Posts Tagged ‘poverty’


Lindsay: Less than 2 weeks and counting

January 4, 2012
A little less than two weeks left til I leave and counting.  I am getting sorta nervous, anxious, excited.  I don’t know if I will ever be prepared enough for something like this, but I think that is what makes it so interesting and thrilling.  I have some idea of what to expect, but who really knows exactly.  They say poverty is something you must overcome while you are there, you must not let it effect you, otherwise it may ruin your whole trip.  
Okay Lindsay-suck it up cupcake, you can do this.  Poverty will be hard at first to see and hard not to want to do something about it.  For example, hand them food or money,  but I must not do that either, for I may get followers and other people wanting food as well.  I was warned to not give things away to people, especially as an American because they know we have money.

Today, I was just assigned my housing and address for the first 6 weeks of my stay in India, and I will have a roommate from the U of M join me in the same house.  Now I only hope the house, well apartment actually, does not have a servant.  I was told many of the upper castes have servants.  Some are even children looking to help make money for their families.  These children often do not get an education.  The family may chose to pay them back by providing them with an education.  This this is very rare and usually happens when the servant is treated like a family member.  Some servants may be treated like family members and may even sleep on an actual bed.  However, they could potentially be treated like dirt and are forced to sleep on the hard ground, and that would be considered socially acceptable.  It would be incredibly rude of me to even make any gesture of sympathy for them.


Grace: Why in the world am I here?

September 4, 2011

Up until now I’ve just been writing about what I’ve been doing, eating, seeing, and feeling in Senegal and not so much of what I’ve been thinking.  So let me first take a little dive into my thoughts for coming here in the first place.  Later I’ll talk about my thoughts now that I’m here.

Warning: this post may not be as entertaining as the others.

So first of all, I have grown up in a family with parents who regularly discuss the issues of poverty and the privilege we have (I was never allowed to substitute “starving” for “hungry), emphasize compassion for the poor in a Christian context (Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”), encourage thinking beyond ethnocentricity (growing up we were not allowed to say that people in other countries drove on the “wrong” side of the road, but the “different” or “other” side), and constantly exposed me to the international community (my parents have a lot of non-American friends).  From an early age I knew that there were billions of people less fortunate than me, that I had an obligation to do something for them, but that they were no less smart, deserving, innovative, or loved by God than me. I knew that my blessings in America were just that: blessings, and that I had done nothing to deserve them.

I also was blessed in high school with the opportunity to travel some, because my parents knew that they could tell stories about poverty until they were hoarse, but my siblings and I (this was before our family completion in 2008) needed to see true poverty for ourselves in order to really understand the extent of it.  Now, ok, I’m a little embarrassed talking about these trips, because they feel a little voluntourism-y to me now. Yes, the primary objective of these trips was for my siblings and my benefit. No, the “work” we did in orphanages in Myanmar didn’t really help the orphanages in any long-term way. But voluntourism or not, these trips changed my life by showing me first hand the harsh realities of poverty and loss. They were also a lot of fun, because let’s face it, traveling is awesome!

In 2008, my parents adopted my two brothers from Ethiopia. The addition of Amani and Habtamu into our family just emphasized all the more how completely undeserving I am to have grown up with such privilege. My brothers have also shown me that I am in NO WAY better, smarter, etc than “people in Africa”.  In a cultural environment (America) where “Africa” is a country and all “Africans” are starving, poor, and helpless, it sickens me to know that thoughts of superiority have crossed my mind more times than I’d like to admit. Oh yes, there are definitely starving, poor, and helpless people in the world. My brother Amani can recount stories of poverty that still blow my mind. And there is no doubt that Habtamu was helpless, as a 5 year old in an orphanage. But my parents didn’t “save” them, any more than a couple saves 5 and 10 year old American orphan. Orphans are orphans, the only difference is government protection and help. But anyways…

Through my (sorta strange) upbringing, international exposure, and brothers, I have developed a passion for the impoverished, and a huge desire to see the end of poverty, suffering, injustice, and preventable deaths. And after a trip to Kenya with a non-profit organization (my dad’s) to evaluate the effectiveness of their projects, I can’t quit thinking about ways to achieve culturally appropriate, sustainable development.

