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  • pounds-loan-12

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  • "Puppet Master" - Montego Bay, "Puppet Master" - Montego Bay, Jamaica

    • From: willdrew
    • Description:

      small fishing boat at Doctor's Cave Beach, Montego Bay, Jamaica

      Jan. 2010

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  • Into Kenya: A taste of the oth Into Kenya: A taste of the other side of the world

    • From: equiliberate
    • Description:

      What is a “developing country”? While there exists no formal definition, some might call it a euphemism for “poor”. Indeed, four months ago I would have defined it as a country plagued with corruption, ultimately resulting in poverty. And I would have defined poverty as a lack of access to life necessities like education, potable water, and health care. But, I would not have fully understood what these words mean. Watching movies on a laptop in the comfort of a middle-class, American home about such issues facing so-called “developing countries” is far from seeing them with your own eyes.

      Four months ago, Africa might as well have been one large country. I knew nothing about it other than that it was a large land mass on the other side of the world with lots of “developing countries” and lots of large, carnivorous animals. I would have struggled to locate any country in Africa, let alone name one. So, when an opportunity arose for me to take a break from engineering to help restore mangrove forests in Kenya, I put any fears of the unknown aside and took it, selfishly. This was my chance, I thought, to rid myself of embarrassing ignorance regarding both mangroves and Africa. This was my chance to identify ways to help Kenyans solve whatever problems they have.

      Kenya is, after all, widely regarded as a developing country. My experience in front of the computer screen watching various documentaries taught me to expect all of the problems typical of developing countries:

      Corruption? Check. Kikuyu incumbent Mwai Kibaki ran against the "opposition" leader Raila Odinga of the Luo tribe in the December 2007 presidential election. Apparently, a questionable vote count unleashed a storm that had been brewing since the early 1960's when the country first gained its independence from Britain. Both the Luo and Kikuyu tribes are larger, and relatively well-established compared to the 40 other tribes in Kenya, but the Kikuyu have always dominated the political scene. Rather than establish a fair government, they favored their own when it came to appointing well-paid government positions and land rights. Resentment turned to protests, riots, and tribal fighting, ultimately resulting in death and displacement. Today, white tents lining roadsides house some of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

      Post-election turmoil

      Above: We pass white tents on our way back to Nairobi. These tents house some of the people displaced during the post-election chaos.

      Struggling education system? Check. When primary education first became free in 2003, enrollment tripled. Today, 85% of those in primary school finish, but only 2% of students make it to university. Higher education comes at a price not all can afford; public loans are available only to a small number of top students. Students that do not continue in school often become jua kali (literally “strong sun”, and so named for the typical working conditions of jua kali), artisans that make and sell crafts, produce, and other goods to people in their communities, and less commonly, to tourists. Teachers salaries are directly related to the level of school they teach at. A secondary school teacher makes 18,300 Ksh (282 USD) a year, about half what a civil servant brings in. It is no surprise that there is a massive shortage of qualified teachers in the country.

      Maasai Market

      Above: Hundreds of people gather at the Maasai Market to sell their crafts. There are good deals to be had on everything from ebony wood carvings to batiks if you know how to haggle.

      Lack of access to potable water? Check. When asked how many water companies there were in Kenya, a cab driver laughed and said “too many to name”. Water companies in Kenya, as in other developing countries, collect water from rivers, streams, aquifers, or rain, purify it, then command high prices. Those that cannot afford to pay can be seen collecting muddy water from streams potentially contaminated with fertilizer or pesticide runoff or other pollutants. Water privatization is effectively depriving people of access to the essence of life. Coca-Cola also dominates the beverage industry in Kenya. In other countries, people have protested Coca-Cola's practice of bottling the little water there is in the area only to ship it away to other parts of the country or even to other countries.

      Water privatizationAbove: A young man pushes a wooden cart filled with plastic water jugs. He fills them with water that private companies sell, then resells the water to anyone that can afford it.

      Lack of adequate health care? Check. I shared a cabin with two Western girls between Mombasa and Nairobi. One from Canada, one from California, both undergraduate students hoping to go to medical school. Volunteering for ten weeks in a urban Nairobi health clinic, they had accumulated many interesting stories. The Californian had delivered her first baby just days ago. Not yet in medical school, this is something she would never have been allowed to do in the U.S. A week earlier, she helplessly watched a baby die from a lack of oxygen – something readily available at any medical institution in any Western country.

      Kenya trainAbove: I met the two pre-med students on this train enroute to Nairobi from Mombasa. We all waited in a dry field for over an hour while workers replaced a part of the track that had been stolen.

      With so many problems to choose from, solving one had to be as simple as writing a check to one of those organizations that advertises on TV (for just 5 cents a day, you can feed....). What I quickly learned upon arrival, however, is all of these problems have deep political and cultural roots. To simply engineer solutions is to treat symptoms without providing a cure. Building a well may provide potable water to one village, but it does nothing to address the underlying problem – why did the village have no well in the first place? Likewise, volunteering to teach for a few years may relieve the teacher shortage in the short term, but it will not change the political system that sustains the teacher shortage after the volunteer term is long over. No. In order to ensure permanent change, you must understand the entire system. How well can an outsider comprehend the inner workings of such a system? Is it ethical to impose outsider ideals to solve a foreign problem?

      Who am I, an outsider, to say how they can do better? I come from a country with all the same problems, to a lesser degree. We Americans think we are part of a democracy, but our democracy only allows two viable political parties. A democracy is rendered ineffective without active participation; only a minority of our population turns out to vote. Our democracy exhibits the worst kind of corruption because we do neither realize nor care that it is corrupt. Our country chooses to spend more than 50% on defense while continuously shrinking our budget for education; we Americans can barely compete with Asian and European students. Americans are growing accustom to the idea of water privatization as we needlessly consume bottled water. Health care is so ridiculously expensive, many people cannot afford it. I spent several hours and over $200 just to get a week-long prescription for urinary tract antibiotics, and I went into the doctor's office knowing exactly what was wrong with me.

      Yet the researchers I met up with seemed to have made a difference. Mangrove forests are more than habitats for various crab and fish species. They provide wood for building homes and for fuel, help retain soil and prevent erosion, and act as a buffer between the ocean and coastal villages during bad weather. These forests are so useful that they are depleted faster than they are restored.

      Village theaterAbove: The village theater structure utilizes mangrove wood poles in the mud-packed walls and provides the structural frame for its roof.

      The effects of the research apparently have positive social, economic, and environmental impacts. Local village women have created an ecotourism venture by constructing a boardwalk through a mangrove forest and giving educational tours to passerbys. Restoration renews a threatened resource for the village so they can continue to build houses and burn fire wood, provides educational opportunities for local students to study with the researchers, and sustains the habitat of various species.

      Clearly good has come of this project, but I cannot help wondering what, perhaps unwanted, impressions I have unknowingly made on the people of this village. Do the benefits of the outcomes of such projects outweigh the drawbacks? Should we mind our own business and have faith in their undoubted ability to solve their own problems? Or, is it our ethical duty to take the knowledge we have gained in the West and lend a hand? I went to Kenya looking for solutions, and came back with more questions than I started with. Getting to know the country and its people only sparked a stronger desire to help them, yet I wonder what the right way to do that is.

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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