Monday, October 4, 2010

PART 1 of 3! Frustrations...Staying Balanced!

As my adventure continues to unfold, I find myself constantly amazed at all there is to learn.  Everyday I am faced with a new challenge or obstacle that forces me to step outside myself and approach matters with a different perspective.  Because I am the first volunteer in my village, it has been difficult to communicate what exactly my role is. I am constantly faced with people asking or rather demanding money and it becomes tiresome.  The last 50 or so years since Senegal has embraced their independence, they have also received millions of dollars in aid. I am no expert, but living here I have somewhat of good idea of how NGO's  work and most of the projects initiated have failed to meet the needs of the people targeted.   Instead we have created a system, much like welfare in the United States.  People want free handouts and they often lack the drive or motivation to work.  I am generalizing of course, because there are many people who do work hard and serve to make their country better.  My point is to rather shed light on the fact that free handouts (in excess)  hinder a communities capability to advance rather than to stimulate it.   When people invest their own money or land, they are investing a part of themselves and are more likely to commit to making whatever it is successful.  They are also more concerned with taking care of it and making sure other people respect it.   Long story short...  Peace Corps attempts to use this strategy throughout the communities it serves, but as I am learning, people don't get it.   In my case, for example, they came to me asking for $600,000 to buy a new millet machine because the first one was given to them they felt no need to put money aside in case it breaks. Another frustration is that they don't want to pay the equivalent of a penny for mosquito repellent or learn to make it, they want it for free.  And we have no one to blame but ourselves for creating this type of dependency.

 Lately my biggest inner challenge is my rational vs. compassionate thinking.  Take for example the mosquito repellent.  It is rainy season right now and malaria is a huge problem. Despite the fact that  every person has a mosquito net and claims to sleep under it (thanks to a recent Malaria Prevention Campaign, see for more info),   mosquito's come out at dusk so nets give little protection when eating dinner or chatting with your neighbors.

  The last few weeks I have been working to promote a natural repellent made from leaves, soap, water and a little oil. It is a lotion that works well in deterring mosquito's.  My compassionate thinking (or maybe its guilt) prompted me to give out  the first few batches for free. I gave one to every household and then taught whoever wanted to learn how to make it.  One of the girls really liked it and decided to sell it for the equivalence of a penny.  I was really excited until I was bombarded with requests for more.  However no one wanted to pay for it because they claim to have no money. And I sympathize with them because right now is the most difficult financial time of the year. However rationally, if not getting malaria is really important to them, they will find the 25 cfa to purchase it.  This is the sort of thing I find myself tangled up in.  These people are my friends and I don't want them to get sick, but at the same time I do not have the funding or resources to take care of everyone nor is it my job.  In short, it is a constant battle to remain balanced, think clearly, and remind myself what it is I am doing here. 

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