Tuesday, December 4, 2007

If You Died Tomorrow...

... would you be satisfied with your life? Would you be more than content? Would you have regrets? Remorse?

It seems that very few have found the balance between striving for the future of their dreams and living fully in the present. If anyone. Is it even possible? This is a theme that came up several times in previous entries. Stepping outside of MIT, outside of high-paced America, I met so many that were living day by day. Some were forced to live day by day, struggling to get by while others had a little more luxury to look ahead but chose more to focus on the present. This frustrated so many of our students who wanted to work quickly and efficiently, focusing on the end goal and working to reach it... but their culture seemed so much more focused on enjoying the day by day. Taking one hour breaks for tea, another one or two hour break to just sit and enjoy the sun and each other's company. How many times at MIT do we just sit with a friend for several hours in the sun having a nice talk, maybe just sitting in silence, just enjoying being around them and the world around us?

Premeds are often criticized for being too anal, for being too focused on grades and resumes which in the end are for the purpose of getting them into the best medical school possible. Often (though some are blessed with natural talent, luck, and skill), this focus is necessary to obtain the best marks to achieve the highest success in the medical school process. However, is it worth it? When you want to be a doctor more than anything, you think it is, but then when you try to balance out your life geared for your future with your life in the present, your marks may begin to falter. When trying to find this balance, the general advice seems to be work hard, but remember to relax and enjoy what's around you. But this is such a delicate balance. I've been on both extremes, working too hard and forgetting the world around me and not working hard enough but loving life in the present. Is such a balance possible? Do they add up equally?

If you died tomorrow, how would you feel? What would you regret not having done? What would you regret not having said? When you live for tomorrow, what happens to today? but when you live for today, what happens to tomorrow?

Success can be measured in millions of different ways and varies from person to person. But can you ever have it all? Can you be successful on every level? Have everything to your heart's content? Many would argue 'no,' life must have its downsides for you to more deeply appreciate the upsides. However, some would argue 'yes,' with the right attitude and the right combination of motivation and relaxation, you can have it all. But then how much does luck have to do with it? Timing? Skill? Can everyone have it all if they find that magic balance? Or are there just a lucky few that have been born to have it all? Perhaps the trick isn't to have it all, but to be happy with what you have. To live life with no regrets, is not necessarily to have no regrets, but to not focus on them. Pushing the regrets out of your mind and enveloping your thoughts around what you do have, what makes you happy, the people that are around you.

How would I feel if I died tomorrow? How would Emmanuel feel? How would Lucus feel? How would the women in the camps outside of Delhi feel?

How would you feel if you died tomorrow?

Their Eyes were Watching Me

I found this post.... it was while I was in Moshi with no internet :)

Everything I say, everything I do, people are watching and absorbing. Merely by being here, I am imposing my culture upon them. Abdullah invited us to his place for lunch on Thursday, and his wife taught us how to cook some Tanzanian food, very delicious, with fairly simple ingredients (though in America we would probably used canned coconut milk and meat that had not just been chopped off a cow).. Their next door neighbor and her small daughter (they say small instead of young) (her name was Mary) came over and Mary was fascinated by my camera.

I let Mary explore all the buttons and after that she just got fascinated about everything about me. She was playing with my hair, intently investigating the hair tie on my wrist, and investigating the bandaids on my hands (casualties of trying to cook with limited utensils). Mary started copying some of my actions, some really basic things I was doing like dancing with my 2 index fingers, or playing air keyboard without really realizing it… and then it hit me that things I do without even thinking affect someone. And things I do on purpose can affect people in different ways. How can you ever know how you’re changing those around you, whether it’s for the better or the worse? Noone (though some believe differently) ever wants to make things worse for anyone… though sometimes this may be a necessary casualty in their eyes of making things better for themselves

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Quick Update

I've lost the ability to sit and write for hours about my thoughts due to slight inconveniences called classes and exams. However, I would like to give you all a brief update.

(1) I began writing a column in The Tech (the MIT student-run newspaper) which runs every Tuesday (on Fridays when we have no Tuesday issue). Previous articles are archived on the website at http://www-tech.mit.edu/

(2) I will have a gallery opening at the Weisner Gallery on the 2nd floor of the MIT Stratton Student Center in the near future. It is planned for November 15, but may be pushed back until November 21 due to unforseen circumstances.

(3) The unforseen circumstances is that I acquired an infectious disease during my travels and am currently under examination to have it figured out. They are leaning towards Malaria and have given me antibiotics to make many of the symptoms bearable, but this was definitely unexpected.

(4) I am trying to write a book similar to the blog but more inclusive with the interviews I conducted and organized in a more comprehensible format. The book is theoretically to be completed by my graduation and if not then, for MIT's 150th anniversary in 2011. I hope to finish by my graduation.

(5) I have met with several amazing students that are interested in pursuing projects of their own. While I would direct you to the MIT public service center for more formal information about what they are looking for in designing a PSC fellowship, I would love to talk to anyone that is interested in different international development issues and to share ideas that I have for projects or to hear your ideas and try to give my input.

(6) I am trying to learn as much as I can about international development which includes both national and international political situations, different social issues and situations, policies, economies, and so much more. So please, contact me if you're willing to share your opinions/knowledge with me. Conversing can be so much more fun and beneficial than reading at times. :)

(7) I have received several anonymous comments asking questions. While I hope to get around to addressing them publicly on the blog, some are not applicable for an individual blog entry and I cannot guarantee that I will get to it by a certain time, so if you would like to hear back from me sooner, please leave your name and email address or other contact information so that I can answer your questions/continue our discussion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Part IV (b): Welcome to Moshi, Tanzania

About an hour and a half cramped bus ride (5 people to a 4 person seat) on bumpy roads for 2000-2500 tsh leads you to Moshi, Tanzania…it is a bit less scenic than Arusha, not as luscious green… it reminds me more of a typical American suburb, but the mountains that loom overhead, including Kiliminjaro which I hadn't seen yet due to clouds… wow. Majestic. Moshi is significantly smaller than Arusha in size and population, and Shirley and I were able to explore all of Moshi by foot in the matter of only a couple hours. Moshi is quite a bit hotter than Arusha due to its lower altitude, which is nice in the evening but a bit uncomfortable during the day. Though it is very nice compared to the heat of India.

Arriving in Moshi, I met host mommy, a nice Indian woman with 2 sons studying abroad in America and a 18-year-old daughter that was away in Dar at the time. Her English was not very good, but her smile and warm welcome made me feel right at home. We headed to the Kiliminjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC), where the wheelchair clinic is located. From there I met Abdullah, the “boss,” a delightful gentleman that has been confined to a wheelchair due to a motor vehicle accident several years back, but has explored with his mind and charming personality what he cannot do on foot. We went to go visit Peter, a local that had been testing the new wheelchair designs, designed for the rugged roads that throw automobile passengers against the roof (and I say this from experience – though the bump on my head serving as proof has since then subsided) never mind allow a person in a wheelchair designed for smooth roads and tile floors to get anywhere.

