“Hello dollar, hello pen”
The past five days in Karatu have been unbelieveable, we are busy each day visiting farmer field schools, medical clinics, hospitals and rainwater harvesting systems. I have been trying to post this blog for three days now, which goes to show how filled our days are. The CPAR staff have facilitated my comfort immensely as Japhet, Nderingo, Deo, Mohammad, Aggrey, and Oswardhi have been so welcoming and planned the logistics of the trip so well. While there are differences as to how my life would be at home, I enjoy the difference. My largest fear of insecurity has definately settled and each day I wake up excited to learn about the next CPAR project.
Our first day in Karatu was an experience I will never forget, yet in some ways it is difficult to articulate. The first walk through the town of Karatu literally encapsulated what it meant to walk “off the beaten track.” We walked through the roads of Karatu where we were followed by people asking for money, children asking for a dollar or a pen, people shouting out “Mzungu” (which in Swahili distinguishes a person from European origin). The streets smelled of fresh smoke and the roads were defined by a dark red/brown colour with deep ruts. The green lush trees contrast beautifully to the red dirt and bright baby blue sky. The purpose of the walk was to get an idea of what the town of Karatu was like, and my eyes were certainly open and wide. It is difficult to go into specific details of everything we saw and in some ways I prefer to keep them to myself, but it became clear right from the start that CPAR staff are role models for people living in Karatu.
Within the first few days it is clear the importance of CPAR’s role in the Karatu and Bunda regions. CPAR’s role is to build capacity of communities and particularly households living in poverty and the projects we have visited so far have definitely shown how the alliance between CPAR and communities have increased household income. One of my goals for this service learning tour is to try to get a better understanding of development. On our first day Japhet pointed out, “do not give anything to little children following you around town”. He told us that some Mzungus come through the town of Karatu and may give a dollar here or a pen or pencil there, and while such an act may seem harmless and really insignificant to a Mzungu who has money to spare, the impact of such an act is far reaching. The lesson in this is that giving a dollar or a pen is not improving the development of the community. Usually Mzungu’s come and go, but what happens when we leave? The dollar or the pen only lasts a day or two, and then the children are left just as they were before. Giving children money may not encourage going to school and getting an education. If anything it recreates the dependency issue that hinders the development process in the first place. As Japhet said, when children ask “hello dollar, hello pen” they are not truly benefiting from an act of being given a pen or a dollar since the dollar or pen only lasts temporarily. He said to us, “we as Tanzanians have more to offer than that…this is not all we are or who we are.” If a person is truly concerned with helping, or “doing good,” the dollar or money should be funneled into building stronger and healthier communities, by strengthening projects like the farmer field schools (which Scott described in his blog) or UMATU (the group of women living positively with HIV/AIDS).
It is always important to keep in mind the root of the problem to begin with. What has caused poverty? Supporting community based organizations are far more efficient in creating sustainable futures for the children. As a Mzungu it is important to recognize that personal insecurities and possibly guilt does not necessarily entitle one to dump their money wherever, rather it is necessary to consider the possible consequences and benefits of such donations.
I can say I am so proud to be associated with an organization like CPAR. CPAR staff and CPAR projects are so inspiring and this small little lesson on “hello dollar, hello pen” at the beginning of our trip really struck a chord with me and I hope it encourages readers to rethink the way they view development, or if they even think of development when giving a dollar here or there. The message is not that people do not need money, but rather the realization that money is only one means to an end. Money can empower people if they realize their needs and are given education as to how to use the money to sustain their livelihoods and build stronger welfare.
I still remain overwhelmed by all of information and knowledge I am learning from farmers, health clinics and the UMATU women. I think I will need another week to absorb everything and take time to reflect and soak in these experiences. Stay tuned for more information on the specific projects and stories surrounding the inspiring work of CPAR and the people inTanzania.