I also have totally fallen in love with Africa. Ugh, I actually can’t stand saying those words because I have heard them so often in a voluntourism-y, derisive context. Like “OMG, I met some African orphans while I was in Africa for a week and they were like soooooo cute and hadn’t even seen a camera before, it was so crazy! And there were some giraffes too when I went on a safari after working at the orphanage, and they were soooo amazing.  Now I’ve totally fallen in love with Africa! I just hope I can raise enough money to make a trip back next year, I just have to do something for those poor little African kids”. AHHHH. I really hope you can all see the millions of bad associations I have with “falling in love with Africa”. 

But I don’t know how else to say how much I love the variety of cultures, languages, peoples, triumphs, problems, landscapes, and faces to be found on this continent. So when it came time to choose a major, I chose International Studies with a concentration in African studies.  And when it came time to choose somewhere to study abroad (I am required to for my major), I chose Senegal.  Specifically, this program because it has a big emphasis on exploring the issues involved in international development. So that’s why I am sitting here in a house in Dakar, with a fan blowing on me (thank goodness), listening to the muffled sounds of Wolof conversation and the calls to prayer from the mosque.

This post definitely doesn’t cover all my reasons for coming to Senegal, nor does it even scratch the surface with explaining the situation we are in with development, the subjugation of Africa, voluntourism as a business, and general apathy.  But now you sorta know what I’m doing here, and can see that I’m (hopefully!) not like most people who visit “Africa”.  I’m not here to save the world, or enlighten the Africans with my Western wisdom. I’m here to learn, to observe, to think, to wrestle with issues, to make friends, and to have fun.


I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I know of books, websites, and people who have a few.


Emily: You may say I’m a dreamer…

August 11, 2011

Last night I dreamt that my good friend Ashley and I were waltzing around a grocery store – and what started as innocent sampling of grapes and cherries evolved into a full-blown rampage of thievery.  We stuffed cookies, cake mix, pickle jars – anything we could find into our mouths and clothing.  From what I’ve read on dream interpretations, dreaming of stealing forewarns fiscal difficulties in the future.  However, getting CAUGHT stealing implies good fortune, which in fact was how our blitz ended; the security guard near the checkout had been watching our antics on camera all along.  I’m not one to buy into superstition and such, but I still hoped the latter was true and good luck is coming.  Strangely, I did decide to pay for a single pomegranate in my dream…haven’t found any meaning in that as of yet.  In other interpretations I’ve read that being a thief in dreams is a sign that the dreamer feels they are lacking something, perhaps freedom of choice or lack of morals, or that you feel you are being closely watched and are fearful of intruding on the personal space of others – which defines how I’ve been feeling quite accurately.  Indian culture is fairly conservative – showing of affection in public is frowned upon (even between mother and child), bare shoulders or knees are frowned upon (mainly by women), the parents watch closely over the actions of their children, premarital relations of any kind are socially uncouth…and if you know me at all, you might say I’m a very liberal person and have been known to say “I do what I want” from time to time.  So, afraid of offending anyone, I’ve been paying close attention  to everything I say and do, noticing all the glancing eyes and all the time feeling somewhat trapped.  Luckily, the longer I’ve been here the more I’ve come to realize that the family I live in is very open, very honest, and has had a lot of experience with foreigners; welcoming students into their home for the last 10 or 12 years.  It has definitely taken some adjusting, but perhaps a bit of taming would be good for me.  I’m starting to settle into a bit of a routine – waking up very early, breakfast at 8:30, school at 9:00, lunch by 2:30, tea time at 6:00, and dinner at 8:30.  I’m more accustomed to living quite impulsively…but the structure has made me value my free time more and become very productive in studying and practicing with my lover, the ukulele.

And today I’ve once again experienced that a total 360 is possible in only hours– this morning I awoke feeling cornered, but as the sun sets I realize there are still outlets for expression, if only I utilize them.  My ladies (fellow classmates) and I took to the streets after lunch to study at a local restaurant/coffee shop, Mr. Beans.  It was nice to get out of the house, get some espresso, and converse about our school, our teachers, and what we’ve been learning – as of yet we’ve been spending a lot of time cooped up at our homestays, studying, reading, and whatnot.  I was a little put off though, I must admit.  Every where we go, there are children on the streets begging for whatever they can get (hopefully money), but as soon as we got to the coffee shop it was like the consumers in us turned on full blast, the comfortable atmosphere and aroma of coffee and cakes were admired and noted, and the children outside didn’t exist.  Imagine living a life where you are completely controlled by circumstance – born into a lower “caste” of people, made to wander the streets, begging tourists and your wealthier countrymen for aid, and more often than not, they leave you empty-handed.  I saw as a man nearly struck a small girl when she didn’t jump to approach us immediately upon seeing us.  What kind of world do these children think they live in?  I can’t wait to start working in my internship with a local NGO that aims to support and guide people who could truly use a helping hand in life.  It’s a lot more developed here than in Tanzania, but there are still many improvements to be made in the quality of life for the majority of people.  Women are sold into marriages (the man who makes the arrangements reaps all the benefits), children are married off, female infanticide due to dowry price is still a very real problem, women are tortured for being “witches”, the government lacks transparency, grain rots due to poor storage practices while thousands go hungry, and racism or residual “caste-ism” prevents people from empowering themselves and improving their own lives. 