My trip in Moshi was fairly short as Shirley had planned a Safari for the two of us over the weekend, and then by her beckoning, lack of photographic opportunities (due to most of her work being on the computer), and a “you absolutely have to go to Zanzibar while you’re here,” I headed off to an island off the coast of Tanzania. But before I talk about leapords and paradise, let me tell you a bit about my experiences in Moshi. There is a Moshi Institute of Technology (MIT) which Shirley and I just had to take a picture of...

Where Would You Be Without an Education?

Have you ever wondered how your life would be different had you never received a formal education? Would you know the things you know now? Would you know that the human body is made up of cells? How about that different species can't mate? How about that you shouldn't drink dirty water? How about how to build a hand tricycle for the physically disabled...

One man that we met in Arusha (sadly I forget his name at the moment, but I will find out) taught himself to design hand tricycles. He has no formal education, he received a little bit of training recently at the association for the handicapped in Arusha, but he created his own design... something that current MIT students are doing! How is it possible? In addition to being in a low economic class, he is physically disabled. There is a great stigma against the physically disabled that they are trying to counteract, but it limits your opportunities even more to be disabled. To the left is an actual photograph of him working on the bike chain of the trike. What would a man like this be able to do WITH an MIT education when he already does this WITHOUT a MIT education! And what will we all do with an MIT education. Is it our duty to make the most out of our education? Or is it up to us since we had to work to get to this position? Or is an MIT education even better than another education? In addition, how can there be such a big difference between people in their knowledge without a formal education? Some don't know basic logic or common sense because they have never learned to think in that way, but here are some that are engineering relatively complex modes of transportation for the disabled...

Pictures from Sibusiso

Overdue pictures... photoshop had stopped working, but now it's all good! These are from Sibusiso, the ngo that is becoming self-sustaining and provides education/therapy to mentally handicapped children and their parents/guardians. They have a program for families that come from far away where the mother and child can stay in one of the guest houses/dorms for free for a month to get training. The first picture is of a mother learning how to give massage therapy to her child and the second is of a child playing in a very large sandbox. They have difficulty walking/sitting up by themselves, so they buried them in the sand to be able to sit up by themselves to play.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What Do You Want More Than Anything :: "Education"

Lucus (one of the men at Mobility Care in Arusha) told me about a 12-year old boy named Emmanual who had to crawl around on his hands for 10 years of his life because his legs are stiff and bowed (they aren't sure why because he has never been able to get checked out). Needless to say, he can't afford crutches or a wheelchair, nevermind an education. Mobility Care found a sponsor for Emmanual when he was 10 to get a wheelchair, telling his mother that she had to send him to school in return for the wheelchair. He went for a while, but the other students would throw things at him and he would be left behind when they went to have fun or do things… and then they ran out of money and he couldn't go to school anymore.

Lucus was asking Tish and me if we could find a sponsor for Emmanual, and we explained that we would try, but that a system needed to be in place because there were surely more kids like Emmanual and we couldn’t find sponsors for them all if there was no stable program set up. So we discussed ideas for setting that up (if anyone is interested in pursuing this program/club/ngo please let me know), but I wanted to see Emmanual and talk to him in person so that I could come back with a more detailed story, and be able to really understand his situation.

Mobility Care builds wheelchairs whenever there is a sponsor, but sponsors had been scarce so there was not much work to do so we decided to go right then. We stopped by Mr. Daniel (the boss)’s house and Lucus' house. At Lucus’ house, we met his wife and the kids she babysits (to the right is a picture of a few of them and Tish... with a MIT shirt :) ).. his house was quite nice… spacious, clean, and the scenery around it is just gorgeous, and all natural. Mr. Daniel’s house was 2 small rooms… I wondered why his house was so much smaller and cramped than Lucus’ when he was the boss, and I found out later that he supports all his siblings on top of his family… including paying for his younger brother to go to teacher’s college…. His younger brother really wanted to be a doctor, he loves science, and apparently when he met with Tish one time, all he wanted to talk about was physics and biology because he had finally found someone else that knew as much (and more) than he did. Sadly he couldn’t afford to go to medical school, but teacher’s college is cheaper, so Mr. Daniel is paying for him to go there, and he’s going to work as a science teacher and save up to be a doctor. Apparently loans in Tanzania are very bad to get because they’ll come and take away your house and the interest is at ridiculous rates.

So after about an hour walk on a very bumpy, dusty road (of course not paved), we got to Emmanual’s house. If you can call it a house. The weather is nice and the natural scenery is so beautiful that even the small houses looked gorgeous and like they were part of some paradise landscape… but this one… there was one main house and then a small building next to it. The small building had 3 small rooms. One of those rooms was emmanual’s home. To the right there is a picture of two of his siblings standing at the door of their home.

Emmanual, his mother, his very drunk and abusive grandmother (she even hit me!), his aunt, and his 3 siblings all lived in this cramped space. I don't even know if they could all lie down. Their father is dead and their mother works breaking stones into little pieces to be used for construction which pays little to nothing. They barely have enough to eat, so school is a rare luxury. I asked Emmanual what he wanted more than anything, and he said and education. Not to be able to walk normally, not to be rich, not to have a home where he could actually have room to lie down comfortably… but to have an education. Thinking of all the kids in the states that complaing about having to go to school and drop out of school…. How unfair that the millions of children that want an education more than anything aren’t able to get it. How unfair that people can’t appreciate their education when they are offered it freely. He was very shy but very handsome, and he’s become pretty adept with the crutches (well not crutched, mobility devices that are basically two sticks with arm holes that he uses to support himself… the name of them is skipping my mind) that he got along with the wheelchair which he saves for special occasions (the terrain is so rough that the wheelchair, though much stronger than the ones in the US, would still wear out pretty quickly) and for when gets to go to school… but the crutches don’t even have padding on the bottom… (to the right is a picture of Emmanual with his supports in front of the building where his home is)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Motive versus End Result: What If Helping Is Hurting?

I've always wanted to believe that noone is bad at heart. Noone actually wants to cause pain to anyone else, they merely make a mistake in judgment where their own desires consume them and make them forget or misjudge the degree of pain they may cause someone else. Or they feel they are faced with two bad decisions, and make what they feel is the better of the two. Another big problem is when they hurt without knowing they are hurting. What if you do something to help someone and it ends up hurting them? What really matters, the motive or the result?

One major thing that I’ve been questioning is whether by “helping” whether we’re actually helping. What if we aren’t? What if I’m contributing to increasing pain and suffering in the long run? Because in the end, is it the length of someone’s life that is important or the quality of it. And is it the actual quality in comparison to others’ lives, or is it the quality that you make of it. In other words… by changing the lives of certain societies that may be poor and dying of illnesses that are curable, we are changing other aspects, including, inevitably, their perception of what is possible. As they see more lives being saved and more opportunities.. more material possessions… won’t they just keep wanting more? Isn’t that a major problem with our society? So many people have so much, and yet they just want more. What if we’re turning them into us? I thought that perhaps by respecting their culture, being open and with my desire to absorb everything about their culture, I would not be imposing my own, but one particular conversation really made me think….

