I could always buy food, but it was Sunday and I didn't feel like making the long walk to the market (1hour) to buy rice or maize, so I decided to tough-it-out until evening and hope my roommate Monde would bring some fresh fish for dinner.
I then sat under a tree, and with a few pesky but lovable kids poking at me for attention, tried to distract myself from hunger by reading. The previous weekend I had started Nelson Mandela's autobiography, and thus far I was enjoying it VERY much.
After a few chapters and to my delight, my kind neighbour, Bo Nyambe, brought over a steaming bowl of 'something' – something that I had yet to encounter after 6 months in
I shoveled large spoonfuls of this new food into my mouth and then asked "kingi ki ye?" What is it? Bulgur wheat I was told, bulgur wheat from World Vision! WHHHAT - I almost spat my food out as I gasped in shock?! There I was, an Engineers Without Borders Volunteer, eating official World Vision relief food – ironic. While I hadn’t stood in line at the school waiting to hear my name called, I none the less had questions of ethics bouncing in my head. I couldn't help but laugh, but food aid and the need for it are far from funny issues.
The reason boatloads of food aid have been chugging up the
Anyhow, below average rain fall and extreme flooding are not a good combination. It means the maize has been stunted by water deprivation, and that before any harvest at all, the field can become completely inundated overnight. This sounds like a tall tale, but when I take my small canoe to work each day, I look down and see the tops of maize plants (7 feet tall), three feet under water! It's shocking.
So what's the logical solution to this problem? Food Aid, Food Aid, Rah Rah Rah! Well not really, but many an organisation and many a government believe so. Today roughly 20,000kgs of maize and bulgur wheat were sent up the river, and the same will follow tomorrow. Once it arrives in Kalabo, it is distributed through a fascinating ad-hoc private sector delivery service, where anybody with a boat or an ox-cart can receive one 50kg bag as payment for transporting ten bags to distant villages. This quickly gets the food to the places hit hardest. Globally 4 million tonnes of food aid is distributed annually, with
The case for food aid is strong; people are starving and they need help immediately. It's inhumane to let people suffer when there is a global food surplus. Additionally it makes donors feel good to hand out big bags of food to skinny starving people - it looks great in the press and slogans like “from the American people” printed neatly on the bags helps for recognition...
I believe though, that food aid is NOT the solution, and should not be considered official development assistance. I think of development as a process of lasting positive change and food aid does not qualify. In
Bo Ndate Scana, grows maize, rice, cassava, sorghum, millet and vegetables, he catches fish, gathers fruits, rears chickens and milks one cow – his livelihoods are certainly diversified. Between all of these different sources of food and income, he'll be fine through any particular weather disaster. If his maize floods, his rice will flourish, if his chickens die, the fish will bite, and under all conditions, the resilient and amazing cassava root will always bear good yields and feed his family well.
When I first arrived in
I can't honestly claim to be unconditionally against food aid, but I would institute a policy in which every dollar invested in relief food must be matched by two dollars towards productive livelihood diversification training and agricultural extension work. I would then start gradually decreasing the amount of food aid that is distributed, and withhold it for only the most extreme disasters, and even then, I might institute a food for work program or something similar.
Times certainly are the toughest I've seen in Kalabo so far. Crops are flooded, malaria is rampant from the standing water encouraging mosquito reproduction, cattle are dying of corridor disease, and my work has slowed to a sluggish pace due to the logistical difficulties of traveling to villages and organizing meetings with a wooden boat and rubber boots. I'm still smiling though, because I've learned how people survive and I have hope.
People are lifted through problems by a great wave of family and community support. Many African cultures define family much more broadly than we in
Today I read the last page of Nelson Mandela's “Long Walk to Freedom.” His struggle against Apartheid lasted his entire lifetime and left him innocently imprisoned for nearly 30 years.
There is no doubt that this fight was difficult, tragic and trying, but I couldn't help but think how much simpler his battle was then ours. Apartheid was well defined and legislated. Someone was clearly responsible and the oppressed were united by commonalities. The battle that we face today, the end of extreme poverty is none of these. Poverty is not a legislated Act, it's a condition of life for many of the Southern majority perpetuated structurally and personally. It is complex, ill-defined, under-perceived, dispersed and multi-caused.
I’ve always found the concept of an outsider fighting for the liberation of others a bit questionable. Can you and I genuinely contribute to ending extreme poverty? Do we accurately understand? Can we truly empathize? And will we fully commit? On the last page of Mandela’s book I found encouragement.
"To be free is not merely to cast of one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela
I thank you for your support on my short assignment and congratulate you as part of this much longer struggle.
Keep rockin and rollin!