Who’s Supposed to be the Hero?

By Lia Grant (McGill)

June 23rd, 2014

One balloon can bring a smile but as soon as it pops the fun is over

One balloon can bring a smile but as soon as it pops the fun is over

There are so many people here in Malawi in need of help. In particular, I feel myself drawn to helping the children, as they can do very little to help themselves. And there are so many children in need: those who seem most malnourished; those with injuries; those whose teeth are already rotted away; those that cry frequently due to issues of abandonment; and the list goes on.

Most recently, looking at a smaller problem, I have noticed that one of the boys I have been working with in the play has been wearing a pair of shoes that are way past what most Canadians would call “garbage”. They are too small for him – his big toes are protruding out of the front of the shoes – and the sides are completely open. I have seen him trying to fix them, though they are sure to break open again every time within mere moments of mending. After observing this, at the end of a play meeting, as Maxwell and I walked back home to Makupo with the setting sun, not able to get this from my mind, I asked Max how much it would cost to get this boy a new pair of shoes. The answer is approximately 5000 Kwacha (around 10 dollars). More than anything, I want to get him a new pair; I can’t help but picture the look on his face as I pull out a nice new well-fitting set of sneakers from my bag. However, I am also aware that there are many children with no shoes at all, let alone other more serious problems.

The hardest moments for me here over the last four and a half weeks have without a doubt been observing hardships of individuals and realizing that I am not able to help them all – at least not enough. I personally cannot treat Malaria for the duration of every child’s life, I can’t adopt every child who seems neglected, I am not even certified to heal infected wounds, and I can’t buy shoes or toothbrushes for every child. It’s been very difficult for me to face the fact that this is bigger than myself. For every individual child you try to help, there are countless who also need the same aid. Moreover, some help today doesn’t mean help in the long run. Yes, by all means, hold the child who is crying and needs comfort, but understand that you are actually doing very little.

Vast changes need to be made – changes that will help everyone. Even Praxis Malawi is not going to be able to help everyone. It is, however, working towards real and positive change for the people in the Chilanga community, which is a step in the right direction. We are working towards getting the community very actively involved in their own development – through education, health initiatives, and more. People in Malawi, and all over the world, need to feel empowered. They need to be able to help their own children.

Through discussions with Dr. Stonebanks, Ryan, Suzanna, other members of our group, and through readings, I’m even realizing how much I disagree with many foundations (which I will not name here) as well as the nature of the Western “AID” system in general, which claim to be saving countless lives throughout Africa and in other impoverished countries. They like to play the part of the heroes, coming in and helping the oppressed, and specifically children. However, after all the oppression that has gone on, mainly due to colonization, what people really need is not more heroes to save the day but the opportunity to find their own voices, their own strength. (Not to mention the fact that a lot of the money that is funneled into foundations, as well as “AID” in general, does not actually go to the people in need.)

This is not to say we should not try to help on a personal level – not at all – bring a smile to a child’s face if you can. But also realize that people need help, though not in the traditional sense of give and receive. They need the sidekick that supports them enough to see their own strength, not the hero that takes all the glory.

2 thoughts on “Who’s Supposed to be the Hero?

  1. Londr

    I think you would be very interested to read an article which discusses similar concepts but through the lens of post-colonialism and post-colonial literature. I will pass it on to you when you get home. Your reflections are very insightful. Strangely today at supper I was thinking about something similar…the concept of ‘charity’ as both calling into existence, and defining the idea of poverty and how this severely limits people’s agency. Be safe, I miss you. x

    1. Suzanna

      Oh Lia that was so beautifully written. You brought me to tears reading it! Maybe it’s just because I miss Malawi so much right now or maybe it’s remembering how intensely I felt those exact same feelings that you are speaking of but it’s certainly an emotional read!


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