One of the most frequent questions I have as I explore Africa is how does an outsider help without losing the African culture and way of life? I feel like the ways we try to help often does not work with the current culture but rather tries to implement our understandings and lifestyle into Africa. Desire for education, health care and proper nutrition are expressed by those we meet. The assistance we are able to offer through organizations like Jesuit Refugee Services are a wonderful thing for those who benefit from them. My concern is in the process to help we will eventually lose the fundamentals of Africa living much like we have lost America.
There is something to be said about the simplicity of living with nature. Africa is a beautiful place, not only in the landscape but in the people. People here understand the need to help each other and build each other up rather than tearing one another down. They look after each other. In my own life, I try to live this way and am often met with resistance. I have been told it is strange and seems weird. The few who stick around, working past the culture teachings and begin to incorporate it into their own lives have said they are blessed to be part of such a great group of people. It is hard to live in harmony with others in America to the degree Africans do. We often hear of the political struggles and negative agendas in Africa but the hearts of most here are pure.
Life in Africa is hard and I can easily see why many Americans would not be able to appreciate the way of life here. As a child, I was told that Life is what you make it. As I’ve grown older, I have came to appreciate this most hated childhood phrase. I grew up in a small community, a low income family and before internet. My needs were always met but I had to really work for my wants, while others around me seemed to have it all. I gained skills and my values from this are reflected in who I am today. It saddens me to see generations growing up without basic survival skills. I’ve always wanted more out of life, but I have found the things I want are much different than most. Even I look at Africa and am blown away by the very loaded Life is what you make of it phrase. I regularly have seen people sweeping dirt outside. It’s just a dirt patch to us but to them it may be their hallway, lounge area or other place we would expect to be nicely kept. These people who have so little from an American mindset, really have more than most Americans could comprehend.
I feel like some where between America and African culture lies a perfect balance but both are in need of help. America has the wealth to provide necessities to Africans but Africans could teach Americans the value of life. I remain conflicted by the question: how do outsiders help Africa without losing Africa? Why do we assume our way of life is better? Just because it is easier? When was the last time you took the time to really listen to someone in a lower social class or a minority? How well do you really understand their struggle? The reality is we need Africa to help us just as much if not more than Africa needs us to help them.