In Arusha, I was documenting a Mobility Clinic that makes wheelchairs and special chairs for children with cerebral palsy. There are 4 men and 1 woman, but the 1 woman was out sick for the first 2 days I was there. Unfortunately, they didn’t have many orders due to a lack of sponsors and a lack of a program to find sponsors, so they had a lot of down time during which we discussed problems, projects ideas, their lives, and the Tanzanian society. We were talking about women’s roles, which in Tanzania are mostly to stay at home and cook, clean, and take care of the children. While I plan to cook, clean, and take care of my children, I also plan to have my own career and really make a difference in more people’s lives than just those of my family. Talking to them about this, they were surprisingly receptive. Perhaps because they work with the 1 woman who I later met and is very curious, and full of desire to learn. They started out by saying that women should stay at home because otherwise, who will, and on top of that, if a woman makes money, she will have an affair. I argued that while that may be a big problem among successful, working Tanzanian women, I felt that was more a product of societies’ view on working women rather than a product of them working. I proposed to them a situation where wives worked and perhaps made more money than they did. I asked how they would feel, and they were quick to say they would feel less manly and would not be at all pleased. They would feel she had all the power. On top of that, the rest of society would look down on them as being less of a man, and not capable of supporting his family. And then I asked how the way they treated her would change. They realized that they would probably treat her poorly and pick fights, taking out their frustration and feelings of inadequacy on her. Then they agreed with me that perhaps society was the problem not the working woman (though I was sure to mention that the woman was wrong for having an affair). In a typical situation, I would have been pleased that the discussion (one among many like these, the rest of which I can also share with you when I get back if you wish) had ended with me making a good argument that had “won” the “debate,” but I realized that though I thought I was doing it for the better, and in fact really I was just having what I thought was an interesting discussion, I had basically imposed my views upon them. What if they’re right? What if by women working (or rather, more like by having both parents working) the quality of the society will decrease? Just because I don’t think it will doesn’t mean it won’t… after all what do I know?

There are other immediate problems that arise from our "helping." Noone would say that saving lives is bad. However, if we go into Uganda lets say, and save every life that we can, the natural selection process will be interrupted. The already overpopulated nation will be even more populated. Families that can barely afford to raise their living children and send them to school will have even more living children to take care of. Noone wants to say lets let these children die, but we have to develop all aspects in parallel which is no easy task. We must educate, empower, and (forgive the cliche) teach them how to fish instead of just blindly saving lives and treating diseases. Perhaps this is something everyone else already realized... but its something I recently discovered.. and it is no easy feat. There are very few organizations or individuals that work on all aspects at once and there are very few ngos that work together. Progress isn't being done in parallel, but rather at their own paces. I cannot emphasize enough how important parallel development is. Otherwise our helping may end up hurting.

btw, i know the pictures are kind of random, the first is of one of the men (luke) from mobility care spoking a wheel... and the second is of a coffee bean tree. yes, they grow on trees. and they're green. weird...

Iron Chef Tanzania

or just Christina trying to cook in Tanzania... I’ve always loved cooking, but besides the easier things that you can’t really mess up like spaghetti, nachos, omellettes…. I usually use a recipe. Or at least look at a recipe at one point to see what kind of things go in and in what order and etc. However, measuring cups and spoons, recipes, leisure of ingredients… all a thing of developed countries and not used in Tanzania.

At Mobility Care in Arusha, there is one female employee that has been made the unofficial cook due to her gender. She is one of the few wheelchair technicians out there, and though the men accept her, they still just took for granted that Agnes would be the cook since she was the woman in the group.

Agnes was out on holiday and then out sick, so I offered to cook as a thank you for their warm hospitality! The first day I made French toast, scrambled eggs with tomato, and toast. Simple, but things they had never tried before. The next day I was a little more adventurous and when they asked me for a grocery list (for the market… forget cheese, spices, etc…. it was meat and veggies), I decided to try my hand at stew (I was using a Bunsen burner and a pocket knife…. Wasn’t up for making a main course with side dishes). I asked for tomatoes, green peppers, onions, carrots, beef, and maybe a couple other veggies.. I cut them up into little pieces, Mr. Daniel helped me out, having his first attempt at cooking… a result of our discussion the day before on women’s roles and how they like to get help from time to time to show they’re appreciated. I stewed the veggies and meat for several hours and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Then I cooked the pasta in the stew and they loved it!

A few days later I cooked dinner (fried rice which taste not like fried rice because I had to cook the rice on the stove and it wasn’t day-old rice like it should have been… but it worked!) for Tish and her bf but the blades are dull and the cooking ware is very basic so my hands got a bit torn up, many bandaids – they loved the food though!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home At Last

I'm Home!!! Sad, but also happy to be back and excited for senior year. My apologies for such a long silence. Bad internet access, being very busy with projects/sightseeing/cultural experiences led to no blogging. HOWEVER. DO I HAVE THE STORIES FOR YOU!!!!

To come in the next few days: stories of the hospitable Chinese and cute children that love Korean Dramas, insights into our education system, questions of morals and whether doing good is actually doing good.. The wonders of red bean, the large korean population in Beijing, their obsession with the Olympics.. the ethics of illegal dvds, getting caught trying to bring fruit into the US, making friends on the plane... getting sick again.. trying shots of a Chinese liquor which combined with bbq and hotpot made me very sick.. but going to see the biggest buddha in the world anyway.. getting there and being so sick that i didn't care to walk the last few meters to see it.. though my awesome traveling companions convinced me to let them help me get there, and I did see it and even got some pictures. albeit i look dead in them.... :) losing my shoes, my bag ripping from the weight, finding Subway, meeting a United Airlines pilot on the streets of Beijing, swimming in natural hot springs and soaking in rose petals... dancing on a square with locals, climbing the great wall and flying down... and so much more.

promises to update soon. plus i'm back so if anyone's interested, call me up and i'll tell you stories in person and show you photographs! :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Surreality of Time

Many of you have experienced going out one night and partying to find yourself the next morning not remembering how you got to your bed. Or someone else’s if you were lucky. Or unlucky, depending on what you see upon wakening. I have not. However… my entire experience has that type of feeling. As if I just partied too hard, fell asleep, and I’ve only just awaken, when I have hours to myself to sit and reflect upon what has happened. It doesn’t feel like the experiences were my own, but rather like I cannot remember what has happened to me, or when it was I fell asleep, but my dreams were filled with these experiences. A fellow traveler I met commented that while traveling is a great experience, in the end, when you return, it is never really the most exciting… more so it makes you want to travel more and continue… a drug in its own way that forges a powerful addiction.

