In Swahili, ‘mzungu’ refers to someone with white skin. If I ever wished I were not one of those white-skinned people, it was this week in Wajir, a remote Kenyan town located about 20 miles from the Somali border. Kenya is at war with Al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group responsible for kidnapping wazungu in Kenya recently. So this little mzungu trying to be inconspicuous in Wajir didn’t work very well. My presence meant that we needed security (READ: 2 uniformed officers toting AK-47 rifles) wherever we went. What a bother.
Apart from that, however, it was an excellent trip. Highlights were visiting our DOVE Africa missionaries, taking food to an orphanage (pictured) and a home for handicapped children, and seeing the Dadaab refugee camps – huge expanses of white cloth or tin cracker-box roofs sprawling in the desert – from the air.
Then there was the village 10 miles out of Wajir where we also delivered food. That’s the part I struggle with most. Thousands of people, a whole village full of them, just waiting for the next consignment of relief food to arrive. And that is life: day after day, month after month. No one seems to be thinking about what they could do to actually grow food, earn income or seek a more viable solution for survival.
It’s not their fault. After all, the land is desert and does not produce (without water). It’s not the fault of the generous donors who keep sending food to keep them from starving. Children are hungry! People need to eat! It is not ‘wrong’ that the government, NGO’s and churches keep giving in order to keep people alive. Is it?
I have heard it said by several brave souls (including our own missionaries) that the greatest obstacle in the trying-to-bring-sustainable-development process is relief food. OUCH! How are we going to get around this? How can we sustain life in the short-term and simultaneously find long-term solutions for these quite complicated challenges?
We do not have answers, but are fostering a few ideas. Maybe we’ll share some next time.