Rams visit Africa: A second take on a unique journey
Published: Friday, September 7, 2012
Updated: Thursday, January 10, 2013 17:01
In last week’s RamPage, Lisa Dees wrote an emotionally-filled piece on her ministry work in Kenya.
During the summer, I too had an African experience, only mine was a human rights delegation in Rwanda.
I understand that we were in different countries for different reasons, so naturally our impressions are going to be different.
However, I took serious offense to the language and tone of Lisa’s letter.
Her letter provided an exact representation of everything I hate about Western media’s portrayal of Africa or developing countries in general.
Throughout her letter she talked of the absolute “horrors” and “nightmares” the children had endured before entering the orphanage. Furthermore, she talked about the “poverty and disease-stricken third-world country” that needs saving.
The fact of the matter is that Africa does not need white-people to swoop in and save the day as much as Westerners tend to think.
This is a little concept that I like to dub “moral masturbation,” which is the idea that poor African souls need the ambivalent helping hand of the privileged, when really it is more about the privileged trying to stroke their egos in order to feel better about their status in the world.
Throughout my delegation, I tried to keep in mind a quote from a 1970s aboriginal activist group from Queensland, which reads, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
It is important to get rid of this idea of charity, and replace it with the idea of dignity.
Charity is just a way of making people feel good about the “difference” they are making in the world.
It is quick, easy, but often leaves a mess.
It is important to realize that even though Kenya and Rwanda may bear the faces of poverty, they do not bear the faces of helplessness.
I saw strong, independent, hard-working people in Rwanda.
It is a continent (or country) filled with people who had survived for thousands of years before colonization and will continue to survive with or without Western aid.
I am not saying that all foreign aid to Africa should stop, but I am saying that humanitarian efforts should be given in such a way to empower individuals, so that Rwandans can improve Rwanda, and Kenyans can improve Kenya.
In addition, I think it is ridiculous to say that though “they [Kenyans] have nothing… yet they have everything.” It is insulting to think that people actually rejoice in their suffering because no one does.
The majority of the time, I think people bear the “life is what it is” mentality. In fact, at one point during my time in Rwanda, our delegation promoted education within a community.
When we asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up, one child responded, “muzungu,” (literally “the ones who came and took” but also just a general, non-offensive term for white-person).
I absolutely hated that gut-wrenching response. However, it serves as proof that the child knows he does not have it all.
Furthermore, it reminded me that simply because of the color of my skin I am automatically equated with privilege and success.
Lisa, you may not feel like you fit in here, but you certainly do not belong in Kenya either.
As much as I enjoyed my time in Rwanda, I was constantly aware that I did not belong.
I will not apologize for my “selfishness” or “godlessness” because frankly it is beyond my control, and I think it is pompous to ask others to do the same or imply they should feel guilty because of white privilege.
Should people be aware of their privilege? Perhaps. Should people sacrifice everything and donate to Kenya? Probably not.
Lastly, the purpose of me writing this letter was not to attack Lisa or her experience.
I am sure it was as life-changing for her as it was for me, and I would not want to undermine or take that away.
However, I did feel compelled to respond because I did not want her perspective to be the only perspective.
Africa is not a desolate, starving, helpless world across the ocean. From what I saw, development is on the rise, and the people are rather resilient.
I will admit that my motives were probably not pure going to Rwanda. I had a very idealistic “save the world” attitude.
However, I struggled with these concepts throughout my time in Rwanda, and now that I am back home I still struggle with them.
Multiple times I was forced to ask myself “why am I in Rwanda,” and I do not think I ever had an adequate answer.