I’ve often felt this surreality of time… as if I’ve just woken and the life I’ve led is not mine, but one that I’ve observed in close detail. And then you begin to forget details… some are recalled later on as you try to entrance listeners with your experiences, some are recalled at random times as you turn a corner that fires a flashback of a corner turned in a past time.. but some you just forget. Even people you can forget (the trick of being unforgettable… deserves an entry of its own :) ). So then what are the experiences for? Actually living in a different cultures, seeing things with your own eyes, many crave it, need it, desire it.. but if in the end it feels as if you’ve observed someone else seeing it… is it as real as you think? Who’s to say that you aren’t dreaming right now, that everything you think and feel are figments of your imagination that you will soon wake from to realize that it was all just a dream… though if that were true, I would not want to be you, wasting my dreams on reading a blog. :)

When your life does not feel like your own, what do you do? How do you preserve those memories, those details? Some choose to blog regularly or keep a journal of some sort so they can return to their musings and thoughts at a later time. As you can tell by my delay in postings, this is not something I’m so good at. And this is summer. Videography, photography, scrapbooking, collecting souvenirs… all attempts to remember a past time. To keep your life from being forgotten… for if you forget it, who will remember it? But then perhaps that is the trick. Perhaps it’s not your own experiences that make the difference, but the experiences others have because of you. Men and women of power built pyramids and palaces to go down in the history books… a mode of immortality, a way to make sure that your life is remembered, a way to make sure that your life was not merely a fleeting speck in a galaxy of lifetimes. But I digress.

Returning to my main point.. if you wake up one morning with no recollection of the night before, did it actually happen? Of course. But what if you wake up alone and noone else remembers what happened either… yes, but then does it actually matter? If noone remembers what happened, are the drunken exploits of the previous night of any consequence? As long as you don’t pop out a being in 9 months or discover a nasty looking rash (which a friend pointed out could be covered up by claiming to have been thrown into the Charles River) what does it matter. To relate it to an age-old question: if noone hears a tree fall in the forest, did it actually make a sound?

NGO... Turn to Business for International Development

"There’s nothing wrong with making a few locals very rich in the process of improving an entire economy.”

Sadly, due to the time that has passed since I heard this statement, I do not remember exactly who had said it… I believe it was Fredrik… but I cannot say for sure. However, it is an interesting statement which combined with Biyeun’s project, InterConnection Uganda, a business run by locals that helps the entire country, has got me thinking.

NGOs tend to depend very strongly on grants and donations which, while easy because the money comes with little strings attached, is dangerous because it tends to make the recipients more careless with how it is spent, the money is dealt with by foreigners rather than locals that know and have a solid binding (can’t think of the right word.. but you get the idea) to the welfare of their country, and it depends on other groups or individuals that can choose to or be forced to terminate their donation/grant at any time. Several branches of APDK, for example, became inactive after their primary donor abruptly stopped contributing due to political matters.

Sibusiso is a ngo that is well on its way to becoming self-sustainable. I had a chance to visit it while in Arusha, Tanzania. It means “blessing” in Swahili, and it teaches mentall disabled children and their families to help themselves. Though started by 2 very rich Europeans and still largely funded by grants, they have cows and other animals which they breed and take care of as a food source and for extra income (2 of the donkeys they have started fighting while we were walking out.. the male was trying to mate but the female had very much lost that lovin feelin). They employ previous patients as gardeners and cooks, and they have a lodge where visitors can stay with proceeds going to fund Sibusiso. However, it is never easy to become entirely self-sustainable… and even this is only becoming more self-sustainable because there is a business involved… so perhaps we should stop focusing so heavily on ngos and start turning our focus to investing in businesses that also work with international development?

InterConnection Uganda, for example, donates a percentage of its profits to education for students in Uganda, and a percentage of the computers it gets to schools all around Uganda. While empowering the workers, providing a cheaper way for people to get a hold of a computer, offering training, and being able to include good software for cheap (Microsoft Windows for about $3 I believe – a discount for developing countries), they are also contributing to the development of the country at large. What a great concept! A potential problem that I can see is corruption among the locals that run the business. It is easy to lose sight of what is happening around you if you get lifted out of it… and it’s often difficult to stay focused on your original goals when your own life becomes more stable.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Part IV: Welcome to Arusha, Tanzania

Being only one of 3 people to get off the plane, it was not a long wait for my luggage or for visas. The airport was extremely small (one small building about the size of a big ranch house) with one landing field. However, I did see a humongous plane with the nose cone opened from the rest of the plane… apparently a private plane of some really rich dude from the Middle East! It was quite neat, but I wasn’t sure what the photo policy was at the airport… and I didn’t want to risk being whisked away into a foreign Tanzanian prison, so I resisted my urge to take out the camera and shoot.

I should mention that at the airport, I met 2 professional wildlife photographers working for the Jane Goodall Institute who were on their way to shoot gorillas on Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania that I may have the chance to go to as a slight detour next week. I was surprised to find they shoot only in film, and they did not carry too much equipment with them. I also kept on running into 2 gentlemen from the check-in counter all the way to the shuttle to Arusha… and then saw them again at Tish’s apartment later on, though I was on my way out and couldn’t stop to say hello. What a small (yet big) world!

Arriving in the town (they call the main part of the town “town”) of Arusha, I got off the (free) shuttle run by Air Tanzania to find a wonderful sign awaiting me and a smiling face behind it. I met Tish and we exchanged stories all evening, going out to eat fried chicken (cuckoo) and fries (chips) at a favorite restaurant of hers. It was delicious. The chicken is more chewy here than in the states for whatever reason… and fried chicken isn’t KFC-like fried, its more just fried without the batter. Very tasty (people seem to use the word tasty versus delicious). It gets quite chilly in Arusha because of its high altitude, so I had to borrow a silk cocoon-like bag from Tish to sleep in. I thought Africa was hot…. Boy was I wrong.

Arusha itself is an absolutely gorgeous area. The banana trees definitely add a je ne sais quoi, and the luscious green mountains and trickling brooks are the scenes you dream about or see in movies…. I didn’t even know where to start with pictures, because I saw all this driving to the workshop… and couldn’t really get out because the dala dalas (the bus/taxi of Tanzania - basically… cheap public transport that crams in as many people as will fit… and more)… but I tried my best to capture the beauty.

Tanzania overall is very peaceful and beautiful, and on top of that, it’s very stable in terms of development. There are still many things that could be improved and “developed,” but strangely it feels just as developed as the U.S., just different. It feels like Tanzania needs about as much work, maybe less, than the U.S. does, but it is still very different. The locals are proud to say that, “noone dies of hunger in Tanzania,” and it doesn’t get too cold or too hot, so noone dies from the weather. The poverty levels and unemployment levels are relatively low, and much progress seems to have been made in many different areas. The technology is far behind and everything is much less modern (including their views on roles of genders and persons with disabilities in society), but the progress on solving problems on disabilities and waste and poverty etc seem to be very well developed.

The people are amazing. Extremely friendly, and much less intimidating. They do not have a personal bubble whatsoever, which can be a bit too much at times, but I’ll be walking down the street and they just come up to you, shake you hand, introduce themselves, and just start an animated conversation with you. And everyone knows someone that happens to be walking down the street, so these exchanges are happening everywhere, and you just meet so many people, and they want to invite you over for dinner and buy you a drink and just hear all about your life! Such a big contrast from the other places I’ve been to where they call out to you or try to sell you things or harass you but few actually come up and introduce themselves just because they’re interested in hearing your stories and learning more about you. Though even here marriage proposals are rampant…. One person today was very persistent, showering me with compliments which is always a very awkward situation. Perhaps the good work that the foreigners working for ngos are doing here has something to do with their percept of foreigners. There are many foreigners that come for safaris and do waste money and act obnoxiously towards the locals, but they are often in their own groups and do not integrate themselves with the locals. So I think by us walking around the town, taking dala dalas instead of taxis, eating where the locals eat, and hanging out with locals, they know that we are here to work, and are much more curious and treats us like people and not like tourists.

