I believe that there are many different types of travel in the world.
There is the travel that calms you. When I think of this specific type of travel, I think of tropical beaches far away on a remote island where the breeze is warm and the water is clear.
The next type of travel is the type that excites you. Where you’re forced to be independent during the hustle and bustle of a crazy city so that you don’t end up lost. Exciting travel is where you don’t speak the language. When you’re constantly struggling to understand directions or hold a conversation with a local all while laughing hysterically and nodding your head throughout the confusion.
The moments that make you realize that the only thing separating you from the woman you see in the slums is luck. The experiences that sprinkle you with little reminders of how precious life is. The children you meet that give you a new-found appreciation for vulnerability and love. This is the type of travel everyone should experience.
It was 9:10 pm in Nairobi, Kenya when I landed after being on a plane on and off for the last twenty-four hours. I was anxious yet comforted, finally back in Africa after a year of being away. There is something about Kenya that illuminates a beauty that is hard to experience anywhere else. Even now, I find myself reminiscing about daily routines that I took part in while I was in Kenya.
I imagine myself taking a motorbike from the house to Junction Mall where I’d then hop on a matatu (big taxi bus) for ten minutes as I headed towards Riruta Satellite. This was where Mary Faith Child and Rescue Center was located. No matter how many times I’ve taken this route, my heart always skips a beat when its time for me to get off at my stop. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is for two reasons. 1) I’m automatically the center of attention because I’m by myself, have red hair, and am the whitest person a local has probably ever seen- literally and 2) I have so much happiness built up inside knowing that I’ll get to spend the entire day with my favorite kids that this world has to offer.
Even thinking of a routinely task such as this, a commute that I often dreaded at first, causes great happiness in my heart. My hands get sweaty. My heart races. My mind thinks about what activities the girls and I would do that day. I am happy in this moment- and for every moment up until the time I close my eyes to go to sleep for the night. This daily activity truly became an experience that I looked forward to each day. I felt reassured in the fact that I would soon be back with the girls at Mary Faith and we could pick up where we left off the day before when it was time for me to leave.
There is no way to easily describe the way your heart and spirit transfix when you’re put in scenarios you’ve never prepared yourself for. I learned great things, like how someone can be happy with nothing. I learned the reality of the world, the violence and the destruction. I learned that my heart has been forever cultivated by the people I have formed relationships with overseas.
The biggest thing I took away from my traveling experiences was learning to listen to understand and not to listen to respond. The best way to show someone you care about them is by listening to them. Letting them speak. Hearing their voice. Learning to listen to people more also helped me learn to appreciate relationships more. Whether it was with a taxi driver I had just met or a child at the orphanage I worked in- talking with them, building a relationship with them (even if it was short term), and letting them know how much they were loved and appreciated truly amazed me. It is so beautiful to watch peoples eye light up and their hearts flourish because of the joy they feel when they are acknowledged.
One of the most memorable experiences I had when I was in Kenya was when I met Salma for the first time. Little did I know that this 6 year old little girl would become my sponsor child. There will never be enough words for me to describe the impact she has had on my life and the passion and desires she has placed on my heart. It was Christmas Day, I remember it so clearly. She was wearing a faded green dress and gleamed with joy. She was so happy. She had this light about her. An aura that burst from the seams of her being- gracing us all with her profound spirit and playful heart. Within ten minutes of being at Mary Faith Orphanage and just interacting with her my heart felt heavy. I watched her play from a distance as I spoke with the head of the orphanage.
Later that day Salma had asked me if I was coming back. I told her no since I had only intended on going to Mary Faith for just that day. This was a crucial moment during my trip, something that I vividly remember and will never forget. Her eyes changed. Those big chocolate brown eyes that held such a sparkle in them instantly became filled with sadness. She grabbed her face and ran away. I followed her as she ran into the kitchen (which wasn’t much of a kitchen) and saw her sitting on the floor crying. I went over towards her and sat down. I picked her up and placed her in my lap as we cried together. I told myself, “Nicole you cannot leave her.” After a massive amount of snot and tears (gross, I know) we had agreed that I would start coming back each day until I left for Uganda (and even then, not knowing that the distance would be unbearable, that I would end up flying back for a week).
This moment paved the way for my one way ticket back to Kenya.
More college students are traveling and volunteering abroad than ever before.
I have volunteered with multiple organizations in multiple countries, seeking a combination of work and travel experience. My desire to see the world and work abroad is by no way unique; my generation, more than any previously, is interested in supporting initiatives that “better the world.”
We are concerned with increasing the welfare of people globally, invested in philanthropic societies and ideals. However, while we are avid supporters of good causes, we hardly ever criticize the programs and organizations that serve them. In an era when we are so focused on development and volunteerism, it is important that we look at the ideologies that are driving certain programs, and the program’s unintended results.
The generally held belief is that money invested in impoverished women is more likely to be invested back into the family, as women are “instinctively maternal” and will want to improve their family’s well-being.
Sounds good right? These programs seem to be empowering women, and directly focus on families in need of additional income. However, if we investigate the ideologies and theories driving these programs, there are serious weaknesses in the way in which development has been conceptualized and implemented. Maternal altruism is one of the persisting limitations with development ideology and practice particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Maternal altruism, as defined by Richard Schroeder, is the “ideology that stipulates that women are, by virtue of their identities as mothers and wives, ‘naturally’ predisposed toward nurturing and self-sacrifice,” (Schroeder, 9).
