Several weeks ago, I had the great privilege of visiting African Well
Fund projects in Benin, West Africa. It was my second visit to our
projects and, like my first trip to Ghana in 2009, the visit was full of
profound experiences and unique adventures. Over the next few weeks,
we'll be sharing photos, videos and specific accounts of our site
visits, but, in the meantime, I'd like to share some of my personal
reflections on the trip.
The purpose of the trip was to visit AWF-funded projects in Benin. There
are many, many, many organizations raising money for water and
sanitation projects in Africa. One of the things that I think sets AWF
apart is our ability and desire to remove as many layers as possible
between our donors and the communities that benefit from the projects
they fund. Visiting these projects is our attempt to serve as the eyes
and ears of our donors. We want to bring back firsthand accounts of the
projects and the communities where they're located to give you a clear
understanding of how your donation is used and the impact it has. We
wish we could visit more projects and bring back more stories, but as we
pay all of our trip expenses out-of-pocket, it's just not possible.
Unlike the projects I saw in Ghana, the projects in Benin were over two
years old. In Ghana, we attended the ribbon cutting for two of the
projects. The pumps and latrines were pristine--gleaming and new, ready
to be used by the communities that worked so hard to implement them. I
have to admit, I had trepidations at the thought of visiting projects
that were over two years old. Would they be worse for wear? Had they
fallen into disrepair? I realized, however, if this was the case, it was
part of the story and it would need to be told.
I needn't have worried at all. After our warm welcoming at the Dilly
secondary school, we were brought to see the water pump and latrines
that your donations made possible. The pump was in perfect working
order, providing water for the school community. The latrines were
spotless, as pristine as the newly commissioned ones I visited in Ghana
four years ago. The same held true at the remaining three schools we
visited. The facilities are all highly valued and well cared for by the
school communities despite the many challenges they face.
As with my last visit to Africa, I was overwhelmed on two fronts. First,
I was overwhelmed by the extraordinary hospitality shown to us by the
schools that we visited. The outpouring of warmth and goodwill is
tangible. It's easy to throw adjectives around but it is an amazing
experience to receive such a welcome. I feel extremely grateful to have
had this experience for the second time in my life.
The second front on which I feel overwhelmed was by the tremendous need I
witnessed during my journey. It's very hard to describe to someone
living in the U.S. who hasn't visited a developing country the depth of
that need. Without this knowledge, it's easy to say things like, "We
have poverty here," "Charity begins at home" and "We need to help our
own first." I know that poverty exists in the U.S., I've seen it and I
have devoted time and energy to helping to eradicate it, but I never had
a clear understanding of the difference between relative and absolute
poverty until my first visit to a developing country. Absolute poverty
refers to the total lack of basic human necessities.
As my daughter observed after looked at the photos from my trip, "These
are people living like this right now, not some long ago time before the
advent of modern conveniences." I know from my travels that there are
too many people living in absolute or near absolute poverty in too many
places. I'm sure you've heard the poverty statistic, "X number of people
in the world live on less than a dollar a day" - to realize exactly
what that means is sobering, to say the least.
It's impossible not to reflect on the contrast with conditions here and
the moral implications of such contrast. My world is full of
technological marvels that make my very easy life, easier still while so
many others are faced with daily struggles for basic necessities,
having to walk miles each day for water. The imbalance is tremendous and
it exists for no good reason. We have the means and capability to
alleviate this kind of poverty.
If you're still with me at this point, you may be asking, "What more can
I do?" If you're a donor to AWF, don't stop! We can do so much more
with your help. If you've thought about donating, please do! We say this
over and over, but whatever you can contribute, no matter how small,
makes a difference!
Beyond donating, educate and advocate! Like and follow us on Facebook
and Twitter where we try to post relevant stories related to poverty and
development issues in Africa. Learn as much as you can about these
issues and how we can best support the people who are struggling to make
a better life for themselves, their families, their communities and