My first day at the workshop, I was met with both exciting and depressing news... 2 dogs had recently had puppies... 1 family was doing extremely well... the puppies getting big and wriggling around blind.. crawling all over each other... but the other family, the mom just didn't know how to take care of her pups. I nursed one while I buried 5 dead ones... Then I put the one I had nursed back after washing it, drying it, and feeding it some millk.. but when I returned a few hours later, he was dead too...

Summary of Part III: Uganda

I really got a chance to meet and become a part of the daily life of the locals while in Uganda. Meeting the vice president, the first lady, and other politicians combined with living with one of the ministers, I also got a chance to have an insider’s view to the political structure and happenings of Uganda. Being eaten alive by mosquitos, I resorted to spraying bug spray in my room… bearing with the smell for the sake of being spared bumps all over me… but I still ended up with over 30 bites. Very itchy.... and this random dalla dalla with live chickens attached to it...

I learned that the stereotypes and stigmas of Africa being a dangerous place is actually becoming a sort of self-fulfilled prophecy. Many people don’t come to Africa because they think it is dangerous, and thus the people that do come are often the more confident ones with perhaps more money to be more adventurous and daring. Or they are volunteers/workers for NGOs which I’ve already written are sadly often corrupted. However, because the locals continue see foreigners like these, it becomes more dangerous for all the foreigners because the locals begin to think of all foreigners as rich, obnoxious people that like to waste money and party. Then we become targets for getting attacked or robbed…. And then people hear about it and more foreigners are afraid to come.. and the cycle continues. It really is not a dangerous place. Yes, you have to play it safe, you can’t go out by yourself at night and you shouldn’t be flaunting expensive clothing and equipment.. but I’ve only felt threatened a couple of times, and really, I’ve felt the same threats in NYC. Some of the larger dangers are from if you get sick, as the medical care is not as reliable or dependable as in developed countries. However, the dangers that most people fear: getting AIDS, being robbed, getting raped… all are quite avoidable and probably just as likely to happen in the U.S. But you do need to understand the neighborhoods that you are in and play it safe. If the local women don’t think it’s safe to go out at night, it’s probably not safe to go out at night. If the locals fear a certain road, you should fear a certain road. And etc.

I learned about boda bodas.. motorcycles that are used for public transport, they were often used as escape vehicles during Idi Amine’s rule… people would jump on and yell “border border!” which stuck and became “boda boda.”

I obtained a phone from InterConnection to be used for the rest of my trip, which has been quite useful as I’ve had to be separated from my hosts on several occasions, and I learned how to count in Swahili…

I also learned that “mzungu,” which everyone yells out at you from the streets to get your attention, means “British.” When locals see someone white, they call them mazungu, because the British were the first whites to come in bulk to East Africa. That stuck and now a common word for any white person is mazungu. For some strange reason, I have been mistaken for a mazungu several times.. They often yell Cheenay, for Chinese, or yell out “Japan,” but I’ve run into a couple people who insist that I’m white, just with Chinese hair. I don’t see it…. Noone usually thinks I’m Korean, but I’ve never had anyone think I’m fully white either…

Overall, Uganda was an eye-opening experience where I met many people that I will continue to work with in the future. I gained a new mentor who has been through a lot and has much knowledge to share, and several new project ideas for Biyeun that we will continue in the states. I will not miss the mosquitos, but I was definitely sad to leave my hosts and new friends.

We Are (Host) Family

For the first time ever, I stayed with a host family, albeit one that Biyeun has known for several years and has become very close with. Staying with a host family, I really became integrated into their lifestyles and got to know them on a whole new level. When you live with people, a different connection forms, even in dorm life, however imagine living in the same one-level house…. Sharing a bathroom and waking/sleeping/eating on their schedule. While it could become an inconvenience, for me it was a great opportunity to really capture and understand their lives, Biyeun’s experience, and become more Ugandan.

I would highly recommend living with a family of locals. It can be hard as it is not as private or comfortable at times as a hotel, but it is more cost-efficient (at times free though I brought a box of chocolates as a thank-you) and you get an experience and opportunity that you can’t buy. I was fortunate that this was the family of an Honorable of Uganda (a minister.. not religious, but political), and so the house was very nice (on Ugandan standards), clean, and there were orphan girls living with them and working as house girls in exchange for the promise of getting a free education after a certain amount of years. The family had 2 young boys, 2 and 5, and 1 girl cousin visiting. It was delightful to have children around, despite the screaming at 5am every morning when they would get up and want to wake everyone else up as well. Dinner was always around 11pm, 10 at the earliest and midnight when it was late. Everyone seems to eat dinner late in Uganda, my stomach wasn’t too happy with it, but they are very eager to feed you and the food is very good, so I ate every night right before going to sleep. Oh another bizarre thing... there are many many guards... every middle-class to upper-class house seems to have a gate/guard.. but its always the same guard, day in and day out. they live in that little brick room shown above... so are they bachelors? Are they ALL bachelors? That's a lot of bachelors.... or perhaps they just never see their family? I'd be interested to see the demographics of men who are guards for profession.

Another thing I should mention is try to stay with a host family with children near your age or with a family that you’re working with. The host family that I stayed with in Moshi, Tanzania is a family that Shirley found on facebook, and when the children were away, we were much less involved in their lives and it was more like living at a bed & breakfast, however, as soon as the host sister came back, we really got to experience the life of a Tanzanian young adult. Most highly recommended.

Back.. to Blogging

Many apologies for not updating my blog in so long. A combination of lack of internet access in Tanzania, being sick, temporary writer’s block, minor crisis situations, and my blog getting locked because they thought it was a spam blog… not sure what that’s all about. Anyways, I’ll have to try and catch up as best as I can.

First a quick overview… I left Uganda on Sunday, July 15, and arrived in Kiliminjaro Airport in Tanzania right on time. I headed off to Arusha, Tanzania, and followed Tish to Moshi on Thursday to pick up a wheelchair, where, conveniently, Shirley was doing her project! With a detour to Ngorogoro Crater, Lake Myanara, and Zanzibar, I am now waiting in Kenyatta Airport yet again for a 6 hour layover which I just found out has been delayed another 2 hours.... yay for Kenyatta. They didn't want those fond memories of “let’s see how confused we can make you” to be without fresh ones. In the past few weeks, I’ve had amazing experiences, met equally amazing people, had powerful epiphanies, run into major technical difficulties, been robbed, seen incredible scenery and animals, and been on quite the rollercoaster ride. Oh and seen Ocean’s Thirteen in a Tanzanian Movie Theater… I didn’t realize how much I missed movies until I came out of the theater entranced by the screen… and this was not exactly an Oscar winner so you can imagine what I mean. It seems that I’ve been met with many extremes….. but all’s well that ends well. :)

Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm Alive... Internet/Power... Not so Much

