It’s impossible to return from a place like Ethiopia, smack in the middle of a contentious election season, and not draw parallels and conclusions about how we take care of one another.
I’ve been thinking non-stop about a comment from Lynette on my last post, who asked Are there things you learned there that can be translated into helping mothers and children in the US who are struggling?
Oof, tough stuff.
I wrote back, in part, about the “takes a village” mentality in Africa, which you may know comes from a Nigerian proverb.
I suppose what I see as the lesson is that we all have an obligation to look out for one another. In Africa, the communities and villages seem tight-knit. If a mother has to move to another country to support herself, she can leave her children with someone else. The Mary Joy center, which I wrote about on day one, is a place where a community of mothers (some childless mothers) look out for orphans as if they were their own, to keep them in the community and insure their growth, health and development. It’s also a culture in which even the poorest woman in a mud hut will invite you in for coffee.
We also met a women’s savings group in a rural village–14 women who each put aside about 5 birr a week, or $.25, so that should one woman need it, they have it to offer her.
They soon parlayed this group into an actual work cooperative called the Sene Mariam Women’s Beekeeping Group. That’s jut what it sounds like; a revolutionary women-only business working to harvest and sell their own honey in order to support themselves–and one another.
Those yellow boxes are modern hives.
Some of the women work with their babies on their backs. Unless they’re around the bees!
With Christine Koh–happy, if looking ridiculous
The program director; it is a seriously big deal to be a woman at that level
Their minimal start-up costs came in part from the US Feed the Future initiative, which demonstrates on the website rather clearly, the same thinking I learned from US AID last week: if we’re not all healthy and well-fed, we’re fucked.
(Okay, that’s not the actual language in the Feed the Future platform. Which is probably why I will never be allowed to write government platforms.)
And you know what? Programs like this are working. Because they truly, deeply care about one another.
Now my opinion may be biased by the kinds of remarkable people we met over the course of the trip, but I can’t imagine one person there cheering at the statement “let him die” regarding a sick person who can’t afford treatment.
I can’t imagine anyone sharing this idea floating around on message boards and the despicable online newspaper comment sections lately (seriously, stay far away) which essentially say “my life sucked and I struggled and I had no help so why should anyone else?
In this Parenting Magazine/NBC video that I saw yesterday (via Jason Avant, Andy Hines) one father states, “I was always self-employed…I had to pay the monthly fees…my last daughter we didn’t have health insurance at all. So I’m tired of listening to everyone complain ‘oh, we had to pay out of pocket, we lost our house.'”
I’m tired of listening to people complain “we lost our house?”
Wah wah wah. Your kid developed asthma or autism or MS and you lost your house. Deal with it. That’s life.
How did it come to this?
It truly makes me want to cry.
If I can’t figure out how it came to this (although I’m sure smarter people than I have lots of good theories), maybe we collectively can figure out how to get out of it. How we become the people committed to helping other people so they can help themselves, and we can all win.
Is it possible at all? Or is this “every man for himself” idea so ingrained in our society–or at least in a vocal minority of it–that we can’t get past the idea that success comes from strength and failure from weakness?
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves, or work to our abilities. But isn’t there room for compassion and respect for human dignity in there somewhere too?
I feel what’s missing, desperately, from this truly amazing country, is a widespread understanding that we’re all interconnected, whether we like it or not.
One thing I was truly convinced of, first-hand, last week is that any nation is as strong as its weakest citizens. You want to be competitive with China? You want the quality of living of Denmark? You’d better make sure that every kid gets a good education. That every kid grows up healthy. That every family has a fighting chance at becoming a productive part of society.
We are all part of one village. We really, really are.
And if there’s one thing I’m equally sure of, it’s that we need to evolve from the idea that “everyone should have it as tough as I did” to, “let’s make sure no ever has it as tough as I did.”
I’ve just returned from Ethiopia via ONE, a nonpartisan advocacy organization fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, especially in Africa. They never ask for money, just your voice. Please sign up for alerts at the ONEMoms blog.
These opinions are all my own. Ooooobviously.