I split my post into 2 so that it was more manageable. This is something I've been meaning to talk about, but don't forget about the previous, more day to day post I made just seconds before.
I am so frustrated with the degree of dependency that this culture has! Everything has been given to them by NGOs, government aid, and people coming to “help out”. Not only this, but this is compounded by their colonization. They have become so dependent on foreign and external aid, that they are almost incapable of helping themselves. Money is necessary to help people, but unless something remains sustainable by the local community, it basically becomes pointless once said organization or people leave. Every time we go to an organization that is working in the education sector, they are always talking about how they are getting funding from external sources whether it’s an NGO in Italy, France, the US, they think that their solutions are based in financial support from outside Mali. I understand that Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, and I’m not arguing that financial aid isn’t necessary or doesn’t help, but when a country has become so saturated with external funding that their very first solution to a local problem is to try to find a partner NGO in another country that can fund any project, they cannot be considered an independent country. Mali may have gained it’s independence 50 years ago, but it is currently just as dependent, if not more dependent on external powers than it was under French colonization. I asked someone at Soundougouba what he would do to try to make a difference in Mali, and he said that his dream is create an orphanage program that would take children off the streets of Bamako and have them work. When I asked him who would provide the infrastructure and food for these orphans, he talked about an NGO in Italy. If I could have expressed myself in Bambara, I probably would have exploded about how he’s perpetuating a system that is keeping Mali in a state of submission and dependency. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don’t, so I had to calmly and slowly explain a simplified version of my feelings in French so that he would understand. This mentality of being given things can be directly shown in the fact that the kids sit there and demand gifts.
This is what I like about the Peace Corps system. The volunteers are placed in a country where they are given language lessons, taught to “Teach people to fish for themselves, not give them fish” and live among the people they are helping while receiving a stipend that is the average for the country. All of this done with the intention of creating a sustainable organization or program that the locals have expressed desire to initiate and continue. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but it’s much better than religious missions or NGOs coming in for a few months, building a well, not teaching the locals how to fix the well once it breaks, or throwing money at a problem where half of it disappears in the maze of corruption. (I know NGOs do a lot of good, and so do missions, but when the sustainability doesn’t exist, then the solution is temporary.) If money and external aid could help a country like Mali develop without the locals being invested and helping themselves, the billions of dollars and resources that have been thrown at the country in the past 50 years would have made Mali one of the top developed countries in the world. But as it is, there is still a huge food security problem, not even half the population can read and write, and sanitation/health issues are a major concern.
(I'd like to know people's opinions on these things.)
Also, when I bring up cultural issues. Please do not think that I dislike the culture or that I'm not integrating. I'm just stating differences that to me are difficult to relate to. I've always felt that I come from a rich cultural background and that I've had friends from all over the world, so I have never had trouble relating to people. So when I come to a country (and this also depends on the region of Mali) that does not have a strong food culture (they don't even like their "national" food: toh), there are almost no visuals besides henna and fabric (part of this could be a result of the Islamic faith ensuring little representation of Mohammed and such), and no reading/writing, I have been a bit thrown off. I'm using this blog to explain how it is as bluntly as possible, which may make people think I am not enjoying myself or that I feel like I will be ineffective. I only write this because I haven't realized how blunt I've been until I started receiving e-mails and I want everyone to understand that what I say about the country here does not necessarily reflect how I interact with the people.
With that happy note, I hope you enjoyed my novel, and now I’m off to homestay. Give me a call if you want more in depth news about my site visit/travels around Mali.
Messages/e-mails are always really fun, even if it’s something like: Went to the movies today, saw X Movie. Actually that would be sweet, because I have no clue what movies are out right now. Or how sports are going.
Also, congratulations on getting your driver's license Isabelle!
I'll be back in 2 weeks.