July 12, 2011
I think that when it comes to the relationship between people from other countries and the United States, Americans walk on a very thin line and we have to work hard to impress and not mess up because people are wary and looking to have their suspicions about the US confirmed.
Yesterday, the nutritionist and I went to the IRD warehouse to take inventory of all the supplies that were donated from the Comfort. There were 10 full pallets that we had to sort – 6 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2 from Project Cure and 2 others. We spent all morning and part of the afternoon going through the LDS materials and documenting everything. I was impressed by how much stuff they donate, the quality of the packaging, how well it was labeled and how easy it will be to distribute even though it is a ton of stuff. Then we moved to the Project Cure pallets and it was a lot of different kinds of boxes (a lot of Barnes and Noble boxes) that were poorly marked. There are probably 80 big boxes we have to sort through (we did 30 yesterday). We opened the first one of catheters and I noticed that they were all expired. As we started sorting through the boxes, 80 percent of them had expired equipment (and not expired in 2010 either, expired from 2008, 2009) or things in open packages or used stethoscopes wrapped in gauze. I was very upset and disappointed and then the nutritionist said, “Americans, they like to pass off their useless things to developing countries because they don’t care.” I know where that sentiment comes from, but it stopped me cold, because it crystallized for me how difficult it is for Americans to improve their image. Here we are in a warehouse full (and I mean stuffed) with free, new, donated American goods representing the goodwill of many organizations in the US and these two pallets (that represent 2% of the goods) from Project Cure wipes all that good away and the image people are left with is of thoughtless Americans giving developing countries their leftovers, their scraps.
On a brighter note:
Last Sunday Richard invited me to his house for lunch to meet his family. I loved it – I love when people open their homes and share their lives with me. It was my favorite thing to do in Uganda and I think that it is the most welcoming gesture that one can make to a foreigner. I hope to pay it forward in Atlanta and in the future. Richard has a great family and an adorable three year old. He came and picked me up on his scooter (which is not bigger than mine) and all 400 pounds of us rode across the two islands to his house. On the way I took time to appreciate how much people can fit on the back of their trucks and motorcycles, and I like the chances people take. It makes me feel like we are chicken in the US to test how much we can tow (or are scared to break a law).
I have two weeks to go and now we are working on the projects that I hope to leave behind. I did not want to leave here knowing the housing was such a big issue and that I didn’t do anything, so we are using my public health training and have created a survey for the home visits. I figure that IRD should be collecting data about the housing on the home visits that will give a stronger (quantitative) voice to the problem and that one day can be used in a proposal that can address the problem. The survey is based off the international SPHERE standards and my hope is that it will show how big a problem the housing is here in Tumaco. Then the Peace Corps volunteer in me is pushing better, simpler teaching materials for the mothers and trainers (based on the Mango Tree model – I have to give them a donation for using their ideas) and I also want IRD to start a soccer team sort of based on the Fugees Family organization in Atlanta. I think it would be great to start a team of displaced kids to instill a sense of community and tie it to education and tutoring. People in the office like the idea and now we are trying to sell it to Bogota because it probably would not be cheap (though, if I were a Peace Corps volunteer I could probably do it for close to free).