Just a quick update.... I apologize for the lack of updates. I have blog entries waiting to be posted from my laptop, but unfortunately due to bad internet connection, slow computers that don't like USBs, and power shortages that limit the amount of time computers can be on for in addition to my host family needing to use the computer... I have not been able to transfer my blog entries to a computer that has access to the internet (for some reason my computer cannot connect... IP Address problems I think). When I get to Thailand on Monday, I will do a massive update. Until then... I was in Arusha last week, went on a safari with Shirley over the weekend, and am in Moshi this week. Due to most of Shirley's work being on the computer, her, Tish, and Mario's amazing trip to Zanzibar, and wonderful MIT that wants me to have a great experience in addition to working.... (though I've definitely been having that all along), I have a chance to go to Zanzibar for the next few days leaving tomorrow morning and returning on Friday in time to document Shirley's last day which just happens to be the day when she'll actually be working with community members! Tanzania is an amazing paradise country with gorgeous scenery, friendly locals, delicious food, and a pretty stable economy. I will update you more on the issues that I've seen in Tanzania, and the great progress they are making as well as about the great times that I have been having. Living with locals and working very closely and one on one with locals is definitely a great way to become truly integrated into their lifestyle and to have the best experience you could have. :) Look forward to my updates!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Part III: Welcome to Nakawa, Uganda – Greetings from the First Lady and the Vice President

Stepping off the plane into Entebbe Airport in Entebbe, Uganda, I noticed that the airport is very small. There’s one small building about the size of 2 houses, and that’s about it. There is one gate, that building, and a small parking lot no bigger than Kresge Lot at MIT.

The potholes here are crazy, and we play the “pothole” game, offroading to avoid the potholes because the bumpy dirt/grassy area is still smoother than the destructive roads. However, the weather is perfect, reminding me of San Francisco weather where its gets chilly at night, and perhaps a little warm during the day, but really its pretty much perfect. However, the mosquitos are definitely more abundant here than in Kenya or India, apparent from the 30 mosquito bites that I have already acquired.

The ruralness of Uganda surprised me as I’ve heard it being called the “pearl of Africa.” Driving into Kampala, the largest city of Uganda, it was like driving into the old downtown of Nashua, New Hampshire near where I attended high school… little to no tall buildings, no jam packed sidewalks or roads, plenty of space between buildings, and relatively clean air minus the dust and the random spouts of exhaust that clouds around me if a matatu (a mini bus that I believe I described in a Kenya entry) drives by me. Despite being close neighbors and soon to become one nation (I’m embarrassed to say that I just found out that Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and several other eastern and central African countries are uniting to become one country under one presidential power), Uganda and Kenya are drastically different in atmosphere, food, landscape, and citylife.

I’ve heard a lot of “I love you’s’ and “You’re so lovelies” which would be flattering minus the fact that I know they probably say it to every foreigner that passes by. I wonder why they say it though. Whether they think those are the only words I’ll know, or whether they want a U.S. Passport. Today I was told “I love you many times.”

They have these public transportation motorcycles called “boda boda” which came from “border border” from when Idi Amin (the old President of Uganda that was insanely corrupt and one of the most feared men) was in reign. People used to try to run away to the border to escape from his reign… and would jump on a motorcycle and say “border border”.. .so now they’re called “boda boda.”

Upon my arrival, I immediately was driven to the vice president’s house for dinner. The vice president of Uganda. Yes, of Uganda. The project that I am documenting is of InterConnection Uganda, an initiative to bring computers and internet access to all of Uganda. It is a private organization that works hand in hand with the government. Biyeun, the MIT student that has been a part of this project from its conception, has been coming to Uganda for the past 3 years to set up computer labs in schools, refurbish computers, and this year, to open up a computer refurbishment center. So we to a party at the vp’s house and I was welcomed by prime ministers and the vice president. There was delicious food and the vice president even began playing a drum at which point Biyeun began to dance. It was very relaxing and quite the experience to rub elbows with some of the highest officials on Uganda.

The excitement didn’t stop. On Sunday, my second day, I went to the State House (the equivalent of the White House to have lunch with the First Lady of Uganda. We were supposed to meet the President too, but he had to leave abruptly for Tanzania. I was overwhelmed to have this honor and a bit embarrassed at getting a chance to meet these high officials when I wasn’t actually involved with Interconnection.

So needless to say, the past couple of days have been a whirlwind, exciting and tiring, and my cold sadly getting worse, but hopefully getting better soon. I had a mango popsicle ice cream with real mangoes in it, chipote with omelette made by a food vendor which I was told should be ok (and I’m not sick yet), a samosa with beans inside… not smushed beans but whole beans… and nothing to hold them together, quite interesting really, and so much more. Ugandan food uses a lot of yams, plantains, rice, meat, plantains, and yams. Basically carbohydrates and meat. With vegetable garnishes. I was definitely spoiled by food for the president and the vp my first couple of meals, but in fact the vendor food is just as scrumptious, though differently so. I’ve also grown quite fond of the high-fibre digestion biscuits which I am convinced I owe my resilient stomach to.

Dowries: What Are Women Worth?

My last day in Kenya I was inavited to have tea with the "head honchos" of APDK. I made a little speech about what I had accomplished during the week, what I hoped to do with the material I had gotten, my fundraising plans, and my personal future plans. Then we got into some interesting discussions about dowries.

In Kenya and in Britain (the national chairman is British), it is custom for the man to pay his wife's family a dowry. Apparently in Kenya, this dowry continues for the rest of their lives and the responsibility of supporting the woman's extended family should they need to be supported lies in the man's hands. The women in the room argued that dowries for wives made the wives appear as purchasable property in the men's eyes. This was an interesting view because I’ve only heard about women’s families having to pay a dowry to the husbands and the women feeling bad because they felt that the husband needed to receive something to take them, that they themselves weren’t worthy enough, and they were a burden to both their husband and their fathers.

We also discussed whether there should be dowries at all. I was explaining how in the U.S. that concept is pretty much extinct, but they were explaining how it bonds families together and makes it harder to divorce because so much relies on the marriage. It even makes divorce pretty much obsolete in the countries with dowries. They explained this as if it were a good thing... which it could be, but it could also backfire and restrict a woman from leaving a an abusive marriage because her families' lives depends on it.

Summary of Part II: Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi showed me the progress that developing countries are making and the high benefits of government cooperation. It also introduced me to a lot of new animal parts used as food and new animals used as food. Despite getting sick, it was a wonderful experience seeing an ngo that is well-established and on its way to becoming large and extremely successful around the country. The weather proved to be much colder than expected, but the cabin-stay and cooking over the fire was pleasant and hanging out with the locals was just what I needed to feel welcome and at home. I learned that tea is a great gift to give, and learned how important physical therapy and rehabilitation really are. I saw poverty and found a way to help, and even had a chance to try home-cooked food in the slums (I didn’t get sick, and it was extremely good… pilao.. yum). Nairobi was a success in my book.