I’ve been learning about the Hindu religion and reflecting upon the symbolism of the many gods, goddesses, and epic tales.  Vishnu, one of the supreme Hindu gods considered to be the sustainer of human life and the universe was incarnated (for the seventh time) appearing as Rama.  Rama led a humble life, even though he was a prince, and treated every man with respect.  Quite like Jesus in Christianity, he embodied what the ideal human should be.  Sometimes I think that people have gotten too wrapped up in the material things, the comforts of life, and appearing to be “godlike” when appearance is only an illusion.  The soul is what matters, the souls of others should matter, curing humanity of the darkness that curses our world should matter.  But this is, according to the Hindu time scale, the Kali Yuga, or final period in the cycle of living beings in which humanity has descended from righteousness and awareness of our inner selves.  Money, lust, jealousy, ignorance, opression…it’s all a little too much for a wee little Emily to think about sometimes.  But that’s why I’m here – I’m hoping to find a path in this life where I can bring out the best in others, the best in humanity, because I know it exists.  I know there are so many good souls out there who care, I’ve been so lucky to meet some in my life.

Anywho…enough of my preaching, I digress….Upon returning home for tea time, there was also a lot of time for chatting with Mary, Ramaji (my host mother), and Velinda (my host sister who stops to visit from time to time).  I’m feeling more and more comfortable around them every day as we exchange stories about our cultures, our families, and our experiences.  I’m so pleased with how this day has panned out, how my trip is turning out so far, and beginning to think that my dream may have represented good fortune after all.  Truly, I am so blessed to be here, to have this opportunity, and to have met such wonderful people.  I look forward to every day to come.


Amanda: Seva Mandir

April 29, 2011

While I lived in Udaipur, I worked as an intern in the education department at Seva Mandir.  Seva Mandir is the largest and most well-known NGO (non-governmental organization) in Udaipur, and one of the most prominent NGOs in Rajasthan.

While at Seva Mandir, I completed a project on children who receive a scholarship from Seva Mandir but drop out of school anyways.  Although I was often frustrated at Seva Mandir because of language and cultural differences, I feel like the work I completed really did matter.  During the course of my project, I visited over 11 villages and spoke to over 20 kids and their families.  I rode jeeps through dry, rocky terrain.  I scaled mountains with my translator and a few 10 year-old boys in search for kids.  My translators gave me tours of villages aboard India’s most common transportation vehicle: a motorcycle.  I drank unfiltered water!  The sun, blazing through cloudless skies, showed my white skin no mercy.  Goats once snacked on my reports while I interviewed a child.  I met women so shy they hid behind their saris, responding to my questions in giggles.  I discovered that poverty, real poverty, has nothing to do with money and everything to do with opportunity.

A high-end clothing company from the UK, Monsoon Accesorize, funds a scholarship for children in villages surrounding Udaipur.  Children must meet several requirements to become eligible for the scholarship.  They must attend at least two 2-month learning camps, be over the age of 9, and have at least a 70% attendance rate at school.  The scholarship is intended to provide children an option to stay in school.  All of the kids I interviewed were eligible for the scholarship but quit school for several reasons: some kids left because their teachers abused them; some left to watch livestock, some kids quit because school didn’t interest them any more; some left because polio crippled their legs, making their walk to school unbearable; some kids left to work at stone mines for the equivalent of $1/day; some kids left after a parent died in order to support their households.

