21 September 2013

Development Perceptions

Well I am back at school and trying to get back into the swing of things, which let's face it, a busy summer has anything but improved my procrastination abilities.  But one day as I sat outside on campus on a beautiful sunny day, my friend began to interrogate me with questions to try and get me thinking about my honours thesis topic. She asked me "What were you expecting going to Ghana and how did your view change afterwards?" This really got me thinking.

Before going to Ghana I had this clear vision, or assumption rather, that everyone in Ghana actually knew what development studies was, because they live it and learn it. I was excited about this opportunity to finally be able to talk to people about development because not many people in Canada understand or care what it is. But what I found out when I was in Ghana, was that it was actually much harder to talk to people about development than I had thought. I came into it expecting that their knowledge would be very similar to mine, but of course this was not true and communication was rather difficult. I realized that they were totally aware of the development situations within their communities and in Ghana, but this was simply because they have grown up living it. Their surroundings and ways of living were completely normal to them of course, but coming from a privileged part of the world I saw everything differently and all I could see was ways things could be improved. Like housing quality, or home appliances or school tools for example. So when I would ask people "What do you need?" or "How do you think thins could be better?" I had a clear vision of these answers in my mind based on what I was used to in Canada. These presumptions didn't match the answers that the people would give me. They would simply say things like money or jobs, things that would simply improve their security of living so that they continue in their way of life. This did not necessarily mean requiring a change in the WAY they lived, which is what I was picturing. Then I realized maybe some of the things that I was picturing, these people had never been exposed to before so they didn't even exactly know how things could be different, and even if they did it probably wasn't necessary to their lives.

So after Ghana I learned that no matter what the living conditions are (and trust me, from the places I experienced, their living conditions are entirely liveable compared to some parts of the world), people will continue on in their everyday lives without much concern for such things because it is simply the way they live and that's all there is to it. They are going to go on surviving in day to day life no matter what Government, NGO, or volunteer comes in from the West trying to change their lives. This leaves me with somewhat of a moral dilemma... Who am I to come in and try to help them? Who says they are asking for help? Why is this necessary if they are going to keep on keeping on? How are we to compare living conditions of Bungalows in Calgary to the Compounds in Wusuta? If both groups of people are content in life then why does it matter? To me it would seem that the Ghanaians even have a happier outlook on life than Canadians. Where does this leave me and the dreams I'm trying to achieve?

I guess this comes down to one underlaying fact that both groups are somehow aware of the fact that one group is more privileged than the other. The truth is that getting to experience Ghanaian culture and living has left me undeniably grateful for the way I live in Canada. I am grateful for my quality of education, quality of living, quality of health care and above all the endless opportunities that I have at my fingertips here. If one place can offer me all of that and another can't, then I suppose something must be missing somewhere mustn't it? This is not to say that Ghana must be made to be like Canada, but they sure do deserve a lot more than what the global system has dealt them. The same goes for the rest of the world. I suppose this comes back around to the reason I went into development in the first place, it is inhumane that so few people live in exuberance while so many suffer, and it is not right that developed countries prosper at the expense of the rest of the world. This leads me to conclude that the privilege that fate has shown me and the grace that god has given me must be shared and it is up to me to find the most sustainable and culturally appropriate way to do that. And hopefully I can instil that same desire within others along the way.

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