Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Teething Trouble?

Since coming here, I have struggled to feel I belong in this environment and although we have lived and worked in many different cultures outside of Australia, all of them have been in Asia. We knew coming to Tanzania wasn't going to be an easy transition but in the past 6 weeks it has been much more of a challenge than I ever expected.

There is so much need and so little available in terms of resources. In the past I have reconciled this discrepancy, in developing countries with the thought that I am doing the little that I can and therefore making a difference, at least at the personal level but here it seems that I question if I am actually making any difference.

For years I have lived my life by the philosophy of "small footprints" but now, everyday, I am forced to question the devastating effect we have on the fragile environment in which we live. The trip to school is a hair-raising adventure or a death trap waiting to happen, for those of us who are occupants of  the car. That for me is scary enough, but the road itself and the continual degradation of that precious farmland is hard to reconcile. Where does the balance sit when the environmental destruction is weighed against the positive social impact? The very water we use to wash our clothes and ourselves seems an unreasonable demand on the precious little available. Are we a part of the solution or an extension of the problem in this scenario? I can't help but wonder.

Here, there is a charity culture that is hard to break and even harder to accept. Or at least that is the way it seems to me. At the school level students have sponsors and are given almost all of the things they require for their education, so there is a tendency to just demand what they need whenever they need it. I cannot deny that without sponsors and donations they would not be able to get a secondary education but almost daily I am confronted with students who expect, or maybe just hope, I will simply give them my possessions, in addition to the many other things they require and are often provided with, simply because they are asking me for them.

At the community level, charity and NGOs are a significant factor in bringing about change and creating opportunities. This is to be commended and supported but....... Whilst doing everyday things, like walking home from the market, groups of very young children have rushed towards us and used the few words of English they know to ask us for "money" or to "be my sponsor." Indeed when questioned further they are able articulate what they want you to sponsor them for. I find it sad that the culture of dependence is so ingrained. I feel uncomfortable with the fact I obviously have more and am wealthier than many of them even aspire to be, but providing my skills or time is not considered enough. There is still and expectation that I will financially support local people. Enterprise clearly also plays a part but but I don't yet fully understand the real role there.

At the same time I am struggling with what exactly I am likely to be able to achieve here with my students, in terms of reasonable expectations and long-term objectives. Maybe these are all just teething problems and to be expected in our quest to embrace a totally unfamiliar and non-homogenous new culture! I am still not sure and long to feel less like 'a fish out of water' and more at home on a daily basis.

Time will certainly tell!


  1. I was taken back to Bhutan by your comments here. This is how I felt while there. The level of entitlement I confronted in that country rivals what you are now feeling. Maybe it is just teething pains, but then again....

    Hang in there.

  2. If what they are asking for is helping them to eventually achieve independence then perhaps it is the mark of a motivated individual, not a dependent one. Another question that comes to mind is what role do we in the developed world play historically in having created this have and have not world we live in. Your thoughts certainly do stimulate some good discussion Vicky- thanks for sharing. Love, Maureen and John