My boss, Sunitaji, was one of the most independent and passionate women I have ever met.  She opted to spend nights at learning camps in order to invest in teachers and children.  She taught me the difference between giving people money and giving people tools for life.  The night before my last day at Seva Mandir, Sunitaji invited me to her house and cooked fish for me!  Sunita let me play with her son and watch whatever I wanted on her TV. Dinner at Sunitaji’s was such a sweet gesture and some of the best food I had in India.

I worked with many other interns from around the world at Seva Mandir, including people from India (of course), France, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US.  I met friends who could sympathize with being a foreigner in India.  We joked about being white in a country of brown.  We celebrated Holi from a rooftop, took too many chai breaks, and complained about “Indian time” (and in doing so, became affected ourselves by the Indian pattern of time-delay). 

I presented my project to Seva Mandir’s entire education department my last day of work.  I was very nervous to make suggestions about the scholarship program to educational professionals.  Although only about half of the audience knew enough English to follow my presentation, everyone was very supportive of the project.

Working with Seva Mandir was great for me at this stage in my life for many reasons.  I have always been interested in education, but made the decision about a year ago not to pursue a career as a teacher in the US public education system immediately after college.  Through my work, I realized that a good education is a right to all children regardless of the country they are born in or their family’s socio-economic status.  A good education doesn’t end when kids quit school.  An education challenges children for life and teaches them the joy in living intentionally.  In my opinion, education is the foundation for development and is essential for individual empowerment.


Parker: Prayer in the Streets

April 13, 2011

It is hard to imagine and understand the events of a Friday in Paris’ Barbés neighborhood until you make the trip there to experience it yourself. It was by far the most educational class trip I have taken since being in Paris. It is a part of my time abroad that I will never forget.

La Goutte d’Or, as described by Thirza Vallois, is “A tiny patch of Africa transplanted to Paris.” It started as an immigration destination for North Africans in the early 1900’s and then in the 1950’s became even more popular as immigrants came looking for work in the automobile industry. Now, twenty-seven percent of the population in La Goutte d’Or lives below the poverty level, and 17% lives in social housing, proof of the lower standard of life that seems to exist in some parts of this area.

But this area wasn’t always struggling, and even now not all of the population is experiencing this level of poverty. Originally La Goutte d’Or was a hamlet of wine growers, living in beautiful old houses, on small lanes, and cute little gardens. In the Middle Ages, the wine from the district was some of the best in Europe, given to the king every year by the City of Paris for his birthday. Some of this history is still evident, hidden behind gates and more modern, less fancy, façades.

While Barbés is still struggling against poverty, there are some positive movements being made toward the growth of the district. The Center for Muslim Culture is making positive strides toward building respect and understanding between the people of the area and the rest of Paris. Through educational and community events, they are creating an environment that will allow the Muslim community to be welcomed in by the rest of Paris.

This is also building toward the construction of a new, larger Center, using some government funding, which has already been approved by the Parisian government, a feat in and of itself. To build a religious center, especially one in a country that focuses heavily on its secular approach to government, with the money of the people, is extremely difficult. But what made the case for the Muslim Cultural Center is that it is supposed to be a place for everyone, and it is hoping that it will be able to follow through on this promise by welcoming all parts of Parisian society. In addition to the Cultural Center, the plans for a new mosque have been approved, which will be funded entirely by private donations.

While Paris already has the largest mosque in France, it is not big enough to handle the Muslim population in the city that is home to one fifth of the total population of France. This was obvious on our trip to Barbés during the Friday prayers. Because the small mosques in the neighborhood are not enough, the male population spills out onto the streets, where a highly organized procedure blocks off the streets, lays down prayer mats, and installs a private security force to protect the prayers of the people. Donation buckets are passed around, collecting funds to be put toward the new mosque, and people flow in from all directions to participate.

The situation is a model of tolerance. It goes both ways, from the tolerance of the Muslim people toward the secular government that makes it difficult for them to practice their religion, to the tolerance of the people of Paris who let this peaceful assembly to exist on a weekly basis, despite the inconvenience it might bring them. It was amazing to walk through the quiet, peaceful streets, while the sound of a service blared from speakers on top of cars lining the streets, and people who weren’t a part of the worship milled quietly about through the clear sidewalks and crosswalks. People kept to themselves, and respected the lives of those around them.

My other experiences in Barbés left me with a completely different feeling, one where I couldn’t wait to get away “to safety.” I felt out of place, exposed, and very uncomfortable. I felt like I was constantly being stared at like an outsider, because I was. I didn’t fit into what I saw as the entire population of the area, and I acted like someone who knew they didn’t belong there.

