Microcredit evangelism is a familiar story for our industry: An idea that, after all, can produce some modest changes in the life of poor people (cash flow smoothing, confidence building, etc.) but that really works well only in some circumstances, is carried off by hype and urgency, offered as much more than it really is, and applied everywhere. As it grows it is inevitably caught up in the decades-old incentive structure of the development aid industry - people and institutions are rewarded for mobilizing and moving money, and for acting on the mistaken notion that the way to solve poverty is to go directly to the poor themselves. Since the 1970s, time and again our industry trades- in complex and contextual approaches to development (institutional, legal, governance, and other reforms) for bandaid solutions that produce at best marginal changes, but satisfy the need to be perceived as "doing something for the poor." Again, the question needs to be asked: Is the goal to ease the pain or to cure the disease?
If you're interested in St Judes School in Arusha, Tanzania, visit;
And I encourage you to do so. It is a great school, doing great things.
Again, donate if you can, but I encouage you to visit. It is a wonderful thing and is very good for Africa and the world.
This is just a suggestion. There are some good projects that you can contribute to. But there is an alternative.
Instead of donating $1 a day, which is the typical figure quoted, save the money instead. Put the money aside and one day go and visit Africa. I think it is much, much better than donating money, for a number of reasons.
1. The money goes into fairly sustainable industries, creating sustainable jobs.
2. You will learn about Africa, meet Africans and they will learn a bit about you. You might make some good friends and you will definitely appreciate and understand the culture a lot more.
3. You will be able to go back home and talk to other people about Africa.
If you saved a $1 a day then you could visit Africa in about 7 years time, saving about $2,750.
|Saving||One dollar a day|
|Years to save||7.45|
Go, don't donate.
Just my idea.
Brought to you by African Volunteer - all about Volunteering in Africa.
An article by BBC on the benefits and realities of providing aid to Africa and developing countries.
"When a tsunami hits or war creates refugees, the victims can do with some help to get back on their feet wherever they are.
Humanitarian relief aid will always be needed when disaster strikes.
But the evidence that aid can transform whole societies and lift millions out of poverty is unconvincing.
It can only speed up a process that is already happening.
When we see scenes of destitution from Africa we assume that we can change things by sending money.
But if aid could make Africa prosperous, it would have done so by now.
Despite nearly a trillion dollars of aid since independence in the 1960s, much of Africa is worse off now than it was then."
By Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society
My view is that to refer countries as developing is starting on the wrong foot. Sure, they may be developing, everyone is developing. They are going somewhere. But what we mean is, that they are developing to be like us, like 'successful' western countries with be economies and material items. Yes, there is health and other benefits, I'm short cutting it on purpose.
Africa is Africa. Help Africans develop it in their own way, at their own pace.
OK, the following is half rant, half revelation that’s been surfacing in pieces throughout the last 6 months. A few friends have heard it, most haven’t. Take it at what it is, nothing more than a heart-felt declaration and nothing less than a verbalization of concern, frustration and genuine inquiry. It was written in March, and only half-finished. .. your thoughts are welcome:
Anyway, in case I’ve managed to make you believe that I’m having a ball over here offering my time and energy for effective projects and eager people, let me open a blind into the real state of my mind: I've decided, not only through multiple case studies but through my own sweat and perseverance, that volunteering perpetuates a reliance on free foreign assistance, it's a misdirected use of energy and an over inflated method for self-aggrandizement. i'm tired of pouring my efforts into these singular projects - football tournaments, HIV trainings, brochure holders, condom distributions and English classes, even creating a website, when really, truly and honestly, all anyone wants is money!! no gratitude for the aforementioned accomplishments, no appreciation for my unquestioned (unsalaried dedication) just, "so, can you buy the balls? can you send me to school? we need rent money . . . . " . .aaaagggghhhhh!
