When I have some down-time, I often like to look through a few of the blogs of other EWB volunteers. Their experiences feel familiar, yet incredibly unique. In contexts that are superficially alike but truly quite distinct, we are inevitably faced with similar, yet utterly different challenges. Most importantly, each of us sees his reality through his own eyes, and lives it in her own way. Their perspectives enrich my own understanding and complete my experience.
Today, Alyssa and Anthony caught me completely off guard. Their honest yet powerful tales of loss reminded me of Seydou’s youngest daughter, who probably had malaria when I left Kayero. I say “probably” because a medical diagnosis was, to my knowledge, not made; instead, Seydou’s diagnosis was based on her fever and vomiting. Fortunately, basic malaria treatment was expensive but affordable and, most importantly, available in Kayero; if she was able to ingest the pills, there is good reason to believe that Seydou’s daughter is okay today.
Kayero, however, is relatively lucky. The pharmacy and clinic there must also somehow serve most of the surrounding villages, all several kilometres away. So it is also for the centre for malnourished children (CREN), that receives dozens of young children from the other villages, and generally none from Kayero itself.
Kayero seems to owe its improved situation to a multi-faceted development project by the Christian Relief and Development Organisation (CREDO) a few years back. They built and serviced the pharmacy, the clinic, a school, a church and the CREN, developed some basic irrigation and installed two bore holes with pumps. Fifteen years later, the first three have been taken over by the state and are functioning relatively well, the church is closed off (Christianity didn’t take, most of Kayero is still Muslim), accumulated water is a bit more accessible for the fields, and clean drinking water is still easily available, for now. The CREN, however, continues to operate almost entirely thanks to the CREDO’s funding, funding which will be cut in 2011. It’s not clear what will happen to the malnourished children after that.
In development work, it’s easy to get lost in the How. It’s such a difficult question to answer that getting lost in it may even sometimes be necessary. The question of Why, though, may be an even more difficult one. It’s especially challenging when these two questions feel at odds. For me, the conflict is felt when trying to evaluate whether the CREDO’s development project was “Good Development”. It certainly was not in line with EWB’s approach.
The overwhelming attitude I sensed in Kayero was one of waiting for development to happen. “When is the next project coming along? We need help to be able to develop. We don’t have the means.”; “You are Canadian. How is Canada going to help us develop? Now that you have come here, how are you going to help us?” What do you answer to that? … What brought them to ask those questions in the first place? Is it an endless list of development projects like the CREDO’s? Is it truly possible for a country to develop with that attitude?
At the same time, the CREDO’s project has done undeniable good. Clean water has meant less diseases for 15 years. Medical services means being able to treat many of the diseases that do appear, like malaria. Irrigation means more productive fields. A functional elementary school means children who can read, write and speak French, which they need to be able to professionalize themselves. And the state taking a number of these over also means some encouraging sustainability. How would I feel if Seydou’s daughter died because of an easily treatable disease? How can I possibly say that this is “Bad Development”?
So, Why? Are we working so that Seydou’s daughter can be treated for malaria? Or is it something else? When does development start to look more like charity, and when does that become acceptable, if ever? Why do you think I should be here? Or do you think I should even be here at all?
Let me know.