This trip was quite the opposite. In the clear light of a beautiful day, and with a better understanding of what I was walking into, I was able to feel comfortable, despite traveling with a large group of American students. Of course we got plenty of stares – we were a large group of mainly white students walking in a pack and speaking loud English. But this time they felt more like stares of curiosity, rather than threats. The people were friendly, welcoming, and willing to help. I have never seen Parisians so willing to answer a question from a stranger on the street. Barbés is probably one of the most misunderstood areas of Paris, and I am glad I had the opportunity to experience the culture of such a fascinating social situation.


Claire: Another proverb, ALHUMDALILAY!

September 18, 2009

“Gan du yewwi bey”=”It is not the place of the stranger to detach the goat.”

This proverb basically says “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” An easy concept, yes, of course you shouldn’t try to change a culture thats not yours. however, have you ever MET a goat?! i guarantee that if you have you wanted to “release” it on a one-way flight to Timbuktu (which, now that i think of it, is not far enough away from Senegal as I would like most goats. Strike that, send it to MARS). This morning at 7 am I was laying in bed trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep when i was awoken by something that sounded like a six year old with emphysema screaming for dear life. thats right. a GOAT. and when you have lived among the herds of goats like i have, you know that sometimes they “beeeeeh,” and sometimes they “BAH”, and SOMETIMES they scream bloody murder at the crack of dawn. Like my professor said, “One shouldn’t detach a goat, because a goat is a goat. You know that expression ‘as meek as a lamb?’ Well there is NO such thing for goats. It doesn’t exist.”

Yesterday, I bought a really nerdy headset from a street vendor that makes me look like Hannah Montana but enables me to SKYPE with people, like…actually TALK and have them HEAR ME! so i opted to headset my hours away instead of blogging, it was fabulous.

Today we have two papers due. One on something related to development “in the field” and one thats just a personal observation of something you’ve observed (dur) in Dakar. I wrote about my family for each, about how my mom’s husband died three years ago and since then money has been really tight and nothing has really been the same. I think she trades things, like fish and shrimp, somewhere but she always talks about the good old days when her husband was alive and their tv worked and they had a car and could afford to buy all the apples they wanted. I wrote about how this is a perfect example of why micro loans are so the wave of the future, because they give women like my mom an opportunity to start a small business and support herself in a way she could never do on her own.

The other paper I wrote was about my family and how nice and wonderful they have been. In the past week it has been really easy to be frustrated with the lack of personal space/time, the overwhelming armies of bugs in the bathroom (ill talk about those later), and the blasted GOATS. but, the truth of the matter is that my family rocks, Ramadan is ending soon, and im living much wealthier and healthier than most of the rest of Senegal. we learned this week that 65% of Senegalese households are living in poverty, 23% of those are in extreme poverty. The majority of the poverty is concentrated in the rural regions outside of Dakar, 72-88% of which are living in poverty. POVERTY. Which i know nothing about, lets face it. Ill learn a lot more when I get outside of Dakar, which im sure will make me say things like “REMEMBER when we had things like RUNNING WATER?!” so it really puts things in perspective.

but, if i may, id like to first say a few words about the bathrooms before i start looking on the bright side because, quite frankly, i am struggling with the bathrooms. i have my own which is connected to my room, which is really lucky, but there is NO toilet paper, NO toilet seat, bugs everywhere, and instead of a shower there is a faucet and a bucket. you put the water in the bucket and pour it on yourself and voila you have a shower. i dream about showers. i daydream about showers. i give people the evil eye who have showers.

then again, i just heard one student say to another student, “SHUT UP! YOUR FAMILY HAS A STOVE????”

SOOO. here’s a funny bright-side story:

A day or two ago i was in a grocery store and a man kept trying to say hello to me in Wolof (asalaa malekum, of course) but I couldn’t tell he was talking to me until he asked me, “hey, HOW ARE YOU DOING???” with a somewhat concerned look on his face (greetings are really a big deal here, the way you show someone you are mad at them is by not greeting them, aka acknowledging their existance). Well when i finally realized he was talking to me and replied “OH! Maangi fii” (I’m fine) he threw his hands up in the air and, with an expression of surprise and rejoice, he said “ALHUMDALILAY” (ahl-hum-duh-la-lay) which means “PRAISE be to GOD!!!”

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