In February I was for the first time in sub-Saharan Africa. During the last days of our stay in Kenya, I was asked, how has the concept of development changed for me during the trip? Well, this has been an eye-opening opportunity for me.
After seeing so many things in Kenya (hospitals and schools in Nairobi and Kisumu and the Millennium Villages) you have so many things to write about. You don't get to see and feel those kinds of things often. Before you have always been somehow in the shadow, not having to face those problems really, somehow concentrating always on other things, you don't even have to think about it really. Once you really see more, you feel it, it's more real.
During the stay I felt like I want to do something. But I just didn’t know what. I guess I feel the same as those people there. I see that people are trying, they just need more knowledge and education, training and they need somebody to help them. This experience really made me see differently some things. At least I will be able to share the information.
What kind of issues are the biggest problems when it comes to development in African countries? The first thing to think about is of course the food security. This is linked also to education, in a way.
If we think of how to motivate students to go to schools, food is one thing. When they get a school lunch, they’ll have the energy to go to school and to concentrate on studying.
Photo by Remko Nijsten
From city to villages
Photo by Remko Nijsten
I have got the impression, that just like in any country, the living conditions are very different when you go to the city or to the countryside, from town to villages. One thing seems to be the same, people are keen to learn new things everywhere.
One important thing is also that the national policies have to interact with the NGOs work and implement it in a bigger scale, to make it continue and to make things better not only in a couple of villages but throughout the country. Unemployment is one of the problems.
Unlike in developed nations, the Kenyan government doesn't have a job centre to register the unemployed and connect them with recruiting employers. There are far too many frustrated unemployed youth. And we have seen lately what kind of problems this is linked to, for example in Northern Africa.
What I understood also, is that people would be happiest to be able to work there where they live and for their people. this is why they're staying and even though they could have the possibility to go working somewhere else, they will stay instead. Who wants to move all the time because of work after all? Wouldn't it be better to be able to work in the same place for a longer time to see the results of your work and live where your family and friends are? But sometimes it's the opposite. Many people move to the city to work. And some even to another country, if it's possible.
Examples: Europeans who come to work in Kenya to help people in projects. Kenyans, who would have the possibility to go and work somewhere else, but still want to stay where they are even with a low income. (I will write about these in my next posts)
Approach towards a different environment and living conditions
I was asked if I could live my life here in Africa. I believe there are problems everywhere, the unemployment does exist even in Finland, so some problems are familiar to me. If I could find a way to do that, I don't see a reason not to. Some Europeans would even like to change their lifestyle and come to help people in other countries. I see some reasons why would people want to come and live here. Fist of all, if you'd be able to work and help those people, you'd see your work results and that of course gives you happiness. Also you'd have to change your lifestyle completely. You wouldn't be able to live here as you live in Europe with all the technologies and infrastructure available. But I'm just asking, would you even need that stuff? If you could help people with so little? Of course it's not possible to do all by yourself and you'd need funding too for any project, but at least you could see if it helps or not. You would be concentrating more on the basic things. And you'd somehow be one of them, the community workers asking funding from abroad. You'd have to make a choice, could you give up of something you've got, just to help others. Could you be one of them? I don't think many would actually do it and choose that when they have a choice. But I really see why some people would and why they feel so much about Africa. It makes you feel.
We were touring around and seeing different places, interviewing people, and taking photos. It just feels so strange to go and see those people in the hospital or in the streets like they were some kind of animals in zoo we came taking photos of. Then if you get to interact with the people, to communicate with them, it opens your eyes even more.
I don't like the aggressive way of asking questions, I prefer talking to people, having a conversation with them. Some people who are coming from different living conditions seem to be so critical and suspicious about every single thing, maybe because they want to know what is it that should be done to make things better, and why it hasn't happened yet. But I think you have to ask people what do they really need, not just try to make it in our way, it's not always the same things that are important than for us, because of the environment, culture and other things. Whatever will be done, “it has to feed the needs of the community", as some of the villagers said.
But how can we know what they need and how to help them as it's not through "our way", I guess there has always been this idea (especially during the colonization) that we have to teach those other people what to do and how. And even if you want to do good things you don't know why for example some of the projects don't work, it could be because they don't answer to the needs or are not put to the local context.
Photo by Helena Goldon
For example there was this hospital where new equipment was available, but it wasn’t used. Somehow it looks really stupid that these new hospital rooms are not being used. There has been a project to build it, and they wanted to make sure it'll be done and came and built it by themselves. But for what? Now that it’s done and ready, it’s not even being used that much, so what’s the point? And why is it not being used? Somehow it really doesn’t make any sense. Either they don't have personnel to work there or they don't know how to use the equipment. Who knows. It's just like you threw money away somehow. So sometimes the solutions are hard to find and they don't come from other countries, even if some people are trying to help, they won't succeed, because they don't know the challenges of this specific environment.
Examples: Hospitals, IT (I will write about these in my next posts)
I'm not even trying to solve the problems in my blog, just going to write about what I felt like. I mean, what else can I do? It seems that the situation is paradoxical, the government isn't doing enough, the people doesn't even wait anything from it, instead they would like other people to help them.
Somehow it makes me feel so useless and clueless. Somehow those who say the aid should be stopped are right, but not completely. I guess we should find new ways to make the development aid working better. It seems that it's impossible to help people on the long run if they don't initiate it themselves. Still it seems somehow that they don't know what they need, and how to make it better. Do we?
In my next posts I will write more about my experiences starting from arriving to Kenya, and describing the feelings during the trip and the visits to hospitals, schools and so on.