Tanzanians expect free assistance, they've been receiving volunteers and donor grants for the past forty years! - 4 decades of unearned assistance, and no noticeable changes!! AIDS is skyrocketing, unemployment inflated, education is still under funded and of disreputable quality. where's the improvement??? negligible, if at all.
we volunteers, in our crusade to help others more impoverished than ourselves, are stealing jobs from local Tanzanians, are making sure that companies/ngos/schools/government never budget for local quality employees, are perpetuating this self-piteous belief that Tanzanians can do nothing for themselves. that instead of creating jobs for themselves, instead of lobbying government for special-interests themselves, instead of demanding government transparency and accountability through civil protest and revolt, foreign charities and volunteers bypass those "inevitabilities" and offer as much unasked for assistance as their little do-gooders can afford. indeed, the very level of foreign aid these countries get depends on the degree of poverty and malnourishment the government can maintain within its borders. the poorer the country, the greater the aid.
What would happen if all the charities, all the international ngos ,all the well-wishing volunteers packed up their things and went home? Would Tanzanians, no Africans, be forced to figure things out on their own? Or would they continue tomorrow as they do today, albeit with less John Deer-contributed food in their gut and less church-donated shirts on their backs? Maybe, all in all, they’d be just as happy.
By Sarah J.
I’ve finally demystified the clothes washing procedure – dump in a ton of powder Foma soap, fill up three tubs of water, and dunk and scrub each article in each of the three buckets. Follow up with a bar of soap, a good rinse, and hang on the inside clothesline strung from one hallway to the next (you risk hatching mango flies in your flesh if you hang the clothes outside without ironing – which I will never master).
By Sarah J.
By Sarah J.
I began shadowing a set of doctors and nurses two weeks ago at a small, private clinic called the Old Arusha Clinic.
What strikes me about these doctors is their agreement to work with imprecise and unknown information in order to heal or at least alleviate the pain of their patients. This is the case with all doctors, as science is imperfect and the human body frequently refuses the guidelines carved out by human minds. However, here in Arusha where technology is limited to pre-WWII surgical tables and ether is the choice of general anesthetic (a gas banned in the States in the 1950’s due to its most inconvenient flammable property and the consequent explosion of unwitting patients), doctors work within more limited knowledge than most. If the patient’s symptoms don’t immediately fit into 1 of the 5 main categories of illnesses the clinic, no, the city can treat (malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, intestinal worms or HIV), the patient is released with a handful of mild pain killers and a hope, by both doctor and patient, that the mysterious ailment will quietly disappear.
Every morning from about 8:30am to 1:30pm I sit in with doctors as they interrogate one patient after another, 80% of which are diagnosed with malaria. I’ve been invited to observe minor surgeries every Tuesday and Thursday, while Saturdays are reserved for more invasive, major operations.
My first surgery, I observed three medium-sized lumps removed from the breast of a healthy, 22-year old Tanzanian woman. It was bizarre being on the other side of the divide. This time, I was the one in blue scrubs, green hat and cloth mask, hands clasped in front of me. I never quite grasped how all-powerful doctors are in the surgical room (or operating theater, as medical lingo goes). This woman was stretched out naked and completely unresponsive to stimuli and the cold instruments cutting, pulling and probing at her intimate flesh. Doped up on demurral, ketamine and valium, her eyes flitted between wide open and ¾ slits, her mouth slack, her fingers lax. She was so utterly at the mercy of whoever happened to enter the room (which was realistically anybody since the theater opens out onto the hospital’s backyard – no maze of white doors to block the entry of unknowns). It was unnerving. Her life, so sedated, was no longer safeguarded by her conscious mind. It was the most physically vulnerable state I’ve seen ever someone in.
Perhaps it was memories of other vulnerable moments, baring one’s heart, speaking a brutal truth to a loved one, recognizing one’s emotional reliance on another that made me feel a startling association with the premise of this situation and yet a sense of total alienation from its circumstances. Here was a beautiful, naked human being voluntarily delivering herself into the hands of another. And yet, at the same time, she was nothing but an unresponsive object that presented a small, intellectual challenge to the room’s educated. Her breast jiggled unceremoniously when the table moved. Her chest heaved mechanically to the narcotics rushing through her veins. The woman, let’s call her Jana, was reduced to a single breast as the rest of her body was covered in green sterile sheets and a sheet was hung separating her head from her doctors’ view.
