Nungee dem si country bi
Trip Start Aug 26, 2007
13Trip End Dec 16, 2007
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At the town our professor, who was engaging in a futile attempt to keep us on schedule, rushed us through the different facilities in the town
The clinic focuses on malnutrition and HIV-related sickness (Though it is relatively low in The Gambia, the highest prevalence of HIV in the Gambia is here, at 2-7% .). However, the clinic does not even offer anti-retroviral drug treatments. It really did not take a tour of the services and rooms of the clinic to realize that the clinic has adapted to low resources and made realism part of their altruism. The doctor emphasized that it is worthwhile to help prolong patients' lives, even if you can't save them
Our next stop was a giant, shiny, paneled pyramid, that had a slightly alien look to it among the palm trees and lush green farmland. This was a water project by a private company that gets and stores distilled, rain, and normal drinking water through a series of different pipes, wells, and tanks. This project too had mastered that evolutionary art of efficiently using limited resources. The pyramid itself was simply layered with foil so that it could heat up and then condense purified drinking water that would then fall down the sides and run to a tank. But while this project could make a nice National Geographic spread on innovative technology delivered to developing countries, it is not necessarily fit to the needs of the local people. Large 20 liter tubs can be sold for as cheap as 3 dalasi, but for a community that considers water a part of life and a part of the earth, it is unacceptable to pay for this resource, especially because it will add up. It is issues like these that make me wonder just how much communication exists between the organizers of development projects and locals
The final stop, a daycare center set up and run by the American organization Christian Children's Front, made me further question the prevalence of foreign influence in development initiatives. This NGO does encourage local men and women to actually run the school as the 'people on the ground,' but another part of the program allows foreigners to directly fund a Gambian student. The money even goes directly to these children through Designated Fund Certificates. So, at a young age, these children grow accustomed to receiving foreign support, to relying of foreign support for their advancement. And even worse, not all students get funding, and so the students become acutely aware of the seeming senselessness of who succeeds or gets by in the Gambia. The school itself seems like a very positive one, however, though it too is dealing with limited resources, given that it has 285 kids and only 9 teachers. The school, like the clinic, is not a new program, it has been around since 1984. Senbira is clearly not new to these development strategies, or from foreign involvement in them. The town meeting we had with some of the heads of development reinforced this impression. Still being hurried along, we ended up back at the center of town, where we were shuffled into a circle of town elders and onlookers, with plenty of kids and youths peering over shoulders at the line of tubabs. Like all meetings we would attend, a prayer began and ended the proceedings, and with palms turned upwards a soft murmuring of Arabic resounded in waves and then stopped suddenly
There was a clear hierarchy in the village, headed by the traditional political leader, called the alkalo. There were also many older men, (and a somewhat surprisingly large amount of women) who were revealed as counselors and secretaries of a seemingly complex town Community Development Committee. A forestry committee attempting to communalize and reinvigorate forestry profits was represented, as were youth, agricultural, health, women's, and project committees. The city clearly had at least the bureaucratic veneer of being a model of development. One of the speakers even showed all the charm and cleverness of a politician when talking to us, as he joked about us bringing in new programs. And perhaps it was because it had received much attention from development programs (or maybe the cause and effect was the other way around), but I got the impression that there was a large amount of town pride in this place. It boasted of being one of the largest communities in the area, but also of its great unity. ("Because, without unity, there will be no meaningful development," the politician quipped) The leaders also portrayed the town as special for the elites it had produced and the development strategies it had demonstrated.
But after the string of positive achievements, the tone changed from pride to almost pleading
When the primary female counselor spoke, she also had problems to discuss. She very briefly mentioned what seems to be a larger issue of division of labor (that would be discussed much more in the village) by lamenting that while women focus on their gardens and horticulture during the dry season, they must abandon these during the rainy season to help men with rice and cash crops. These women have two priorities, on top of the requirements of their houses and children, and balancing these can be hard when their families rely on their success in all areas
The issue of women's development got a little more complex when the leaders tried to address a question on the support of girls' education. There was much discussion in a language I could not understand before two different people tried to answer the question in a long, convoluted manner. There did seem to be a loan program for girls to pay their school fees, but there was clearly some dispute about its nature among the townspeople. There very clearly seemed to be some controversy under the surface here.
From the town we barreled our way down dirt roads to a village named Samito not far away. This place did not have the small stores and biddiks of the town, or any of the sprawl. We did not get to see much of the surrounding area, but the center of the village exuded a very bright, friendly, relaxed atmosphere that drew all of us in right away. After a huge lunch of, once again, benechin and cow intestines, we loitered outside playing with a horde of giggling children
As we sat and waited for the alkalo, children gathered and sat on the floor and walls of the meeting place. Then the long process of back and forth translation, introductions and questions began. This time it proceeded with a bit more festivity, with griots banging sporadically on a sebar, a Gambian drum.
Though this village also had a Village Development Committee, it did not have nearly the sense of bureaucracy as the other. Those who were in charge of it seemed to be those who were simply traditionally respected in the village. The development programs too were on a more limited scale. There was a clinic, and while there was only one nurse, the villagers said with fondness that she was more than willing to answer any call, even at 3 am
Part of me resists the idea of so much foreign intervention in development initiatives for rural towns and villages. There is so much possibility of cultural imperialism, inefficiency and learned dependency. Yet, at the same time, we cannot expect villages to have the structures and resources of urban areas that are needed for development programs. If we are trying to suddenly fit them to develop into the modern economic and social system of urban areas, we have to accept that that will require us to support them with constant resources and information. Otherwise it would be like dumping someone in a different country without attempting to teach him the language or giving him the currency.
This village's list of successes was considerably shorter than the town's, and the problems with development it described were more severe. Their water shortage stemmed from the fact that storage facilities had not been updated for 15 years. So now they often find the water taps that are there completely dry, as their growth has far surpassed water supply
But it was hard to dwell long on conflict here, as we moved directly to dancing before an enthusiastic village goodbye fully equipped with running, waving children.