Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our Reason to Help

African children stare despairingly into the camera, as sad music plays in the background, and a soft voice tells you that you are their only hope.  

I would like to describe an image to you that you are probably quite familiar with:

The idea that people in third-world countries (especially Africa) are suffering and that we are their only salvation; this has been the bane of the existence for humanitarian organizations for quite some time.  Through the countless donations that television advertisements and fund raisers alike have generated, have lead to hundreds of thousands of people around the world being given a fair chance.  Schools, houses, clinics, even cities, have been built by North American travellers wanting to make a difference in this world.

The problem is what happens to these people after the “saviours” leave?  The nice first-world toilets installed in the new house fall into disarray because no one knows how to maintain them or because there are no spare parts available.  The brand new school is torn down because it was built using the wood that the locals needed to sell to bring home food to their families.  The new well sits unused, because the locals have no concept of what clean water is, and have always gotten their water by walking miles to the nearest river.
Voluntourism may seek to rid the world of its problems, while providing its participants with the satisfaction of having “saved the world”, but is often short sighted and does not provide for the long term goals of the community affected.

It’s not hard to see why the standard approach is favourable, after all, the problems are large and many.  In 2000, 189 world leaders created and agreed to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (U.N.M.D.G).  The promise they made?  End world poverty by 2015.  This is not an easy task, and is one that has pushed many people to take short-sighted approaches to what is really a long-term problem.

Then what is the solution you ask?    Well, that is a good question.

The best model we have at this point is sustainable development.  By creating the necessary infrastructure and educating people on how to use it, we can do our best to ensure long-term needs are met, and the people have a better future.

How does this trip meet these needs?
The Scouts Canada Kenya 2012 International Development Project address two of the Millennium Development Goals, and does so while laying the foundation for continued development by the individuals we are assisting.  The U.N.M.D.G’s are broken down into many specific goals, the following of which we will be addressing on our trip:

MDG#4 Reduce Child Mortality
  • Reduce by two-thirds, from 1990 to 2015, the under-five mortality rate.
  • Revitalizing efforts against pneumonia and diarrhea, while bolstering nutrition, could save millions of lives

MDG#5 Improve Maternal Health
  • Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio
  • Giving birth is especially risky in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where most women deliver without skilled care.

Basic access to healthcare is a problem that many people around the world face every day.  Imagine that you get an infection in a small cut, but are unable to buy antibiotic cream, let alone see a doctor.

Our work in Kenya will focus on expanding and upgrading a clinic. During our stay in Kenya, we will finish the construction of a laboratory, so rapid diagnosis of clinical diseases can be achieved in hopes of reducing preventable deaths.  We will also expand the maternity ward with the aim of accommodating more mothers and increasing maternal care.  Furthermore, we will build a staff house to increase the amount of trained medical personnel available to the community.  We are also bringing equipment such as computers, modems and medical supplies so the Kenyan doctors have the necessary tools to diagnose, treat and prevent illness. Finally, we hope to bring the necessary supplies to support an immunization camp, so that over 2000 locals can be given the immunizations that us first-world countries take for granted.

The main point to remember is that throughout all of this, the local people will play an integral role. Through  designing the buildings, learning how to use the computer network, and requesting the necessary medical supplies, the Shiru medical team will be able to function independently after our departure. 

In 1990, Canadian Scouts first built the Shiru Medical Dispensary.  It has provided admirably for the community in the years since, but time is catching up with it, and the population it serves continues to grow.  This summer, we will provide them with the edge that they need to bring the clinic to the next level of care, and allow them to better care for themselves.

Remember, those suffering the effects of one of the many global issues facing our world don’t need, or want, hand-outs.  They just want a helping hand.

Written by Eric Post

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