Dr. Mshana made a 1-inch incision around the top of her nipple. I stood back in expectation of horror-movie blood, or at least a few squirting vessels, but that first cut merely revealed a pure white, rubbery substance – fat tissue. It was only as Dr. Urasa, the qualified staff surgeon, prodded his index finger deeper and deeper into the wound that blood reached the surface, pooling at the edges quicker than the doctors could blot it away with gauze. 6 sterile instruments clamored for a hold on the wound; two small rake-like objects pulled the flesh apart and kept the wound open for probing fingers, and the remaining 4 clamped on what seemed to my naive eye, indiscriminate pieces of pulpy meat. Every once in awhile, an electric autocautilizer was used to seal off broken vessels spurting blood – the flesh was literally burned to stop the bleeding, like a rope’s end burned to prevent it from unraveling. Once a tumor was located by fingertip, it was pulled to the surface of the wound with a small claw-like tool and then snipped off with surgical scissors.
All 3 lumps were ultimately removed, only 1 of which I actually witnessed. I was forced to leave the room three separate times during the 2-hour operation. I couldn’t overcome my repulsion of seeing a grown man tug on the flesh of an open wound so hard his arms shook. The sound of metal clinking metal as the instruments were repositioned inside the breast. The sound a plastic glove made rubbing against the sides of an open wound. Fingers buried in flesh futilely searching for a hard fatty substance. I was certain the skin was going to tear, a gash splitting effortlessly down her rib cage. Apparently though, human flesh separates easily at the edge of a sharp blade, but fingers can push and turn underneath it without leaving a stretch mark (although the patient feels like a truck hit them the next day).
Each time I collected myself and reentered the room, I was determined to make it through the rest of the surgery calm and observant ( “. . . it’s just a standard procedure, this is beneficial for the patient, these guys are experts . . “). But, every time I remembered she was human, just like me, my vision grew distorted, the room swam and that tangy flavor of bile bubbled up in my throat. I didn’t want to keel over on my first day in surgery so I quietly shuffled out of the room . . . . 3 times!
(lump removal surgery in Tanzania - $70!)
Since then, I’ve observed the removal of lipomas, large growths, the correction of hernias and hemorrhoid removals. Each time, the sight of blood and guts have affected me less, and the act of stitching more. Even now, two weeks into it, my world spins when incisions are sutured up. Friday, I staggered out of the room nearly falling to my knees as an 8-inch incision was sewed together. Crazy, how the mind and body behaves and reacts.
The medical staff, nurses and doctors, are the some of the most compassionate and professional I’ve met here in TZ. The nurses spend precious time with their patients, chatting about life and making sure they feel comfortable. There are three doctors, 2 Tanzanian and one American. The oldest doctor, who owns the clinic and has been working there for the past 29 years, is brilliant, witty and comedic in a manner I don’t think he’s aware of. When I observed my first suture removal, Dr. Urasa called me over to look closely at the jagged nature of the seal, performed at another hospital. After commenting that this surely wasn’t the work of his clinic, he quoted Kipling’s famous line “The East is East. The West is West. And the twain never shall meet” as evidence of the permanence of a jagged heal. He’s a 73-year-old man, thick white hair, tall and gangly, though slightly stooped that constantly totters around in old and cracked wooden clogs, his “surgical shoes”. It was a gift from a Swedish patient over a decade ago. At the completion of my first minor surgery (a growth removal from the under thigh of a relatively large woman), he stepped back with a satisfied smile and said “ahh, see there! That’s a good stitch!”, right as his surgical scrubs slipped down around his knees because he hadn’t tied them well enough. He hastily pulled them up, tottering precariously in his old clogs, too caught up in his words to catch the humor in the moment. It was pure comedy.
Of course, so much else to relay, if you’re still reading, here are some thoughts I’ve been pondering:
There’s a total reliance on medication and painkillers for common things such as flues, pre-menstrual cramps and mysterious chronic headaches.