Airport Connects More than Flights - It Connects People

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the largest airport in east and central Africa. However, it is quite frustrating to try to fly out of it. First, there are no comprehensive signs that tell you where you should go, so you find a line, wait in it, and then figure it out once you get to the front. Usually standing with the mass leads to the correct location. Secondly, the airport functions as if its staff is on strike. Despite having a line curving around the entire enclosed area, the departure customs only had one staff member granting departure from Kenya. Third, they change the gates after you’ve checked in quite frequently, and do not inform you that it has been changed. There is no announcement, you just figure it out once you get to the gate you thought you were supposed to be at and they tell you to go to a different gate. Then sometimes the workers are confused and send you back and forth between 2 gates.. .each insisting the other one is the correct gate. Fourth, they have several flights board from the same gate and scheduled to leave at roughly the same time. Obviously if everyone actually tried to board at the same time there would be chaos, so instead they just delay one of the flights. Fifth, the gate number has nothing to do with the plane you are boarding, so once you enter the gate, you walk outside and walk across the airport to your correct plane. Sixth, they put you on the airplane for 2 hours and don’t tell you when the aircraft will take off, merely that it is dangerous to fly the aircraft and so they have to wait to fix it. Quite the ordeal.

Thankfully, these frustrating problems also brought several pleasant events as well as solutions. I had a chance to try a chicken pie and a mint pineade juice, both of which were scrumptious. The chicken pie was like a chicken pot pie without a plate… crust all around the chicken/vegetable mixture. The mint pineade juice was what the counterguy recommended, and despite its grass green color, it was delicious! From the name I would assume it was pineapple juice, lemonade, and mint.

I met a lot of interesting people in the many lines I had to wait in, meeting some that were on my flight and thus finding entertainment for the hours I had to wait. I met a young Kenyan man that works in China and speaks Swahili, English, and Mandarin fluently. He sells Jacuzzis and other large objects, but does a lot of international business. Intriguing. He insisted that I call when I got to China so if there is a jacuzzi emergency, I have his business card. Then there was an older Kenyan woman that was extremely chatty and not content with how the airport was being run, but was quite a delight to talk to as she kept many of us entertained in the line… and an elderly Caucasian doctor, Chuck, who graduated from Harvard med and now works for PEPFAR, the Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. I explained that I was going to take a year off before medical school and was looking for a job where I could travel, help the developing world, and save up for medical school, and he gave me his business card, saying he might be able to find me such a position! How perfect!!!! I will definitely look into this option.

Overall the Kenyatta Airport experience was quite pleasant, and I have to fly through there to get to Tanzania, which Chuck is also doing, so I may see him again! Ooh, and I went to the supermarket yesterday and ran into a couple that had been on my flight. It’s a small country.

CBR: Community Based Rehabilitation

APDK also has a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program which serves as a mobile clinic and community outreach/awareness. I wanted to go out to the field (to the slums) with them once, but I kept on missing the chance. On Thursday, when I asked again, they decided to go out to the field to check out the workshops that were being held and the daycare they run so that I could see a bit of this program.

First we stopped at a government facility to wait for the field workers, members of the slum community that work with APDK. I had to use the washroom and I was lead down a path between some shanties and lead to a wooden outhouse. The smell was nauseating and it was dark, but at least they had litrines and private quarters (though the same outdoors, open air sewage system seen to the right); a step up from the slums in India.

We attended a workshop in the slums to educate parents of disabled children about empowering their children, getting them treatment, and getting over the stigma of disabled children being worthless and necessary to be hidden at home. We had to introduce ourselves, and they gave us a warm round of applause to welcome us and even sang us a song about disabled children. Granted it was in Swahili so I didn’t understand any of it… but it was still a nice gesture.

We then headed over to a nursery and school sponsored by APDK for disabled children. Mentally disabled children attend this school and nursery and are given a goal when they first arrive. The goal may be to be able to write or to be able to stand or to be able to read. They are also given a goal time to complete this goal by. Once the student has achieved his/her goal, he/she must leave the school which is no problem because by this time they are able to function regularly at a normal school. I visited the nursery where I had a chance to see some of the children (ranging between 3 and 9 I think) and volunteers, all mothers of children that at one point attended this nursery. The mothers clean, train, feed, and take care of these children while their parents look for work.

I had a chance to speak with the mothers about their lives and their problems. I asked them what they did in their free time, only to be met with a blank stare asking, “what free time?” I realized the error in my question, that free time is only for those with the luxury to have it. They explained that with taking care of their family, and especially of their disabled children who need to rely on them for everything, they didn’t have free time. That’s also what they found to be the hardest thing for them… knowing that their child needed them to survive… and when asked what did they want the most, they answered, “food for my children.” Their husbands look for work, and are only able to find work they are qualified for once or twice a week. With this small pay, they can barely feed the family, and often starve. Paying for rehabilitation or medication for their children is out of the question.

The unemployment in Kenya in 2001 was 40% according to statistics online, and I was told by word of mouth that it is currently over 55%. And not by choice. Not because they do drugs or waste money on alcohol… but because of the state their economy is in and the lack of a widespread education. This unemployment is hard enough for regular families in the slums, but for the families with disabled children…. They have no means of paying for rehabilitation which could make the kids able to support themselves after their parents die or even be completely normal, and they have no money for medications which can prevent these disabilities. Another interesting and sad fact…. Over 50% of the Kenyan population falls under the poverty line.

I racked my brain for a way to help, and thankfully, I came up with a plan while I was still there. I asked for the recipes of the food they served the children at the nursery, very simple and basic, and plan to make these dishes back at MIT to sell to the MIT community, sending all proceeds back to APDK to feed the disabled children and their families. We spend about $5 on a typical meal, and this converts to about 300 shilllings which converts to being able to feed more than 15 children. I hope to work with conferences throughout Boston to provide lunches for them with these humble but filling foods which will both make the conference attendees think about the blessing of the food they eat everyday, and be a source of donation: if they donate what they would have paid a catering service for unhealthy, sauce-filled sandwiches, chips, and cookies… if they would’ve paid $5 per lunchbox.. given that 100 people attend the conference, this is $500 which will feed over 1500 children. Or another way of looking at it… It will feed one child 3 meals a day for OVER 1 FULL YEAR. Just because you chose to have a simpler lunch for one meal of one day, a child will get to not starve for an entire year. How much easier can we make it for you?

Excitingly, one of my Sigma Kappa sisters is starting a club on neurological diseases at MIT. I proposed the idea to her to become part of the club’s mission, and she was interested, so I am working out the plans with her. I love the snowball effect that begins with just a little push and motivation to help out!

I love how everything connects together and seems to fall into place. I have explained APDK to some of the students working in India on developing a program for disabled children in the slums of India, and we will be communicating more in the future about what APDK does and how it can be adapted for India. This way they can build off of what works well, and will not have to start from scratch. They can get so much more done and can avoid a lot of trial and error. If we all work together, things can run so smoothly!

