Friday, March 05, 2010
After 4 weeks in 5 countries visiting various NGOs doing a variety of work related to nutrition, public health and HIV/AIDS, education and sustainable development, I reflect back on many of the same questions that always fill my mind after a trip to Africa. The biggest ongoing one is “does aid work?” Of course, I can’t answer that question here, but I can say I leave Africa less cynical this time than in the past. I visited valuable programs that are making very positive impacts on individual’s lives. I met passionate people running programs that genuinely believe they are doing good work and have bright attitudes about the future.
In fact, that is the funny thing about my job at Princeton in Africa. Each year, through 25 different Fellows experiences, I get to hear many stories that don’t make it into the mainstream press. Although they work face to face with poverty, disease and conflict, they also work face to face with real people and programs that serve them. They tell of little ways life improves or the way local people help themselves through the tough times. What is always clear to me is that Africa is a much more humane place than the news covers. I never see the “dark continent”. Instead I see rich, deep smiles of real people.
I hope this brighter feeling means there is something changing on the continent. After all the Newsweek cover last week called Africa the next Asia and local magazines are feeling bullish on the prospects of many countries.
How Africa is Becoming the New Asia
I know most Americans know nothing about Africa and I never even know where to start when trying to share my experiences, but if you have read this far I hope you will read some more and learn about the tremendous variety between regions, nations and cultures. I went to five countries and each one is different. Here are a few things I will miss about them?
The class of the beautiful set of people who have melded the French cultural swish with the great African dignity.
The strong sea breeze.
Mini omelet stands all over and Nescafe carts plying the streets.
The colorful men in traditional dress keeping culture alive. Women often wear traditional dress but seeing men in bright colored patterns was amazing.