Category Archives: Motivation

Thoughts on Change

When I was deciding on this developing country experience, I figured that six months would be just long enough that I would really be able to become engaged with the community, but not quite long enough that it would feel like I had to leave a new home.

I now have less than three weeks remaining of my 5.5 month assignment here.  And I was right.  I’ve made lots of friends, and gotten comfortable in my own home here, and made relationships with my neighbors.  Hell, I’ve even adopted a cat!  (and found a family to care for it after I leave, too, yes.)  And it’s a strange feeling that I have now.  It’s not one of longing to stay here.  No, I’m ready to come home.  Which makes the feeling even stranger.  I’ve been here so long and gotten into such a rhythm, that it feels odd to imagine that in three quick weeks it will all end and change drastically, all over again.  Maybe part of that is a reflection of what it is like to live in Kenya.  Change is hard to imagine.  Whether it’s introducing a new item to the menu, replacing the ferry with a bridge, or understanding how a complete education could improve your child’s life, many people in Kenya just do not comprehend, or have no experience thinking about, such things.

But I hear you asking, Didn’t Kenya just usher in a new Constitution, under the hopeful banner of We Want Change?  Yes, they did.  And most everyone here has high expectations for how it will make their country better very quickly, like some magic potion mixed up by the medicine man on the corner.  And there have been headlines daily about this Prime Minister here and that official there being exposed as corrupt, and now arrest is even being threatened to them.  But what is the ordinary person doing in their life to affect positive changes in their life and community?  Well, some are deeply committed, yes, but on average? From my impressions, not much. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not that those people are lazy or dumb or would just rather steal to make money.  It’s more that they simply cannot imagine that it could work any other way.  Kenya has just emerged from a 24 year regime, as one Kenyan friend put it.  Corruption was so commonplace and expected that a whole generation, the entire youth of the country, grew up thinking that was how life worked, that you had to give someone some money to get anything.  Slowly, some of these youth are starting to realize how deeply engrained this has been in their minds, and are working to undo it, and to help the new generation see life in a different way.

What I’ve come to learn is that when you live in a developing country… where your government has never provided or looked out for you, where your parents are forced to view you more as an expense and a burden than an investment and a source of joy, and where your work options can be counted on one hand… When you live this kind of life, maybe you get used to nothing good happening to you.  You get used to nothing changing, and you learn to be happy with whatever life hands you, and to not demand any better.  Maybe that’s why visitors so often become enamored with smiling children and families living in squalor, seemingly content with so little.  The tourists wonder “Do they know something important about life that we’re missing?”

In a way, yes. There is one fact of life that is deeply engrained in their collective minds, but it is so depressing and firm that it is better to just make do with what you’ve got and forget about it. This fact is how desperately difficult it is to change your circumstances when you’re on the world’s bottom-most rung, how unfairly lacking your opportunities are. Without something new being added to the equation from outside your bubble of resources, you have no options. Learning about new crop techniques, new seamstress training courses, or how to research available scholarships online are some of these new things. Local civil society and international NGOs have been working for decades to introduce these small advancements. Some few people throughout the country (and world) have seized these opportunities and made their lives better. But until the government steps in to make the big changes, like sewage systems, adequate public education through high school, and potable water systems, everyday life for the everyday person will remain unchangeable in any meaningful way.

Well, this post took a swift turn for the disheartening.  That was unintended.  Changes are happening, and lives are improving.  But perhaps it’s appropriate to think about this as I evaluate all that I’ve learned from this experience.  I have yet to see an example of international NGOs or local organizations making drastic improvements in a country.  No that’s not true. Bangladesh was recently lauded for its incredible rise in the HDI rankings (Human Development Report 2010).  And much of that effort can be attributed to Grameen Bank and all of its subsidiaries.  I am not sure if that model is repeatable.  Do you have other examples of work in the development sector having a direct connection to improvement in national numbers and indices?

The lack of examples do not lessen my resolve or spirit.  I am only further inspired to be a part of some effort that does make lasting positive BIG change.