Neat Ways to Help Out

This website allows you to loan money to poor workers to expand/start businesses. You lend them money, and then eventually you get it back. You lose nothing, and in the process, you help a whole family: http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=about

This website gives you a way to donate money to a legitimate organization (though I'm not sure how legit), and gives 100% of your donation to the ngo of your choice. It also lets you search for volunteer opportunities throughout the world, many of which do not require pay or even give you a stipend: http://www.universalgiving.org/jsp/index.do

What You Dare Not Ask

“The mentally disabled are better off dead.” Shocking statement, isn’t it? Don’t you want to just yell at whoever said that and accuse them of wanting genocide and being unfair to a large group of our population? Don’t you want to argue on the behalf of the mentally disabled?

In a well-intentioned attempt to be fair and just, our society has become afraid of even discussing certain topics. We’re afraid of discussing touchy subjects because we’re afraid of the conclusion. And often the most logical utilitarian conclusion (the one that benefits the most people the most) is not the most humane nor may it seem more just. Imagine, if you will, that you are the leader of a population of 100 people. You have the option of keeping all 100 people alive but sick and sad, or keeping 90 people alive and healthy by killing (murdering or sacrificing, depending on how you look at it) the 10 weakest. What would you do? Would your decision change if it changed to 50/50? What if you were the one that had to end the 10 lives.. what if you weren’t and didn’t even have to acknowledge that it happened… if you had “people” that “made it happen” while you focused on the 90 happy lives that you had cured.

Before I delve further, I want to put a disclaimer that I am merely musing about this topic. I am not stating my beliefs, merely making observations and using what seems to be logical thinking to state certain ideas that form. I personally believe that we, as humans, do not have the authority to end another human’s life. Nothing makes me better than any other human being, so who am I to decide whether someone deserves to live or die?

However.. going back to the previous example, for the sake of the majority, the minority can be sacrificed. This often happens in war where we call them “casualties of war,” innocent people that die so that millions can be saved. So what about the weak? If all humans suffering from genetic diseases were to die, or be killed, those genetic diseases would be obliterated. In theory. If all humans with the HIV virus were killed.. HIV would be eliminated and there would be no innocent children born with the virus through no fault of their own. Again, to clarify, this is NOT what I think should be done by any means. But can you see a glimpse of how someone may be able to reason that this is the solution and thus try to implement it not for malicious reasons but for the benefit of the masses?

The wonderful thing (and often confusing thing) about being human is that the world isn’t black and white. Thankfully, we don’t have to decide between just 2 hard decisions, we can use our creativity and cumulative learning abilities to come up with new and different solutions. Ways around the problem or ways to solve the problem. For example, with HIV, we’re searching for cures and teaching prevention methods.. But what if you couldn’t… what if you only had 2 choices… what would you do? What would be right? Or would one just be the lesser of 2 wrongs? Does that make the better of the 2 wrongs the better choice… and thus the right one?

Tea: A Gift for All

On my last day at APDK, I presented a giftbox of tea from India to the National Director, requesting that the tea be served at tea time in place of the regular Kenyan tea that is served every workday. This was a terrific idea for a gift. The entire association was able to enjoy the gift which served as a token of my appreciation for their warm hospitality and cheery smiles every day. The national director was so touched that he organized a formal tea time with all the sub-directors and department heads and invited me to come give a mini speech. We had great discussions about dowries (which apparently the man gives to the woman’s family when asking for her hand in marriage.. more on this later), cultural differences between Kenya and the U.S., the need for more physicians in Africa, and more. All over India tea.

Just fyi for anyone who wants to present a gift to a group of people in the future…

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) + Government = Non-Organization... but not in Kenya

I met with the national director, Mr. Seifert, last week to get more information about ADPK and its history (everyone is so welcoming and helpful in Kenya that if I want to talk to someone or see something, they’ll make it happen). The association is really inspiring with its stability, future prospects, and affect and it has a great framework that would prove invaluable to other countries trying to start a similar organization.

I read the annual report, several grant proposals, and basically all the brochures and information booklets they had about APDK, learning about more of the technical aspects, but wanted to learn more about Mr. Seifert’s view and recommendations. From the readings, I saw that the Kenyan government had a huge role in the success of this NGO. Traditionally, governments and NGOs don’t work too well together because the government feels they have to compete for money or the NGO feels threatened by the government. However, Mr. Seifert felt that the key to nationalizing and stabilizing a program or association is collaboration with the government.

I think I agree, though I need to think more about this concept, but my initial thought is that without the government, there is only so much you can do and only so far that you can spread. You want to make a NGO self-sustainable, limiting the reliance on donors in case something happens to that relationship or the donor loses the means to contribute. This is hard to do if the government isn’t involved, and even harder if the government isn’t happy with the idea. As an executive member of the Christian Blind Organization which has hundreds of international developmental projects worldwide, Mr. Seifert spoke on their behalf and said the only way to make a national, sustainable difference is to collaborate with the government. In fact, many donors and organizations offering grants are changing their policies and only granting or donating funds if the proposal comes through the nation’s government. Therefore, many NGO’s are realizing that without working with the government, they often will not be able to work at all.

But then what happens to those countries where the government is not interested in helping its people? Especially not the "weaker" ones they find dispensable and "useless." India seems to be one of these cases where if you brought up the idea of starting a ngo working to help the poor physically disabled, the government would not look twice at the proposal. How then can you make a national impact?

Empowering the Disabled from Childhood

While physical therapy is much more prevalent in the United States, it is often overlooked in developing countries where citizens with disabilities are often ignored and considered useless and not really worth anyone’s time. Kenya has overcome this stigma with the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya. The tricycles are merely one investment of this association which is a non-governmental organization working closel with the government’s Ministry of Health (more on this later). The chairman of the association is the vice president of Kenya and they have many government-employed staff.

The clinic consists of two different departments which are very small (the occupational therapy department which deals with training children on every day tasks and the physiotherapy department which trains the children on the basic essentials – strengthening their immune systems and such), each consisting of one room in one building which is also connected to the administrative office. Though small, this clinic makes a huge difference. They focus on children because they say that the younger you are treated, the more effective the therapy and the child can even grow up to have NO physical disabilities in their adult stage. The key is to catch the problem early on and get it fixed, but the fixing is a long and grueling process as well. The clinic is relatively cheap even for Kenya, about 50 shillings per visit depending on the problem. I met one 5 years and 2 weeks old boy named Jakes (yes, Jakes with an ‘s’) and his mother who let me photograph them during their rehabilitation session (he's the little boy to the left walking with the help of a green walker). Jakes has bowed legs and flat feet and cannot walk on his own. Over the past year, his mother says that his walking has improved tremendously. He can now walk with the assistance of a toy on wheels, or some sort of rolling companion.

The screams, cries, whimpering, and uncontrollable coughing echoes off the walls of the clinic. While waiting to speak with Grace, the head of one of the departments, tears came to my eyes as I observed disabled children all around me struggling to take a step or screaming at the pain of a therapist trying to straighten out their legs. There are many support devices designed to train specific muscles that will help the children stand or sit properly. Some children are oblivious and do not seem to care, others slouch down in distress, fully aware that they aren’t capable of changing the situation, and others scream with the discomfort of their bound limbs.

Polio is the leading cause of disability here, a disease that has been obliterated in the U.S. We have a vaccine against this disease so why are so many lives here in Kenya and in fact in many developing countries ruined because of it?