Tuesday, December 4, 2007
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?
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
(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
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...
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
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.
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.
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
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
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...
Thursday, August 16, 2007
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
Sunday, July 29, 2007
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.
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...
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
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
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
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
Monday, July 23, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
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
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
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
The unemployment in
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?
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
Just fyi for anyone who wants to present a gift to a group of people in the future…
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?
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
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