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When I was deciding on this developing country experience, I figured that six months would be just long enough that I would really be able to become engaged with the community, but not quite long enough that it would feel like I had to leave a new home.

I now have less than three weeks remaining of my 5.5 month assignment here.  And I was right.  I’ve made lots of friends, and gotten comfortable in my own home here, and made relationships with my neighbors.  Hell, I’ve even adopted a cat!  (and found a family to care for it after I leave, too, yes.)  And it’s a strange feeling that I have now.  It’s not one of longing to stay here.  No, I’m ready to come home.  Which makes the feeling even stranger.  I’ve been here so long and gotten into such a rhythm, that it feels odd to imagine that in three quick weeks it will all end and change drastically.  Maybe part of that is a reflection of what it is like to live in Kenya.  Change is hard to imagine.  Whether it’s introducing a new item to the menu, replacing the ferry with a bridge, or understanding how a complete education could improve your child’s life, many people in Kenya just do not comprehend, or have no experience thinking about, such things.

But I hear you asking, Didn’t Kenya just usher in a new Constitution, under the hopeful banner of We Want Change?  Yes, they did.  And most everyone here has high expectations for how it will make their country better very quickly, like some magic potion mixed up by the medicine man on the corner.  And there have been headlines daily about this Prime Minister here and that official there being exposed as corrupt, and now arrest is even being threatened to them.  But what is the ordinary person doing in their life to affect positive changes in their life and community?  Well, some are deeply committed, yes, but on average? From my impressions, not much. But I’ve come to realize that it’s not that those people are lazy or dumb or would just rather steal to make money.  It’s more that they simply cannot imagine that it could work any other way.  Kenya has just emerged from a 24 year regime, as one Kenyan friend put it.  Corruption was so commonplace and expected that a whole generation, the entire youth of the country, grew up thinking that was how life worked, that you had to give someone some money to get anything.  Slowly, some of these youth are starting to realize how deeply engrained this has been in their minds, and are working to undo it, and to help the new generation see life in a different way.

What I’ve come to learn is that when you live in a developing country… where your government has never provided or looked out for you, where your parents are forced to view you more as an expense and a burden than an investment and a source of joy, and where your work options can be counted on one hand… When you live this kind of life, maybe you get used to nothing good happening to you.  You get used to nothing changing, and you learn to be happy with whatever life hands you, and to not demand any better.  Maybe that’s why visitors so often become enamored with smiling children and families living in squalor, seemingly content with so little.  The tourists wonder “Do they know something important about life that we’re missing?”

In a way, yes. There is one fact of life that is deeply engrained in their collective minds, but it is so depressing and firm that it is better to just make do with what you’ve got and forget about it. This fact is how desperately difficult it is to change your circumstances when you’re on the world’s bottom-most rung, how unfairly lacking your opportunities are. Without something new being added to the equation from outside your bubble of resources, you have no options. Learning about new crop techniques, new seamstress training courses, or how to research available scholarships online are some of these new things. Local civil society and international NGOs have been working for decades to introduce these small advancements. Some few people throughout the country (and world) have seized these opportunities and made their lives better. But until the government steps in to make the big changes, like sewage systems, adequate public education through high school, and potable water systems, everyday life for the everyday person will remain unchangeable in any meaningful way.

Well, this post took a swift turn for the disheartening.  That was unintended.  But perhaps appropriate as I evaluate all that I’ve learned from this experience.  I have yet to see an example of international NGOs or local organizations making drastic improvements in a country.  No that’s not true. Bangladesh was recently lauded for its incredible rise in the HDI rankings (Human Development Report 2010).  And much of that effort can be attributed to Grameen Bank and all of its subsidiaries.  I am not sure if that model is repeatable.  Do you have other examples of work in the development sector having a direct connection to improvement in national numbers and indices?

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Filed under Culture, developmentissue, Motivation

YES!

