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
Monday, July 9, 2007
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Who knows what it is.. who can say for sure? I think it's a combination, but I often wonder as some seem to be more likely than others depending on the situation.
Selfishness and greed are prominent human characteristics that are at the core of many problems and conflicts. Wars, political conflicts, poverty, devastation, so much of it stems from selfishness and greed. I've had the pleasure of having some great conversations with Fredrik, a program manager for Microsoft Emerging Markets who travels around developing technology and implementing technology in developing countries. He has been to India several times, and we were talking about the reason for India's poverty, lack of a middle class, and slow development. Here is what I've learned/deduced from that discussion (to be taken with a grain of salt because it is of course my opinion and his, not the final hoorah.. there are many details that I will not include and do not know, which I plan to educate myself on in the future. I have always tried to stay away from political affairs because the corruption disgusts me, but I'm discovering that if I want to really help, I need to know about the political systems and find the non-corrupted parts to work with.).
There are several people in India that are richer than Bill Gates. After that upper upper class, there is the upper class consisting of actors and politicians that are very wealthy. After that there is the lower lower class. And little in between. Why is this? Part of it is due to religion which begins another controversy and headache of a discussion altogether. Many Indian citizens believe in a form of reincarnation. So if they are rich in their current life, it means they did something right in their previous life, and are being rewarded for their achievements. If they are poor in their current life, they were bad in their previous life, and thus are being punished in this one. This accounts for why the rich feel they don't need to and in fact should not help the poor, and why the poor are so set in the way they are and don't feel they can get out.
Now initially you may think the solution is to wake the people out of this conception that many may deem absurd. However, many more problems can arise by trying to change such a big part of their culture. People depend on their religion and the society is built up around it. Trying to change their view on this concept could have dire consequences. In addition, we don't have proof that they're incorrect. Perhaps their beliefs are true. Who are we to say they're false and condemn them for their beliefs? Then the tricky part becomes how do you solve the problem. A deeper problem exists still: what really is the problem? Are the rich people "bad" and don't feel empathy and don't want to help? Have they just not seen the poverty (which seems impossible because it is everywhere) and thus have not had a chance to feel the empathy? Have they seen it and want to help but feel that it would be wrong to do so? And then are they truly malicious? Do they only care about making money for themselves and getting more power? Why is the development so slow?
In the end, the best solution always seems to be one where everyone wins. The problem is finding this solution. In this particular situation, I see one potential solution that seems realistic (given there's someone that has the opportunity and the skill to do it). Going from the angle of convincing the people in power that they have power, they have money, but they do not have the acts that will make their names go down in history; they do not have the glory. Selfishness and greed are 2 sins, but the desire for glory is another... but can be harnessed to do good. If someone can convince the people in power that making the people of their nation stable and bringing them out of poverty will put their names in history books for eternity, making them the leaders of a developed nation... that would be (I would think) extremely tempting.
I do not want to believe that anyone can be truly "bad." People make mistakes, but I can't imagine someone doing anything purposely to hurt someone else. They may overlook something or not realize the effect it will have.. but purposely hurting someone? If they think it is the lesser of 2 evils, then they may be able to justify it... but someone who just likes making others feel pain... I can't believe that could exist. And for those few where it does... it's a problem of the wrong chemicals in their brain and their feeling of exasperation or something where they have lost hope or are not thinking straight. Where they think hurting the other persons is the better of two evils where perhaps the worser evil is themselves being hurt...
but then again... perhaps i'm being too idealistic. how can we ever really know?
Nearly everything, if not everything, that we do is in our own self-interest. Even volunteering just for the sake of helping people (without the benefit of looking good on a resume or receiving some sort of compensation), is selfish because if it didn't make you feel good in some way, you wouldn't do it. I've heard countless times people saying it's stupid to do something that doesn't make you happy. No matter how "good" it may be.
But where do you draw the line? I recently discovered through conversation that many NGO staff make $50,000 US DOLLARS PER MONTH. PER MONTH!!!! They live in huge houses with 7 bedrooms and a heated swimming pool, staying in $400 hotel rooms and eating like kings... while all around them the people that money should be helping suffer. They must get some comfort in that if they weren't there the people wouldn't be getting any help. But really... how do they sleep at night? How do they live with themselves? I have woken up in the middle of the night infuriated after I heard this, and several times a day, I remember it and become angry and am searching for a solution.
How can people be so evil... putting on a facade of saving the world, and instead sitting in a bed of money relishing in luxuries that even those in the developed world rarely see. Did they know they would have these lifestyles when they started working in these positions? Or did they start out with good, honorable intentions and become corrupted by the corrupted system and the simple, easy way of swindling money. And how can they get away with this?
I want to make it clear that NOT EVERY NGO does this. I am currently looking into more information about which ngo's partake in this disgusting activity. It seems that a lot of the ngos that are sponsored by the government end up corrupt because they are only situated in the developing country to "spy" or to channel funds to their own economy. If you look up NGO corruption on google or NGO salaries, you will find a lot more information about this. Perhaps I was just ignorant or naive, but I never imagined that this would be happening. I have heard of some ngos being careless with how they spend money, spending too much money on advertising and getting big shot actors, but never something to this scale. Can you just sit there and let this continue? Never mind donating more money or finding more grants... for this organizations, just cut the salaries to even the average US salary, and the ngo will be able to expand exponentially and make worlds of a difference. How can they be getting so much and yet complaining that they need more money to be able to change the developing world?
I cannot accept that this is inevitable corruption and that it will be the way it is. Yes, more is being done in these countries because the ngos are there helping (in most situations, though in some the ngo hurts the nation more than it helps), but so much more could be done if people that actually cared were the ones that were working. If the money were being spent in the right way for the right reasons.. if a better system were in place to keep the ngos in check and to cut off their funding source if their budget says that 90% of the budget will go to paying workers' salaries.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
The tricycles cost $200 in American dollars, but Safaricom, the most successful company (a cell phone company) in
It was definitely worth it. I threw up a couple more times, but wow. Majestic cliffs and mountains with those flat treetop trees… zebras grazing… getting completely covered in light brown dust such that your clothing is covered and your face is covered and your teeth are covered…. J the vast blue sky with clouds playing hide and seek with you behind the mountains. I saw zebras and wild hogs like pumba in their natural habitats! I walked so close up to them. But I couldn’t take a picture up close because they seemed to think it was a weapon. The bikes weren’t that great quality and we were riding basically in sand, so it was very very hard, and I’m STILL sore, but it was an amazing experience. We rode to the gorge and hiked through it, easy because it had not rained in a while so it was very dry. On our way back from the gorge we ran into nightfall and it was pitch black, and we kept on fishtailing in the sand, so when a truck drove up, we hitched a ride. It was a group of Christian men who were on their way back from church and were driving through the park (which is very expensive for foreigners, but very cheap for Kenyan citizens). I got to stand on the back of a pickup and feel the wind go through my hair and my fingers, blowing some of the dust off me. And the stars! Amazing, the most I have ever seen. The clearest night… stars everywhere, not a patch without them…
On our way back to
Phillipe is a 21-year old French-Canadian who just graduated from McGill and has served in the Canadian military. He has extensive travel experience and war-training experience and he carries around a machete in his bag at all times. I definitely feel safe with my two bodyguards. Phillipe seems much older due to his military and travel experience and both the boys treat me like their little sister which is quite nice and comfortable.
My first night in