiration. I am grateful to be a part of this meaningful work, and blessed to have such wonderful friends and family who have supported this project. With love from here to there….
With 300+ students, 30 teachers and staff members, community members stopping by to meet with Alice about the community housing project or the microfinance project, the campus is always bustling with people and there is always something going on (even during school breaks!). Over the break, the kids loved watching movies, especially Tarzan! Rebecca, one of the three caretakers that live with and care for the kids living in the Orphan’s Home, is one of the most loving and welcoming people I know. “There are always more than a dozen extra kids at Alice’s house — from the 11 children living at the Orphan’s Home to the many neighbors who simply want a safe place to play. Everyone is welcome. So here’s to overflowing dinner tables and a generous kind of love.” – Glorious Volunteer, Erin Brennan-Burke Ebenizer and Amar pose for the camera!
Nellie, Class 4, Age 10 What is the difference you see between boarding school and day school? Because boarding school is so very beautiful. In boarding school teachers they take care of us pupils. I love boarding school. Nellie is the second born in her family, with two brothers and one sister. Her mother works as a waiter, while her father is a laundry worker in Kisumu. Nellie is one of the sweetest girls at Akili, always the first to run up to me and grab my hand! Nellie hopes to be a doctor when she grows up, and LOVES singing (I know this for fact because her voice is always one of the loudest when we’re singing). Please donate to Akili to ensure that girls like Nellie are ALWAYS able to raise their voice! Macreen, Class 4, Age 10 Why do you like the new uniforms? Because it helps us go to school. Macreen is the oldest out of her siblings, living with her hard-working single mother in Obunga, who works in a saloon. Macreen is incredibly shy, but so sweet- you can just see it in her smile in this picture! Please donate to ensure girls’ education for girls like Macreen 🙂 Mary, Class 4, Age 10 Why is education important for young girls? I should go to school to learn. Mary lives with her mother, a vegetable vendor, and her father, a tailor in Obunga. She is one out of nine, and her parents work hard to ensure that all the kids are in school. Mary is incredibly friendly and has many friends at Akili, she also happens to be one of the sassiest girls! She hopes to be a doctor in the future, and is very dedicated to her education, ranking in the top three of Class 4. Please support feisty, funny, and lovable girls like Mary to continue their education! Jane, Class 4, Age 10 Why do you love Akili? Because we learn. There are teachers in Akili. There are classes. Jane lives with her five siblings and parents in Obunga, where her parents work as a firewood vendor and a fishmonger. Her dream is to be a nurse when she becomes older. Help ensure a bright future for girls like Jane by donating here.
The team has made so much progress on the shop units over the past two weeks! I can’t believe that, in such a short amount of time, the foundation for the shop units is almost done! As discussed in the first shop units update, the shop units will provide rent-free space for QEA to sell their surplus from the school farm and fish pond. Not only will the school shops be income generating for QEA, but they will also provide many other benefits to the greater community. Due to the shop units prime location, they will be able to service people from all over the region who come to the area to visit the church, secondary school and hospital. Here are just a few examples of how the shop units will positively impact the community of Mlali and surrounding region: 1) Kids will be able to stop at the shop to pick up supplies on their way to school. 2) Typically, family members of those in the hospital stay outside the hospital for the duration of the patients stay. During this time, the family members are responsible for bathing them and providing them with meals. The shop units will the perfect place for families to pick up supplies and food while their family member is recovering in the hospital. 3) Right now, Mlali is going through what is called the “season of hunger”. What this means is that the community is waiting for their next harvest to be ready, which causes there to be less produce available to be sold, less food available to be purchased, and ultimately, leaves many people unable to bring an income into their home and many people searching for other ways to find work to make money. The shop unit project has employed a team of builders for this long term project which allows the builders to make enough money to provide for their families during the season of hunger. As you may know by now, today was my last day in Mlali, and I will be heading to Arusha to work with Glorious School for the next few months. Even though I won’t be in Mlali to track the progress of the shops, my fellow global advocate, Barbara Bemer, will be keeping us updated every step of the way! Stay tuned! Take a look at all of the exciting work that’s been done on the shop units in the past two weeks! Builders working hard to finish the foundation. Irene and Felista showing off their dance moves! Foundation all ready for cement! Finished product! As the foundation is the hardest part, now that it is nearly done, the walls and roof will go up in no time! Can’t wait to see the progress we make in the next two weeks! Before saying goodbye, I had to snap a picture with Babu and the head builder!