There’s something about elections that makes me all misty-eyed like watching a damn Hallmark commercial.  I’m serious.  After a lifetime of being as apolitical a Democrat as is possible, in June 2008, I up and decided to dive headfirst into working on the Obama campaign, because something about him, and something about me, made me truly believe in the power of the individual, and the power of the vote.  I believed in my own power to affect change in this world, and I wanted others to understand that they too had this power.  Obama’s platform of Hope and Change was built for America, but I felt it applied more broadly than that.  It emboldened me to truly Hope for this world, and all of its ailments, and to seek Change for its people, and all of their needs.  And so ever since that glorious celebration night in November 2008, elections touch a soft spot in my heart.

This Wednesday, Kenyan citizens went to the polls, and voted on the state of their future.  After 20 years of independence under a Constitution and a government that are universally condemned as flawed and corrupt by its citizens and the world, a new Constitution was proposed, and the country was asked Yes or No?  Now, it is also universally agreed that this new document is not perfect, and that it does not address or fix all of the problem areas.  But the Yes campaign petitioned that it was a hugely needed step forward, finally, and that it put into place the legal mechanisms for amending it properly later on.  And the No campaign said if we’ve waited this long, we might as well make it right before we make it law, as well as some other less admirable logic. (For more details, see here)

Obama’s blood springs from this land and these people, and his passion and vision for change must be hereditary.  What it came down to this week was that the people of Kenya want a better future, and they’re tired of being told to wait for it.  They are tired of being cheated and lied to by their leaders, and they want to hold them accountable, and undo the laws that have allowed them to behave so badly.

Anxiety was understandably raised about the potential for a repeat of the post-election violence that wracked Kenya in 2007, after Kibaki blatantly stole the election from Raila.  But those two came together now in support of this new Constitution, and so their supporters merged camps as well.  If tempers flared, it would only be if it seemed that votes were stolen again, not because of former or tribal schisms.

After a day of counting votes, 69% of the votes cast were for YES – over 6 million voters versus 2.5 million for NO.  An overwhelmingly strong win for Change, and show of solidarity with Hope.

‘Twas the day after the election, and all through the country, not a riot was started, not even a brawl. Out on the streets, there arose no clatter, and peaceful smiles ruled idle chatter.  The news commentators asked, their eyes all aglow, “what will the international media think, now that we have not become violent?”

I hope that the world is paying attention, and that they are thinking about the beautiful power of a people united by the wish to better their country, and to exercise their rights as humans, and as citizens, to bring about that change on their own terms.  It is really a remarkable thing, when the ideals of Democracy become so tangible in front of you.  I hope some of you get misty-eyed thinking about it too.  And the next time you step into your own polling station to vote, give a moment of thanks to all those who fought for you to have that right, and send a prayer of strength to all of our fellow humans who are still fighting for their own ability to have a voice.

For a vote is not just one’s duty as a citizen.  Rather, the power of the individual vote lives not just on election day, but in the fact that we are all able to envision and craft our own futures.  It is our unique right as humans to conscientiously make choices for what we feel is right and good.  If we remember to embrace and flex that right, each and every day, a society is built that moves forward, that does not leave its weakest members behind, and that stands up for our children, and all of our futures together.

YES YOU CANYA

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Filed under Culture, Motivation, politics

The pace of development

Now, I would like to expound on the ideas in my last post, related to what I see as a major fault in how the world works and thinks today.  I feel that the “first world” looks at the “developing world” like the bastard child that showed up and tarnished the family’s ‘honor’.  Harsh words?  Hear me out.

The industrialized countries of the world have struggled through their own development over the past centuries, and have now reached levels of technology, luxury and civilization that make us believe we are The Best and The Smartest.  The fact that people in the developing countries still don’t have sewer systems or computers is just embarrassing when you look at how far others have advanced, in such minds.

So, like the highbrow family that rejects family members based solely on their lower status, the G20+ throw as much money as they can at them and tell them to go away.  Foreign aid is not helping advance the development of these countries.  We are not treating our brothers and sisters with honor and respect.  We are not empowering them to take charge of their futures.  We are not even acknowledging them as part of our family!

