Tuesday, August 17, 2010


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.


  1. This was really interesting, I wasn't aware how dependent the country was on foreign aid, I'm glad you can share this analysis with us. What do you think the peace corps is primarily focusing on to establish sustainability? Or what Mali's biggest dependency issue is? Besides literacy, what skill or trade do you think they could most benefit from? Is there much agriculture? I'm guess not too much, but is this because growing condition are poor or the people don't have the resources? I don't know if this sounds silly, but if the place is a bunch of dirt, could the people learn to make dirt/clay related products like floor/roof tiles, cement, pottery etc...? Anyways, I know this is a lot of questions but I hope it helps to get a different perspective. What's the best email for me to use for you? You can respond to raphaelromero23@gmail.com if you want. Take care!

  2. These are good questions, Rapha. Sometimes the dependency is created by the rich countries themselves and the poor country finds itself in a vicious circle. It may start by colonization, where the poor country lives pretty well in some part and/or is exploited in other part. Once the poor country becomes independent, it is left to itself with no education on how to survive by itself. The finger is then pointed to the former colonizer feels guilty and decides to give money or supply what's needed, but does not teach people how to do things themselves. This creates a situation where they are expecting to receive money or things ready made. The problem is that the next generation starts living the same way, thinking this is the way it is, sans remettre en cause.
    Same situation: the food stamps in the US. People are not taught on how to possibly earn more than the value of the food stamps. Unfortunately this maintains them in a state of dependency, and after many years they are caught in this and it is not their fault. The one who gives is at falt of creating and maintaining the dependency. I know it is more complicated than this, but this is what I have so far.
    Bonne chance,Marito. Mille bises. Maman

  3. So I finally just started following your blog. Anyway you are like the third person I know now from the peace corps who has said those things about NGOs. In particular Ive heard the worst about missionary programs. My friend Nicki in Haiti has said that countless times they have established some small program to make them more self sufficient and then some missionary program comes down dropping off shit loads of free supplies and the people just say "fuck that program look at all this free shit" and go right back to the way they were. Anyway in case you haven't heard Michigan has been having a good football season thus far going 3-0. Denard Robinson is our starting quarterback and he is fantastic when it comes to running and alright so far at throwing (he's only had one interception). My primary concern is that he's gonna gonna get shut down or even hurt when he tries to run against a better team (we've only played Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Massachusetts so far). Aside from football Ann Arbor is the same as always except some drunk guy stole an AATA van and drove it into the Michigan Book and Supply this morning. You should be happy to hear that I am actually in classes and have aced my first paper already. The only good movie that has come out since you left was "Inception" which was really fucking good. If you don't know what it was about It basically has to to do with going into peoples dreams and extracting information(extraction) and sometimes going into peoples dreams to implant an idea(inception). It gets really confusing though cuz they do the dream within a dream within a dream thing. And before you get pissed I didn't actually tell you anything about the plot line so its not ruined for you. Aside from that movie I saw one called "The Last Exorcism" which is now in my top five scary movies with "Paranormal Activity". You also might want to know that they are in the process of making a movie about Facebook (shoot me in the fucking head). Our new condo is pretty fucking sweet, not to mention cheap. Its so cheap in fact that we can afford HBO and Showtime which means we get to watch Dexter which reminds me that I saw my first preview for the show "Game of Thrones." I'm not trying to gloat by the way. I'm sure you have high quality programming in Mali. Oh, and for the last piece of entertainment news: They are making another Pirates movie that just has Captain Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and some crew (no Will or Ellizabeth thank god). Anyway the premise is that they are working together to find the fountain of youth before the pirate Black Beard and his daughter. I'm pretty excited for it. Anyway that's just about It. Life hasn't changed much. All the couples are still together. All the girls passed their nursing exams and have already gotten jobs. As for me I'm just working and studying all the time. I don't even have time for drinking anymore, which is nice cuz a pitcher gets me wasted now. Well I hope you have enjoyed my very own scatter brained novel (I figured you wouldn't mind the length). I'll try to keep you posted on Michigan life and the group as much as possible. See ya later man and don't get eaten by a camel spider.

  4. Sir, are you alive? Let us know!