When it comes to international development we tend to set our sights on the future. Even in my work I have always been forward focused – building, developing, educating. By investing in the next generation we are helping provide access to the tools needed to bring change to a community. There is even a very noticeable trend in international giving; supporting organizations serving children and education. While this does bring amazing opportunity for future change, we are overlooking a population that exists in every community whose needs are often being left under-resourced. Two weeks ago, during an NGO fair, I struck up a conversation with the organization African Impact. Among many other projects African Impact is partnered with Langoni Old People’s Home, locally known as “Wazee” (pronounced Wah-zay, meaning “elderly person” in Swahili), an elderly care facility based here in Moshi. Intrigued by a program outside of my usual education/child-development work, I met with Gill, the program manager, to learn more about their partnership. Here in Tanzania, it is a part of the culture that as the elderly get older they are taken care of by their children, grandchildren, or other family members. However, due to conflict, injury, death, financial strains, and many other reasons, there are a number of individuals growing old and finding themselves without a family to help support them. Wazee is a government funded elderly care facility that was set up in the late 80s/early 90s and currently accommodates 15 residents. Staffed by 1 manager and 4 women, the employees work long hours tending to the basic needs of residents: cleaning and cooking. This leaves little to no time to focus their attention on community building and daytime activities for the elderly. After years of living as neighbors, many of the elderly didn’t even know each other’s names. Gill explained to me that when they first visited Wazee it was a dismal place, a place for the elderly to simply watch the final years of their lives pass by. In 2013 African Impact partnered with Wazee. Working to fill the need for community building programs, their time is focused on stimulating the residents physically, emotionally, and mentally. While the staff continues their work of general operations, African Impacts runs daily group activities such as Arts and Crafts, newspaper reading, seated exercise, ESL classes, a variety of games (yes bingo is a big hit here too), and a community garden (helping diversify the nutrition available to the residents). This past week I volunteered with African Impacts to get a better understanding of their program and impact. Starting our day by greeting each of the residents one by one, we slowly made our way from home to home chatting, sharing jokes, and discussing current events. Through the conversations I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I was reminded of visiting my own grandfather at the home he stayed in before he passed away 2 years ago. I realized how important it was to my mother and me to choose a place for him that would exercise his mind and body, ensuring that the last years of his life were ones of value and joy. So why should this level of care be different for anyone else in the world? After greeting each of the residents at Wazee, the rest of the afternoon was spent doing seated exercise. A mix of stretches and aerobic games to get everyone moving. We were not only ensuring their bodies remain healthy and active, but also providing the space for the community to laugh, chat, and interact together. Where before there was little to no interaction, now when you visit Wazee you will see all residents together chatting under the shade of a tree, sharing stories, and enjoying their final years together as a community. A few years ago a resident at Wazee passed away. With no funding for a funeral or a tombstone this person would have been buried in an unmarked grave, with no celebration or time for mourning. African Impact decided that they would pay for the funerals of the residents at Wazee. After this first funeral African Impacts was receiving feedback from the residents who stated, “you are here with us in life, you are also here with us in death, you are our family now. 0 0 0 Vulnerable communities come in all different shapes, sizes, and ages. When considering community development we must think of all members of the community. Yes, it is important to invest in the next generation, but it is important to not hold such a narrow focus on the future. There are individuals today that deserve equal attention. For centuries, cultures around the globe have respected the advice, wisdom, and guidance provided by the elderly. It is important we also respect their need for our support as they continue to age, ensuring their final years are ones of comfort and peace. Call to action One of the major issues found at Wazee is theft. With no wall surrounding their space, the residents are left unprotected from thieves coming to take advantage of the vulnerable residents. One woman’s three-year-old toothbrush was even stolen. African Impact is currently raising funds to help build a wall around Wazee. If you would like to support the their efforts please click here.