Development cannot happen overnight, by dumping money into a country.  Next year is USAID’s fiftieth anniversary. Fifty years we’ve been doing this, hoping it was all that was needed, and finally people are starting to realize how little it has accomplished.  Imagine, just imagine for a moment…

What if the industrialized world had acknowledged that development is a process, that it has a pace and a rhythm that it must abide by?  What if, fifty years ago, leaders and communities in the developing countries were asked “What do you and your citizens need, to bring prosperity and opportunity to your country?”  What if we had listened to their answers?

Would I be in Kenya today, living in a community where running water is a luxury, but even if you have it, it must be boiled before you can drink it?  Would this community still have such a low regard for its own potential and worth?  Would its representatives in government be so corruptible and uncaring?

No one can say how different the world might be, or how many lives might be drastically different, if such a tactic had been taken.  All I know is that so slowly, people and organizations are starting more and more to realize that the old way is not working, and that sustainable development practices make sense.  This approach returns respect to the relationship, and honors the differences that exist, acknowledging that people within the community know their community’s needs better than anyone outside of it.

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Filed under Capacity Building, Motivation

Thank you!

picture by flickr user jaredchapman

The generosity and kindness of friends and loved ones is the biggest blessing one can ever hope for, truly. And I am, truly, blessed. I am all paid up, and today, I really began to realize that I am going to be living in Kenya in 6 weeks!

As I told one of my amazing supporters this weekend, I’m good at convincing myself that all will be fine no matter what I have in my account – but the relief I feel getting so much support from friends builds such richer confidence as I ready myself to go out on this journey into so much unknown.

Your belief in me, and in this work, and in my decision to pursue this experience, will be buoying me for many months to come.

Thank you to …
Dav, Maryann, Alison, Dan, Kleigh, Eric, Wendy and Howard, Rob, Uncle John, Ivan, Icka, Hope, Barclay, Sandi and Rich, Chris, Max, Brian and Helen, Alain, Sara, Elizabeth, Laura, Naomi, Linh and Erno, Jason S, Francisco, Sam, Roy, Darcy, Amy, Brian, JD, Jason E, Thom, J, Hilary, Tristan, Heidi and Joe, Mary, Laura and Sean, Olga, Kyle and Trish, and Liz !!!
With all of your help, your donations came together to provide 63% of my program fees! I am blown away, and am so grateful for your friendship and generosity.  Thank you for supporting this work, and this program, and my part in it.  I can’t wait to meet the people I’ll be working with and to get to know the neighborhood that I’ll be helping grow.

Thank you to Matthew, Alain, Chelsea and Kirk, Cynthia, Kathryn and AB who offered up their frequent flyer miles so generously! (after many complicated attempts, I used only my own in the end, but that lessens the offers not a bit.)
And to so many others who sent their love and happy wishes, thank you!

I said it when I began this campaign to raise funds, and I’ll say it again.  It’s especially heartening knowing that my own community here was the the support that I needed so that I can help another community less fortunate than ours build a better life for itself.

We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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Filed under Fundraising, Motivation

Choosing how to use my ‘American Opportunity’

Thanks to the American Opportunity Tax Credit, I got a large chunk of my tuition costs back in my tax refund, and I sent it directly to FSD.  While I bet the government would prefer I spend my refund on goods that will bolster the US economy, I find this transfer of funds very appropriate!

I’ve been very blessed in my life to have parents who were willing to sacrifice whenever necessary to ensure that I received the best education available.  My schooling has allowed me so many brilliant opportunities in life – I cannot fathom a life without it.  My career choice is motivated by the fact that so many parents in the developing world are deprived of the ability to give the gift of education and opportunity to their children.

My parents instilled in me an appreciation of and thirst for education, which drew me to return to school for my Master’s degree.  Now, as I finish that degree this semester, I thank you, Uncle Sam, for helping me further my education, and my opportunities, so that I may help others further theirs!

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Filed under Fundraising, Motivation