Saturday, October 11, 2008

Issues Affecting African Children #6: Aid Issues in Africa

Jane, Felicia, Sara, and a friend.

The first time I met Sara, she did an uncharacteristic thing-- shetried to keep me from being cheated. I was buying bofroot, a fried ball of dough, from her mother.

"Thousand cedis," Jane declared. I raised an eyebrow, but before I could open my mouth to say I knew it was half that, Sara leaped up from the stoop where she'd been sitting.

"No, no!" she exclaimed. "She is trying to cheat you! It is 500!"

Jane laughed, and I paid the 500. It was actually the start of a wonderful friendship with her and her daughters Sara and little Felicia.

The difference in price, for me, was about five cents. I could have just bought it at the higher price and dealt with it, but I refused to be knowingly cheated simply because I was an obruni. Jane was a good woman, and had nothing personal against me, but because I was white, she supposed two things: 1) I had more than enough money to spare, and 2) I probably didn't know the right price anyway.

Such is the attitude of many Ghanaians toward foreigners and their money. In a way, it's our own fault. For decades, the Western idea of aid was to walk in to a country and fling about cash like confetti. Here, we cried, feed your children, build your homes, go to school! And sometimes it worked that way. Much of the time, governments whisked it off into the anonymity of off-shore bank accounts. When it did reach the people, some began to develop the idea that foreigners equal money-- and they just love giving it away! That idea has become ingrained in many psyche's across the nation.

I had a friend email me a few weeks back. He had been asked to leave school because he couldn't pay his tuition. He begged me to send money so he could return to school. A conundrum was born. It was his education-- possibly the most important investment of his entire life, one that would save him from abject poverty. And yet, I myself am poor by American standards. My husband's own tuition was due, and there was barely enough to pay that. In addition, was I helping or hurting by simply handing out money whenever I was asked? Eventually, I had to tell him I couldn't send the money, but I suggested he try to find a temporary job to help him earn his tuition. This was a novel idea for him, and he thanked me almost as much for it as he would have for the money. It's strange that this idea had not occured to him; but really, was it all that strange considering the ideas he grew up with? White people = money, and he knew a white person! His problems would be solved.
Of course, there are some who do not have this attitude. Sara, with her determination that I not be cheated. My friend Dawood, who my husband and I are voluntarily helping through university. The only thing he ever asked for was for help buying a computer; not for us to buy it for him, but for him to send us the money he had earned so we could purchase it in the U.S. where used computers are cheaper.
Africans are a strong people, and their culture and society did fabulously well for centuries. They don't need us continuing to rule over them with aid as we did with colonialism. Of course, that area of the world is in desperate need of help. We should help others if we are able, if only because we all belong to the race of mankind. Many organizations are formed to give people an opportunity for just that. For one fabulous example in Africa, take a look at Care for Life. They focus on strengthening families and communities, helping people learn to rely on themselves and their community. And that is what aid should really be about.
**Disclaimer: This is not a slam against anyone or any organization that sends money to impoverished areas! There are some areas of the world that are simply too ravaged by poverty, war and disease to be able to become self-sufficient at the moment, and direct monetary aid is often, in those cases, the best and only course of action.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Elizabeth- A Virtuoso Pianist in the Making

One of the things I wanted to do on this most recent trip to Ghana was to teach the children to use the keyboard I knew another volunteer had left. I spoke with my old piano teacher, bought the beginner books she recommended, and had high hopes of eager and proficient students. I'm always an idealist.

Of course, things never work out the way you think they well-- especially in Ghana. It wasn't until my last day at New Life I actually managed to find time to pull out the books, bring in the batteries, and dig up the keyboard. I knew there wasn't much time, but maybe, I thought, I can at least teach them enough that they can use the books to teach themselves.

Most of the kids were either too busy or not interested to sit in on the lessons. Belinda, Elizabeth, and Ophelia were the most interested. I taught them about the different beats each note gets. We clapped through several sections, trying to get the timing right. To my surprise, Elizabeth could clap out each pattern almost flawlessly.

And that wasn't all. As I began to teach them which keys were which note, she began to zip through the songs that labeled each note. She wasn't actually reading the music, but she was able to read the labeled notes and remember exactly which ones were which on the keyboard. And she kept perfect time. Belinda and Ophelia did pretty good too, but whenever they got the timing or note wrong, Elizabeth immediately corrected them. I was astounded. She was a natural.

Belinda, Elizabeth, and Ophelia check out the next song in the book.

We played through some more songs, and I let them look at the part that began to explain the actual reading of music. Elizabeth was fascinated, and delighted with herself for being good at something naturally. We weren't able to get far, but far enough that Elizabeth at least would be able to follow the simple instructions in the book to continue learning. I don't know if she will, or if the others will either. There are many things they need to do with their time, but I hope Elizabeth and any others who desire are able to keep learning. If any volunteers go back who know how to play, see if you can pull out that keyboard, pull up the piano books I left, and give it a go!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Videos from Sankofa

These videos from YouTube are from a dance and drum troup called FanFa Kids. They visited Sankofa this August!