Muzungu in Kenya (MªCarmen Molera Manzano)
I don’t like to create expectations before I move to a new place; this is like a protection strategy to avoid getting disappointed. But this time was really hard to just go to Africa with my mind empty. My efforts weren´t enough, we all had some idea and pictures even prejudice.
At the beginning, I was very surprised about a lot of things from their culture and the country. They do everything in a different way, they have other rhythm, other habits, other beliefs, and they are all really different from ours. I think the first reaction when Western people start to interact with African culture is to think that they are not developedenough, they are like lower than us in the development way and they need us to show them how to reach it, to teach them the “right” way. I think this is the general belief that most Western people think. We arrive there as volunteers and every time that we see something strange for us, just because is very different, the first thought that comes to our minds is that they are wrong and we know how to do it better we are going to show them and like that we will help them.
But during all my period, a lot of questions started to come into my mind, what is development? Because if according to us the development is a good thing, why do the people who live in developed countries have more emotional problems, are permanently dissatisfied and keep complaining. Our society is sick! Is development such a good thing that everybody has to follow? When you think that you have all the answers, life comes and changes your questions. And this is exactly what happened to me after 6 months living in their culture. I am so happy for that because now I am even more open to accept other ways to live.
I was working with Isabella in an environmental ONG called Ecofinder Kenya located in Victoria Lake, Kisumu. It was a rural area with plenty of nature where there was a community living around there. Most of the men were fisherman and the women were the ones who bought the fish from them and cooked it to sell. My organization was focused on working in the rural areas along the lake and islands where they didn´t have access to electricity. They are working to protect the environment in these areas that are so rich in biodiversity and very rich as well for the community if they conserve it properly. Since they don’t have electricity for cooking they use a “three stones” stove which requires firewood, contributing to the deforestation of the area. For lighting they use kerosene lamps and they are breathing this plus all the smoke from the stove, all this smoke is really harmful for them especially for the babies who frequently have respiratory illnesses and die prematurely.
To avoid all that I was promoting social and environmental entrepreneurship with groups of women to empower and support them economically, to start their business in green energy, renting out solar lamps for lighting and a clean cook stove for cooking, facilitating the access to clean energy in the rural areas.
I was really happy working on this because I like to work with women and empower them and I like helping in the conservation of the environment. We have started to implement this project in 4 communities, Dunga, Kusa, Mageta Island, but the plan is continue with more and more communities and make it bigger introducing:ecosans toilet to make compost, biogas to cook, installing solar lamps charging stations for lighting and charging phones, and other electronic devices. I saw how to implement a project from the beginning starting with simple things, basic ideas not very complicated but that worked really well. I have learnt a lot and in a professional way it exceeded my expectations.
I would like to continue working on it with this ngo, I know that I can do much more for them but always….. So I am going to write a project and try to get funding to go back.
I have been attracted to international cooperation and always thought that it was something good and this is why I did this project. In Kenya there is a lot of ONGs local and international, I didn’t imagine that there would be so many. They are running the country! I don’t know what will happen if they left. They are helping a lot of people, most of them with fewer opportunities; they focus on themost needy. They provide basic things like education and health, as well as helping the youth and women who do not have jobs, empowering them to start their own business.
But in other way I was always asking myself about the effects of the external intervention, what happen when you keep helping someone? You make this person dependent on you, they might not take responsibility and become lazy because he or she knows that you are there supporting, isn`t it? Well now we can apply this to the case of international cooperation in developing countries. This has been one of my fears when I was there and nowadays I continue with some doubts about that.
The other fear is that the exposure to Western culture is leading them to lose their culture. The same with globalization. At the end we are going to be all the same there will not be diversity and the diversity is richness, is life. Some of them nowadays want to be like us, they try to imitate us, we are like an example but, are we a good example? You can see it in the towns of African countries, where the capitalism is already installed and it seems almost like a European city with the same illness, consumerism, stress, loneliness, absence of human contact. Me I don’t want them to become sick like us. I am afraid of that.
In my opinion when you don’t have too many materials things you are more focused on the human relations; and you´re more present you are not distracted by the things. It´s you and the environment around you, people and nature. For me this kind of life keeps you mentally healthy and happy and you don’t break your minds with stupid things and emotional drama. They showed me that and I really appreciate it. I want to preserve it and even live in that way. So I am afraid that it can disappear.
Since I was 17 I wanted to go in Africa or South America and discover these other worlds, I have the strong belief that it will be an enriching experience for my self growthand finally I can say it was like that. I have learnt a lot from them. It was for me a transforming experience, I am not the same. Since I arrived home I feel like I don’t belong here anymore. Part of my heart is in Africa.