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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Letter to the Editor

    In response to “Volunteers abroad need to be more willing to learn” (by Katelyn Kennon, Nov. 20)

    In the 1960s, the U.S. medical community had little understanding about the prevalence of lactose intolerance in the developing world. We decided to drop large swaths of milk rations throughout Africa where lactose intolerance is 80-90 percent prevalent in most regions. Many people reported diarrhea, stomach cramps, dehydration and headaches.

    One woman reported her child dying in her arms due to dehydration from his milk allergy. She concluded the white powder to be the “devil’s work.”

    Paulo Freire, a famous Brazilian pedagogue, pioneered the theory dialogical action, which removes the teacher-student (oppressor-oppressed) model from education. All education should be based on dialogue with all people contributing on equal terms only based on validity, not claims of power.

    In east Africa, I saw a group of 12 year old Maasai girls with their faces painted like skeletons, huddling under a tree, waiting for their traditional “coming of age” ceremony, finalized by mutilation of their genitals. Upon completion, they cover their faces and are ready for marriage.
    Many NGOs advocate against this practice, however, the elderly women of the Maasai insist that this is an essential part of their culture that defines adulthood men. NGOs set up working groups and try and “teach” the Maasai the barbaric nature of this practice.

    Philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes that there will always exist a clash of ideology, an impasse, that results in the oppressor (western NGOs) and the oppressed (Africans) creating a violent tension between each other with little fruitful dialogue because of lack of understanding of language, history and culture between the two groups. Friere worked with illiterate Brazilian farmers in the 1970s and 1980s by asking them which existential crises they experienced daily.

    These farmers then generated a problem list with him regarding how they suffer day to day, such as low pay, poor work conditions, hunger, rape and lack of education for their children. After a few months, through dialogue and literacy workshops where farmers phonetically broke down their very own words, one farmer was able to write a problem statement regarding how he felt about his oppression. After a year, many of these farmers were able to generate a plan to overcome this plight, empowered by praxis to try and improve their own lives.

    I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana from 2010 to 2012 teaching mathematics and science in a cocoa farming community to junior high school students. The question as a volunteer was always whether to grant or not to grant.

    Should I use a USAID grant to replace the bamboo hut kindergarten with a real building? Or should my villagers raise the money themselves? But who was going to pay the electricity bills?

    Would the teachers stop brutally caning students, even kindergartners, for not paying their school fees? Would they show up to teach? Would the students’ illiterate parents ask to see if they completed their homework at night?

    Fifty-one years ago, Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana and father of pan-Africanism, worked with John F. Kennedy to put American volunteers on the ground to help reduce Ghana’s poverty. Fifty-one years later and $100,000 USD cost per Peace Corps volunteer to serve, we still have a huge humanitarian presence with little change in the well-being of Ghanaians.

    Unfortunately, my fellow volunteers and I allowed the perception of America being the savior of the world to persist by pushing seemingly laudable grants from USAID to Ghana with the eventual return on that investment from US contracts to build infrastructure there.

    In conclusion, if America is interested in helping Africa or the developing world, I suggest picking up a shovel and flying to Lagos, Nigeria, where we can shovel waist-high shit out of their open gutters together. Because that is about all we have to offer them.

    ­— Adam Falck is a medical student, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana from 2010-2012.

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