There is a woman that sits on the road between our compound and downtown Arusha. She sits in the same position all day with a cup asking passerbys for monetary contributions. Here they say “mambo” for an informal hello. I’ve noticed that when she says mambo its like she’s yelling it, but at the same time, it comes out very quiet. Like even her yell is barely audible by passing civilians. So she becomes a little bit invisible.
I feel a little bit invisible too. I had a long conversation this morning with Jennifer, who is an American here working to start her own NGO. (Aside: the first time she told me she was starting an NGO, my gut reaction was a little tense… sometimes I wonder, why start an NGO when there are so many around already? Would it be re-inventing the wheel? Do more harm than good? But in talking with her, I really see her reasoning behind starting a different NGO, for the lack of long-term community driven program in Arusha).
In any case, talking to Jennifer this morning was like a breath of fresh air. I have been feeling so distant and separate and different than the rest of this group. When I make a comment, inevitably the rest of the group feels the complete opposite of me about the issue at hand. Being a sensitive person, the fact that I always feel at odds in opinion with the group makes me want to retreat into a shell and never come out! It also makes me feel challenged by the project. If the whole team has a different approach to development than me, how can we really function?
My biggest beef is whether or not we are giving or taking. And if we are “giving”, what does that mean? By doing medical physical exams on the orphaned children here, we feel like we are “giving”: and yet, I wonder… with our limited experience as medical students, are we really helping these children. Or by misdiagnosing or concerning a child about a problem they do not actually have, is it causing additional stress? By sending some of these children to see the physician we work with, does it take up his time and resources when that child may not need to be seen? What about diagnosing a child with a problem that can’t be treated anyways due to lack of money or resources? What about treating some children and not others? What about the lack of follow-up with these children once we leave? What about our inability to make them feel at ease because we cannot speak the language of the child? And our differing cultures? What about the fact that there are medical students here in Arusha that could be doing this work?
So, obviously, I feel really conflicted about what we’re doing. This is not helped by the fact that through conversation with Jennifer and the physician we work with, I’ve come to understand that the medical staff here also are considering that we might be draining the system more than helping. I wonder if this project should continue. We have been coming here for 14 years, different teams of medical students and dental students. And every year, resources are taken from the medical system here to orient us to Arusha, to organize us… every year we cannot fend for ourselves but require the “facilitation” of over-taxed local medical people. Is this ethical?
The main question in my mind is, since I’m feeling like this project is perhaps not as helpful as harmful, should I stay here and participate for my own learning? Or should I disengage from it?
And so here I am. Sitting in the internet cafe pondering the same fundamental question I have always worried about. Should I participate in this thing called “international development”?
Miss you all.