Maternal altruism is the driving force behind many women-centered development programs.
The inherent assumption of maternal altruism is that women’s own aspirations are heroically neglected in order to prioritize the needs of their family members.
Further, by characterizing women as a homogeneous group defined by selflessness, “maternal altruism” also erases class, race, or any kind of individuality that may influence women’s motivations to take care of family members or perform traditional work. It is an ideology that encourages the ascription of sameness. The elimination of diversity of body and belief amongst women in developing nations makes all hundreds of millions of them a single uniform group.
Does she have something balancing on her head? A baby strapped to her back? Is she standing in a field? Holding a bucket of water? All of these images portray a woman defined by maternal altruism. These are the only pictures we see of “African women” in development campaigns. I do not believe these pictures are staged; women do fetch water, they do take care of children, and they do preform agricultural work.
My problem with these images is that development organizations and the public are taking them at face value. No one is asking why. Why are you preforming the agricultural work? Is it really because you only have interest in ensuring that your family has something to eat or is it because it is your ethnic custom? Is it because it is your only source of income?
If it is, would you rather be doing something else? What would that be and what do you need to do it? Many development non-profits invest in women’s agricultural work to better ensure family food stability. While full stomachs are a noble cause, these programs need to be asking if women aspire to do something else.
When I volunteered at Give a Heart To Africa (GHTA) in Moshi, Tanzania last summer, I worked for an organization that focused on women. GHTA’s school aimed to give local women the tools and skills they need to open their own small business. My students had widely different interests; Mariamu wanted to expand her current business, Esther wanted to open a fabric shop, Tausi wanted to be an English translator, and Faraha wanted to be able to read English books to her kids at night.
Each woman had an invested interest in their family, but also had interests of their own. The diversity of aspiration in one small school shatters the notion of maternal altruism. We would never expect women in the US to universally forgo personal interests for those of the family. We would never categorize US mothers as a homogeneous group.
There are bad mothers, ambitious mothers, childless women who do not fit the idyllic category put forth by the ideology. The fact is, there are bad mothers, ambitious mothers, and childless women in developing nations, so why do we hold them to a different standard?
Why do some development organizations throw the blanket of maternal altruism over all of these women? Because we, as non-profit supporters, volunteers, and fundraisers, allow them to. As consumers on the development market, we can use our “purchasing power” by investing in organizations that have well-constructed programs; programs that do not ascribe homogeneity to their recipients, programs that give people the power to make their own choices.
We, as college students, are the largest group ever to be invested in development initiatives. Whether by volunteering, fundraising, or raising awareness we often support the operations of organizations without truly understanding the ramifications behind their actions.
We receive the benefit of feeling good about contributing to “bettering the world,” and walk away before we witness the aftermath, or look too closely at the labels we place on those receiving a program’s benefits. By turning a critical eye to non-profit organizations and their work, we can influence the way in which future programs are constructed.
We are proud in our partnership with Wellspring Living and The Make It Zero campaign in the fight against child-sex trafficking. We would also like to thank MELT for spearheading this effort. From Atlanta to Africa, poverty is a reality for too many people. Make It Zero encourages and offers realistic examples of how to make a difference in our own communities. If you are interested in learning more about the movement, please visit Amazon for the release of the new book this week.
Imagine getting up tomorrow and going to the kitchen sink for a glass of water…only nothing comes out. You shuffle to the bathroom sink thinking, “There must be something wrong with the faucet,” but no water is flowing there either. After trying all of the taps in your home, you realize YOU DON’T HAVE WATER!
What would you do? Call the water company? You don’t have a water company. Go to the store? Stores don’t carry clean water.
By 5pm your toilet is backed up and creating a health hazard for your family, no one has showered, you have dirty dishes in the sink that are attracting bugs and 5 loads of laundry are waiting to be done. Oh and you haven’t gone to work yet because you’ve had to walk to the local lake for water.
You’ve boiled it but still aren’t sure it’s safe to use. What would you do? Would you drink it? You would if that’s all you had…and that’s exactly the situation many Rwandans are in, and that’s why Ten for 10 is committed to help bring clean water to thousands in need.
Study after study shows that access to clean water increases health, provides better sanitation & allows kids to go to school instead of spending 1/2 their day collecting water. In fact, it even increases economic prosperity. ($1 investment in water = $8 of economic growth.) Water is such a primary need that everything you do depends on it.
But that’s exactly what 1 in 6 people face EVERY day. On average, women and children in Rwanda spend 4 hours a day collecting water to clean, bathe, drink, cook and grow food. Many times from contaminated streams and water sources.
With YOUR help we’re changing that! Due to your generosity, clean water, better restroom facilities and education as to why hand washing can prevent the spread of disease is happening in communities throughout Rwanda. Thank you for helping us give the gift that truly keeps on giving: WATER.
Special thank you to Sheryl Coyne-Batson and the Ten for Ten Foundation. Visit tenfor10.org to find out how to give clean water and become a Water Warrior! #WaterMatters