This extra day of February marks the end of my first full month here in Kisumu. Time has flown and I’m taking a moment to look back on the incredible amount of progress I’ve seen at the Rita Rose Garden & Sustainable Farm in the relatively short time I’ve been here. All of the crops are thriving, despite the very hot sun and the small amount of rain we’ve been receiving lately. We’re lucky to have ample water at the farm thanks to a very deep borehole and two large holding tanks. Although Peter and the farm staff have been watering the plants manually (which takes hours out of their days), we now have a functional drip irrigation system that saves them time and energy. They have had no trouble filling that time with other crucial farm activities like weeding, planting and harvesting. Peter has identified a market for the beautiful eggplant he grows. The first day he went to town to sell them, he came back with 500 Kenyan shillings (that’s enough to buy food a child for almost a whole week)! There are lots more of these delicious vegetables growing at the farm and I’ve even bought a few to include in my own cooking! I had the opportunity to help Peter transplant onions from the nursery he constructed into one of our 3 greenhouses. They’re growing very well and, in a month or two, Erick estimates we’ll be able to harvest about 10,000 Kenyan shillings worth of onions! 0 0 0 We also have flourishing kale, spinach, cassava, and African nightshade providing all the nutritional goodness of leafy greens to the children at the Kisumu Children’s Rescue Center. Recently, Joseph (one of our wonderful farm staff members) planted banana trees! Next year there will be delicious fruit growing on them that will make the children’s bellies very happy and provide some extra revenue for the Rescue Center. *Photos by Lexi Spaulding 0 0 0 0 All of these plants are nourished by organic mulch made from bio-waste materials around the farm. Peter has created a 42 day composting process using these three pits. Waste is placed in the first pit, where it decomposes for 14 days. It is then turned over and placed into the second pit, where it continues to decompose for 14 more days. The last two week period sees the final decomposition as the waste is transformed into useful compost that will help our plants thrive. *Photo by Lexi Spaulding Peter is also well-versed in the uses of different trees on the farm and he has pointed out both moringa and thithonia as being highly nutritious when turned into liquid fertilizer. In addition to this, these trees have excellent health properties for livestock and humans alike. *Photo by Lexi Spaulding Speaking of livestock, we have some now!! The goat house was renovated to provide maximum ventilation and comfort to the 6 dairy goats we bought (soon to be 7 – one of them will give birth in a couple of months). Our dairy goats are a combination of Saanens and British Alpines, which produce good milk that will be sold as a source of revenue for the Rescue Center. Their manure is also a highly nutritious snack for our plants, and they feed mainly on leafy greens that can be found around the farm. They’re a great addition to the Rita Rose Garden & Sustainable Farm! In other exciting news, one of them is named Erin(!!) There’s also one named after last year’s Global Advocate Lexi, twins named Mary Kate and Ashley, our soon-to-be mother named Angelina (for the big gorgeous smile she always seems to be wearing), and our buck named Jack Bauer (Erick and I have both enjoyed the series 24 and we thought our male goat needed to be named after someone fierce so he can protect his many ladies). *Photos by Lexi Spaulding 0 0 0 0 We’re also eagerly anticipating the arrival of 150 chicks at our newly constructed poultry house! They’ll lay eggs that will be sold to a local hatchery as a source of revenue, and the meat from the older birds will both feed the children at the Rescue Center and add to its income. Like the goats, chickens produce a very important source of nutrients in their manure and our plants will greatly benefit from having them on the farm! *Photo by Lexi Spaulding Once the poultry unit is up and running, our next project will be the transformation of two of the four fishponds into a fingerlings production unit. It’s difficult for tilapia to grow as big as we’d like in the ponds we have, so Erick has explored the market and discovered that the Kibos Fish Farm has a demand that is much too high for it to meet. They’ve agreed to direct their surplus clients to us so we can sell fingerlings to fish farmers in the region. *Photo by Lexi Spaulding Finally, our bee hives are still doing well! We harvested honey for the Rescue Center a few weeks ago and we’re hoping to harvest more to sell in the next couple of months. I’ve been enjoying some honey Erick has from last year’s harvest – it’s both nutritious and delicious! *Photo by Lexi Spaulding I want to send all of you a HUGE thank you for all of your interest and your support. This progress wouldn’t have been attainable without donors like you. All of these farm activities will make a wonderful difference in the lives of the children at the Rescue Center. I absolutely love spending time with them and learning each of their beautiful personalities. I’m confident that with the farm operating at its maximum potential, the team here at OLPS will be able to ensure a future that’s as bright as the awesome smiles on the children’s faces! To help the farm unlock its full potential, spread the word or donate online. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together to support each other. For more frequent updates, follow me on Instagram: @eringilc #hopegrows #hopegrowskisumu
