At one point in my placement, I commented that life in Zambia had come to feel normal. It was real life, and it was my life. I was living less luxuriously than at home, but comfortably enough. Around me, I observed people with less than myself, people struggling to get by. EWB, through its work in Zambia, aims to help build more opportunities for Zambians, especially rural Zambians, to do more than get by.
Am I outraged that this has not yet come to pass? No. It is something that will take time, and something that will be driven by Zambians if it’s going to succeed long-term. It felt strange therefore, to read some of EWB’s new vision. One of the statements it contains says, “We are outraged and hopeful,” in reference to global economic inequality. Despite just having returned from our overseas work, I don’t really feel as though I fit with this vision. I am hopeful, but not outraged. Are you outraged about the homelessness issue in Canada? Most of you will probably say you acknowledge it as an issue, but you’re not outraged. But that also doesn’t mean that you don’t care about it. Up until my departure, and maybe even now, I had far more exposure to Canadian homelessness than poverty abroad. That exposure allowed me to see just how complex of a problem homelessness is, and upon understanding a problem’s complexity, one’s tendency to get outraged at its ongoing existence diminishes. In this way, displaying outrage may tend to make poverty seem like a simple issue, even if the very message you outrageously display is the complexity of development.
Feeling outraged can also be a way to feel like you’re doing something. It’s sort of a way to lend moral support when you can do little else. I had some sense of outrage about “global injustice” before my departure to Zambia, but I lost it over there. As my stay carried on, it became real life, and rural poverty issues, just like the homelessness issue in Canada, became an issue to work at, but not something worth to be outraged over. I never observed that sense of outrage from my African colleagues, nor even the rural Zambians and Malawians that so graciously hosted me.
Development activities fill an emotional need at home in Canada. It’s our need to feel like we are doing something, like we’re not the evil rich people living decadently while others wallow in squalor. This emotional tug is an effective way to get people to donate or contribute to a cause, but it can draw attention away from what’s important. And it can contribute, I believe, to a degradation of African dignity as we emphasize the problems the continent faces, rather than the opportunities it possesses.
The photo below was taken in Sunridge Mall in Calgary. This World Vision ad is more overt in its appeal to the emotional needs of Canadians. The caption “Change a Life: Change Your Own” is a direct acknowledgement of the emotional aspect of development.
Despite seeing them all over Zambia, I really know nothing of World Vision’s work. I am not ridiculing what they do in this post, but I do disagree with their marketing tactics. They contribute to the Western image of Africa as a destitute, hopeless landscape, and of Africans as the orphans of the world to be cared for.
Let me summarize by saying this; let’s not waste time and emotional energy getting outraged. Let’s just keep working hard and with a level head – like Dorothy.