The doctor-patient relationship among Wazungus (a Swahili catch all phrase for white people) is a world away from the relationship shared by Tanzanians. Tanzanian patients accept an inferior role to that of their doctor, assuming doctor knows best; there are no extraneous questions asked or symptoms mentioned unless directly asked. Oftentimes, as I’m sitting in the doctor’s office with a patient, the doctor will run through the patient’s history and then his test results in a 20-minute monologue directed at me. In English, often a language patients only faintly grasp, he’ll explain to me the meaning of a high white cell blood count combined with an insulin deficiency. Then, after soliciting any questions from me, he’ll finally turn to the patient, who sits patiently in his chair the entire time, provides a sentence-long description of their diagnosis, writes a prescription (a patient never leaves his office without one!) and marches him out. The patient rarely inquires into the nature of the stated illness or the method of prescribed treatment. In fact, once a woman discovered she had tested positive on a pregnancy test only by catching the word in her doctor’s explanation to me before he properly broke the news to her.
Wazungus, on the other hand, demand lengthy explanations, descriptions, even predictions about the course of their illness. Mostly all good things – never accept a truth without understanding it. However, I do think we’ve been coddled a bit too much by our medical professionals – Tanzanians undress readily in from of me and their doctor, unquestioning of my presence as long as the doctor is present to validate it (added to the fact that nudity is nothing private in Tanzania). Whereas one wazungu parent brought her child in for a small sore on her foot and demanded a blanket to cover her daughter’s bare legs. We are used to a level of privacy and comfort Tanzanians don’t demand, making it much easier for the doctor to do their job. It would be perfect if the doctor-patient relationship could combine a little of both of these culturally different relationships – pertinent inquiry on the patient’s part without demands for inconveniencing comfort.
Every day, I watch the decline of a woman suffering from AIDS combined with severe diabetes and a strong bronchial infection. Her husband died 2 years ago from AIDS. Until two months ago, she’s showed no signs of the advanced stage of HIV. She was a high profile, world traveler providing consultancy in marketing and sales to top-end businesses. Now, two months after contracting bronchitis, she’s left immobile and unable to speak. Each day I’ve seen her, her condition grows visibly worse – although at first it was hoped she could return home to die, the best hope now is that she will die a quick, relatively painless death here in her hospital bed. Such a dynamic, intelligent woman reduced to an emaciated, wasted state in 60 days – the power of disease and the vulnerability of our bodies to it is devastating. HIV/AIDS is a familiar foe here – every one of my friends knows personally 5 or more people who are suffering or have died from it. A frightening reality for all, an accepted fate by those forced to prostitution (men and women in search of income) and even those who get married (infidelity is a matter of course here, by both sides of the marriage bed).
The strength of the family unit here in Tanzania is evidenced by the hordes of family members that attend their sick in each hospital room around the clock, no matter how minor the illness. An older woman, in for severe dehydration and intestinal worms, a common and easily-treatable illness, is constantly surrounded by at least three women talking with her, lying down with her, just being with her. Every family brings in their own food and drink for the patient – there is no food service at the clinic. There are also no visiting hours or restricted visitor regulations.
Can medical doctors provide comprehensive care to patients, assisting them in their psychological health and lifestyle choice as well as their physical manifestations of pain? If not, could I be content curing sick people while not providing thorough preventative care? If not, where does that leave my interest in the medical field? . . . a path not as clear as I would have it . . .
By Sarah J.
By Sarah J.
Party for a Cause
In March, one of my roommates, Christy, and I pulled together a pretty successful fundraiser for raising HIV/AIDS awareness at a football (American soccer) tournament hosted in April by Chawakua.
The fundraiser happened to fall on April 1st, and all the audiovisual equipment seemed to kowtow to the fabled Fools’ day. The event was scheduled to begin at 8pm – at half past 7, Christy and I were still trying to figure out how to deliver two 3x2 ft speakers, 1 large mixer and three people to the fundraiser held at Via Via (a popular restaurant/bar in Arusha). Finally, Christy folded herself around one speaker in the back seat of a 4-door taxi, and I crawled into the trunk with the other one. One Tanzanian took it upon himself to follow us with the headlights placed squarely on me and my speaker eliciting shrieks of surprise from the pedestrians we passed and encouraging one guy pulling a wooden cart to trot alongside us.