It wasn’t clear what exactly I was expecting to feel after landing in Tanzania, thirteen days ago, but as we sped along the dirt road, I gazed out the window into the unknown and found myself feeling comfort and certainty of a connection to this place. I woke up with a new mama and three sisters, a host family eager to invite me into their lives and kitchen (word is, best in the neighborhood)! Technically, I’m living with one family but quickly learned that everyone I meet becomes an immediate part of this inner circle, a source of constant support, unity and friendship, which makes for an incredibly strong community. This level of civic engagement courses through daily life in Arusha, building infrastructure and effective systems that I imagine, can only be seen by experiencing the relationships firsthand. Members of the community are trusted and held accountable, debts are paid, food is provided, tools are lent, knowledge is shared, education and healthcare covered, and a solid understanding of the importance for well being of all. The incentive? Survival. The most exciting way to travel through Arusha and commute to work everyday is by boda boda. Just hop on the back of almost any motorbike in town and hold on tight, not too tight because you’ll injury yourself if you don’t loosen up while on the rougher dirt roads, and enjoy the views of life happening all around you. Walking can also be extremely pleasant and at the same time overwhelming because you are greeted and acknowledged every step of the way. The eye contact and conversation are refreshing, energizing. The boda bodas may be fast but the pace of life in Tanzania is much slower than what I am used to. I have come to appreciate reducing my walking speed, staying for tea and sharing stories before getting down to business, becoming less dependent on power (electricity is not available 24hrs a day) and my regular need to check in. I have tapped into a new awareness of what surrounds me and my own participation in it all. I have spent my weekdays at Glorious, where I will be working, with the founders and most inspiring, loving couple, Alice and Julius. It is truly a dream to be able to work with this community centered organization and to be part of their future and family. Did I mention the 200 children attending the primary school who I get to spend my free time with? Well, they are ebullient small beings with a thirst for knowledge and experience who approach you with open arms and hearts, demanding your companionship throughout their school time adventures. The wealth in communities in Arusha, Tanzania is unlike any I have experienced before, yet it feels instinctual, familiar, an opportunity to explore what is foreign with a confidence that we are all in this together.
I am spending three months working in a community in Kisumu, Kenya. Kisumu is a contradiction of dusty streets bordered by lush, rolling hills. Modern expansion lives alongside traditional methods in this western Kenyan city. Driving to my house takes you along the super highway, a marvel of concrete and bridges. The highway forks into a dirt track that wouldn’t look out of place on a mountain bike adventure trail. Local motorbikes swerve through rain filled potholes and mud with great skill. Kenya may not have the world’s best education system. However, almost everyone is trilingual, learning English, Kiswahili and their tribe language. Property is less rigidly enforced. Kisumu lacks an ownership registrar, and many plots of land have spray painted signs proclaiming “this property is not for sale”. At first, the law student in me was horrified. How do people count and protect their assets? Freely wandering goats regularly stop highway traffic. Yet all vehicles stop to let them pass. In the Obunga slum, people’s chickens and cows graze indiscriminately. No one watches them, or brands them, or herds them home. Yet they are never stolen. The little Obunga store that sells me drinks should charge extra if you take the glass bottles. Yet I have been trusted to return them days later without paying extra. Market vendors always give “a little extra” food for free, simply because it’s tradition. In Kisumu, traditional systems coexist with modern expansion. The tin houses that populate the Obunga slum surround the Akili Farm The Akili girls have computer classes every week, but are still fascinated by videos of themselves on my laptop The stereotype of poverty stricken families languishing in a slum, flies buzzing around their hopelessness like vultures, is rife in Australia. Now I am actually living here, I appreciate how harmful and belittling these stereotypes are. Ambition, ingenuity and entrepreneurship is everywhere in Kisumu. The unoffical motorbike taxis organise themselves at specific pick up and drop off points. They hold meetings to discuss their productivity. A local group set up a microphone and speakers in Obunga, using music to fundraise for a funeral. People live their lives here. Generalising a community along lines of poverty (seeing only what they lack) completely misses the point, and disempowers the people who have the keys to their own advancement. The Kenyans I’ve met are diverse, and have multifaceted inner lives as complex as anyone in Australia. This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to wrap our minds around. The stereotype of children with distended bellies, eyes huge in shrunken faces, is also harmful. Charities use these images to evoke our pity. We sell pain, promising our White Christian perspective is the only route to pain alleviation. Pity evokes the white saviour complex that imbues much Western aid. From my point of view, selling pity is a fast track to disempowerment on a grassroots level. The girls at my project, the Akili Preparatory Girl’s School, live in a slum. They are bright, complex individuals, with dreams and potential. They eat ugali and kale for lunch, they play games in the local field, they have parents who love them. They are more than the simplistic photos of bare footed urchins we are shown. 0 0 0 0 The charity I work for, Mama Hope, puts the community at the centre of everything. Community leaders decide where funds should be spent, because they understand the complexities of their situation. Project staff (like the Akili Girl’s School teachers) direct my work, because in January I will leave. They are the ones who must live with my decisions. So far, my greatest revelation is this: open mindedness allows us to see the beauty of worlds beyond our own. Your perspective is the smallest slice of the world. Broadening it means you get another piece.
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