By Kirsten Dobler
I’ve been attempting to catch and ponder my thoughts and feelings over the last two days. There are many ways to feel when you return to a place like Chilanga, Malawi.
I feel comfort in the familiarity of my surroundings: the faces and names that stuck in my mind, the children that call me Kiri (kee-ree) or Kristina, the groups of children that follow us to the football (soccer) pitch or follow and join us as we walk down the roads.
I feel unease when asking myself what I can contribute to the lives of those who live here. Even asking that question — am I so filled with the idea of being a ‘white savior’ that I must enact my knowledge onto the people I encounter? What does it mean to help people who aren’t asking, but expecting (in a sense) for us to help? It’s a double-edged sword because we are told by western society that we need to help and it is imprinted into colonial history for them to expect it. Have we ever given countries that we label Third World the opportunity to discover and develop on their own? Sure the ‘colonial powers’ aren’t ruling anymore, but their legacy is strong. Who cares if people act the same as us or work the same as us? If everyone is healthy and respected should that not be enough? Is it sensible for us to believe that we know what’s best?
I am filled with hope that all of my questions can be reached through communication and dialogue. If we’re going to succeed, we need to allow our community to mutually prosper. Of course we are going to help in all the ways that are of means, but we need to learn first. Our community must be sustainable in our relationships, practices, and goals.
I am frustrated at the people who have become a part of the project that chose to abandon the hard work they put in. Everyone cares about the project in Malawi, but what happens when they return to the West? Is it out of sight out of mind? I deeply worry that it sets an example for our community here. When people come and create things without local investment the projects are lost. One of the successes from the past year is the chicken coop. I believe that it’s because of the positive relationship that Amber has with the Women’s Group. If we can create relationships and autonomy then we can become sustainable.
In the next five weeks we will be looking towards many things we have on campus.
In the eleven months I was away from Malawi in the past year it was not always easy to envision myself back here. It was often difficult to think about my contribution on the ground. When you are absorbed into the fast paced reality of your life at home it’s difficult to think externally. As of this moment I am hoping and striving to create the relationships needed to mutually grow in knowledge and passion for the success of this, of our, TPM community.