Once we finally got the equipment delivered and set up, we discovered that both speakers were blown and the amplifier (borrowed from another party) was completely dysfunctional. Ah, the headache of doing things on a shoestring budget in a “pole pole” world (meaning “slowly slowly” – it’s practically the nation’s motto).
Christy and I introduced the event at 9:15. We were both incredibly apprehensive (the last time I spoke to a crowd over 10, I went through 4 glasses of water and had to throw up afterwards), but everything went well. A group of 20 Chawakua youth performed (youth who have graduated from Chawakua’s training
program on sex ed) 2 hours of traditional African dance, a few short skits on contracting and living with HIV, fire swallowing, acrobatics and a ton of amateur rap. Although Tanzania doesn’t have much of a performing arts culture, its youth are obsessed with Swahili rap – it’s a regional music called “Bongo Flava” – at Mkombozi, a center for street children, kids even hook up one of those really old phone receivers with a spiral chord to an ancient turntable as an alternative to DJ headphones.
Anyway, Christy and I managed to raise $230 and attract about 125 guests. At 15% above our target, I call it a success – most of the money was given in exchange for a raffle ticket – 3,000 shillings (~$3) for a free, domestic round-trip ticket and 1,000 shillings (~$1) for a complimentary dinner for two at a local restaurant. The money raised was used to purchase prizes for the Tournament finals held at the end of the month – first aid kits and footballs, as requested by the youth. We had a good time – and I’m thrilled it’s over.
This is a poem chosen by Sarah from VIA and I'm guessing it sums up how she feels as her time is drawing to a close in Africa.
If you want to be high, be high!
If you want to be free, be free.
There’s a million ways to be,
you know that there are!
This is my choice;
You Don't Know Me
You give your hand to me
And then you say hello
And I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don't know me
No you don't know the one
Who dreams of you at night
And longs to kiss your lips
Longs to hold you tight
Oh I am just a friend
That's all I've ever been
Cause you don't know me
You give your hand to me
And then you say goodbye
I watch you walk away beside the lucky guy
Oh you will never know
The one who loves you so
Well you don't know me
You give your hand to me
And then you say goodbye
I watch you walk away beside the lucky guy
Oh you will never know
The one who loves you so
Cause you don't know me
Oh no you don't know me
OOhh...you don't know me
What do you think? What would you pick? A poem or a song. Write one yourself?
While I was in Arusha, Tanzania, Africa, I worked on a program to create a student loan facility for adult vocational training called Loans for Learning. I created a web site for it with information etc. I'd appreciate any comments and feedback.
Hi, I haven't written on this blog for a while since i've actually left Africa. But I do intend to update it with some of my journal (physical- crazy I know!) entries when I get back to the sunburnt country.
Again, I invite anyone else who has volunteered in Africa or anywhere to send me postings.
Be right back........
This is a bit of a warning for anyone travelling through Tanzania, Africa, or anywhere for that matter. It is the short version of how I was befriended, trapped and robbed.
I was travelling by myself in Tanzania and arrived in Dar es Salaam. On the first night a guy sat down at the same table in a busy cafe and ate some food. We chatted for about an hour. He left.
The next day I ran into him again in the street. Quick chat and goodbye.
In the afternoon I ran into him again and he said he and his brother were going to listen to some live music. It was 3pm so I thought why not.
I went to the bar (Leaders Bar) via public transport. Soon afterwards, he said that he and his brother were going to another bar and did I want a lift. By this time I thought they were Ok, so I said yes. [big mistake here] After a short drive they pulled over after a club and the brother said that he was going to light a joint. He offered me some but I said no.
Suddenly, three guys came from out of nowhere and came to the car. One of them started saying that we were in possession of drugs. I was freaked out and tried to get out of the car. One of the guys was in a (probably fake) police uniform. They pushed me back into the car and drove off (why the driver would just start driving???)
