Mr. Peddle's Trip: AFRICA
So, you’d like to hear a few words about how I spent my summer vacation. Make that my extended summer vacation in which my wife Clare and I traveled around the world for 6 months. There is a lot to tell! You might enjoy hearing about hiking the Inca Trail and watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Or, maybe about how surfing the big waves in Maui is a lot like surviving the spin cycle in an industrial washing machine. At least it felt that way to an amateur like me. Bungee jumping in New Zealand was the scariest thing I’ve done in quite some time although white water rafting on the Zambezi below Victoria Falls was definitely more dangerous. But all that adventure aside, I think I’d like to tell you about a memorable lunch I had at the side of the road one afternoon while on safari in Malawi.
It wasn’t the food that was memorable; I think I ate a ham and cheese sandwich with Mrs. Ball’s Chutney on white bread. The ambiance was nothing to write home about either. A hot African sun was shining down and the landscape was dry and barren. No, what was memorable about that lunch were the spectators. Our group had only started preparing things when we noticed that there were about a dozen children of varying ages watching us. Don’t ask me where they came from. Oftentimes people just seemed to emerge out of the bush as if though they were beamed there by some Star Trek like transporting device. As we ate more children arrived and as more children arrived, they all moved closer and closer. It was obvious that they wanted to partake in our lunch and from the look of them, they appeared to be very much in need of a good meal, not to mention some clean clothes that weren’t full of holes. An awkward silence descended upon our group as we tried to eat our lunch without feeling too guilty. Eventually, one of the bleeding hearts among us (OK, it was my wife the social worker) asked our group leader if we could share our food with them. She replied that it probably wasn’t a good idea because we didn’t want them to become dependent on mooching food from foreigners.
So there we were, a bunch of rich white folks from Canada, Australia, and the UK eating what for us was a meager meal while a bunch of poor kids from Africa watched us eat what, for them I suspect, would have been a feast. The food in Africa is not very good in general, but I have to say that lunch left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. Just as we were about to leave, one of the older boys finally spoke up. Could he have the old soccer ball that some of us were kicking around. ‘No’, came the reply. And with that, we were back in the truck and on our way.
I think it is hard to spend time in Africa and not think about why much of the continent is in the state that it is and also wonder how things could be improved. By improved I do not necessarily mean making it look like an extension of the United States or European Union. Perhaps Africa should just be left alone to be Africa, whatever that might look like once all the foreigners trying to help or exploit the situation have left. You no doubt think that in today’s interconnected world that is not a possibility and you are probably right. Nevertheless, as citizens of a developed county that sends aid to Africa and as members of a student body, some of whom will travel to Africa as part of a community development initiative next year, we’re obligated to ask ourselves one question. Do our efforts do more harm than good to Africa?
You may think that when we collect clothes and send them to Africa, that can only help the situation. But do you stop to think about how dropping free clothes into a community affects the local tailor or merchant. You may think that sending thousands of kilograms of food aid to a country can only help the situation. But do you stop to think about how that affects local farmers, global food prices and Africa’s fragile agricultural based economies. You may think that going to Africa and building a school can only help. But do you stop to think about what impact that school will have on the destruction of traditional culture and way of life. Not to mention how your volunteer labour will affect the bricklayer whose job you have stolen for the week. Last and most of all, you might think that having westerners go to Africa to try and solve problems can only help. But do you stop to think about how that affects the psyche of the African people. People who were told for generations that they were not capable of governing themselves or solving problems on their own. Who were told not long ago, that they were less intelligent, less civilized, even less human than whites. Does our going there attempting to help, eradicate or perpetuate this lie?
Consider the following comment from Isaias Afewerki the president of Eritrea. ‘Years of aid has begun to foster a culture of dangerous dependency in the country. It has nurtured lethargy, debilitating idleness and unemployment and eroded the industriousness and hard work ethics of communities’.
You may think after reading this article that I think it would be a bad idea for you to go to Africa on the global education trip. That is not true. The problems facing Africa are extremely complex and I do not claim to have all the answers. But let me say this. If you do go to Africa, leave the ‘I’m here to save the world’ attitude at home. Because no matter how many bricks you lay or how much money you manage to leave behind, the person who will benefit the most from your experience will be you.