I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the terms service, help, and charity. What exactly are we doing in Africa? Evidence of colonialism and missionary influence in Arusha inundates me on a daily basis. You can’t turn a corner without seeing a Coca-Cola label on something or used clothing with an American brand name. It makes me think about the third world stigma Tanzania carries. Through this lens, we perceive that the people here need help in any form; medical aid, donations, social services etc. In my experience I’ve found there is an overwhelming sense of pride the people here maintain. I am more likely to walk down a street in New York and get asked for money more often than on a dirt road here. Tanzanians don’t have a lot monetarily speaking but what they have in spirit makes up for the financial lacking ten fold.
The people I have met here have so much more joy in life with what they have than most wealthy Americans I have known. These particular Africans find happiness in a more simplistic life by placing moral values, family and god before trivial matters like the color of a Prius or the stylings of Marc Jacobs. The priorities in Africa are never out of whack as they may seem to be in a Starbucks line in Downtown Manhattan. The people here know that small things like being late, how expensive your car is or how many songs are in your iTunes library are irrelevant and pale in comparison to issues families face here on a daily basis.
I took this picture of Lyla on a beach in Zanzibar. As the European tourists were listening to their iPods and blowing up their rafts to enjoy the sun, Lyla and her friends shared one pen and drew hop-scotch in the sand. The curiosity and wonderment these children exhibited while simply playing in the sand as I showed them their pictures definitely established a fun side of the beach.
This makes me think about how much “help” Africa really needs. Sure, Tanzania could benefit from some financial stimulation and better health care for the general well being of its people but it seems to me that they have some things figured out that Americans have a harder time grasping. In this context, I don’t view LTP and my Duke Engage experience as really “helping” schools in Arusha per say. Yet I do see the cheer and light taking pictures brings to the students faces here and that is what LTP is all about. We’re not necessarily changing the world or saving schools by providing visual aids and making classrooms more interactive but seeing the children laugh and giggle in school, bringing the joy they already have at home into the classroom, makes me feel a sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled to “service”.