The main dude was yelling at me telling me that I was going to go to gaol/jail and that I'd pay a $2,000US fine. He then said that we could sort stuff out now. I knew he wanted money.
I had a strong impression that they were fake and that my 'friends' were involved in a scam but I realised that I was now in a car with 5 guys and that I was in no position to call their bluff. I started pulling bits and pieces of money out until they were satisfied that they had enough. They let me out and I got a bus home thinking what they hell did I just get myself into. I got away with my passport, credit cards, camera, phone, some money and my health (apart from a fair bit of sweat and some mental anguish), but I considered myself pretty lucky. It could of been much worse.
Anyway, it is a bit of a warning again. I'm sure you've heard it before. I certainly don't think you should never trust people, but you should be careful and do it in super safe environments, but I really found out how environments can change in the blink of an eye. I had lots of great conversations and experiences by trusting people in my travels and got screwed over this once. I think it was worth it, but it is a difficult one. If I was hurt then it wouldn't have been.
I had a really good experience last night with some of the local kids. They were playing, and I was playing and losing, until it got dark. Then I started to tell them about Australia. I told them that we have kangaroos. They had heard of them, but I told them about the big tails and how they hop around.
I tried to get them to tell me about some African animals, and after a while we got a list flowing. I tried to tell them that we didn't have any of those animals in Australia, but I think it was a difficult concept.
The night before we had fun playing Dirt Pictionary. This is where you draw a picture in the dirt and people have to guess what it is. It started small, but we ended up drawing over the entire dirt compound where we play. One of the shy boys drew a really good picture of a person. I was quite impressed. We also had flowers, houses, soccer balls (of course), and cups. I think it is a really good idea.
I'm not sure if it is the translation and language barriers, but it seems like children in Tanzania are reluctant to think of answers themselves or to guess. Whenever anyone asks me my age, I try to guess (hoping they will say younger of course), but generally they never guess. The normal answer is just yes.
"Can you tell me how old you think I am?" - me.
"Yes." - local.
It might be just language, but I think it might also be the school system which is almost exclusively focused on memorising information. Games like Dirt Pictionary are a good start.
One thing that really frustrated me yesterday, and is not much fun generally, is random people just asking for money. Initially it is a bit of a shock and you fumble through a reason to say no, because you are told that it is bad to encourage begging. Then you get used to it and just roll out a standard response. But yesterday I was asked more than ten times by children, young men and old men. It just got to me and I was quite rude to the last guy.
I think the thing that gets me the most is that it is considered OK. I know there are people who have very little altnerative, but most of the people look like they are doing OK but just wanted some extra money from someone who could afford it. It goes towards the effort and reward principle that I believe in. Yes, I am relatively rich and yes, I have had relatively more opportunities than people here, but I feel that I have earned my money and my life.
Perhaps this is begging is made harder because I'm trying to help somethings here. I've made a decision that my brain and effort can do more than my money. Of course people here do not know that. I'm a mzungu and probably a tourist.
It is a part of life here for a volunteer.
All of the views currently on this site are from one volunteer (me) who had a limited experience in Africa (only four months). I would really like to add to this site by getting more perspectives on these and more topics.
Just add a comment by clicking the link below, include your email address and I will get in touch with you.
Some of the topics I'll try and work on but would love contributions from you on;
Just some ideas.
Here are some good books that I've read whilst in Africa.
"Africa: A biography of the continent." - Paul Reader.
A really interesting book covering everything from tectonic plates, to development of fire, to slavery and colonialism. It is also very readable. About 675 pages, but I've loved every page.
Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux.
Paul travels from Cairo to Cape Town. Lots of
great adwentures and interesting perspectives from someone who has been in Africa 30 years before and has a fresh look at it. He is not very positive about the work of aid programs, but I think his view is worth listening to.
True at First Light - Earnest Hemingway.
An interesting ramble about his own experience in Africa as a hunter with one of his wifes. It is quite imperialist in it's nature, but interesting nonetheless.