Sarah Ferguson
On the so-called NGOs working in Africa!

(Miss Sarah Ferguson is a University of Alberta student who had traveled to Uganda to do a research work on TB in 2003. In her own words are some extracts from her email dated October 6, 2003.)

I have found myself completely frustrated by this idea of development. Until now, I just assumed that it was something that “should” be done. But, looking at Uganda, I am no longer sure that western countries should be involving themselves in the development of Africa and other low-income countries.

I was in Kampala this past weekend, and you can’t help but see that there are hundreds of NGOs at work in this city. Many of them overlap in their areas of expertise, but none of them cooperate with each other. And they don’t seem to accomplish much either. Although I am sure they start off with good intentions, I can’t help but think that a lot of these organizations exist for the sole purpose of giving people like me an opportunity to go overseas and feel like they are doing something meaningful with their lives.

In talking to some of these so-called development workers, many of them end up becoming complacent. You come to a country like Uganda with these grand ideas of making change, and then you get here and realize that it just doesn’t work that way. Frustration settles in, and you focus instead on African wildlife and crazy expat nightlife.

We have this idea of what people “need” to live a healthy, productive life. But these definitions are merely constructs of the societies in which we are raised, and they differ among societies and cultural groups. I don’t see what gives us the right to decide what’s best for a group of people that have a completely different history, tradition, culture, and belief system from our own.

There are countless stories of good intentions gone bad. My favorite story is the one about the NGO that proudly marched into an African village and built a handy, beautiful, expensive well to provide water to the village. They made many mistakes, including the fact that they didn’t bother to teach anyone about upkeep and maintenance of the well. More importantly, they never consulted the people of the village to determine what their thoughts were on the whole project. As it turns out, the well never ended up being used.

Sarah Ferguson
On Empowerment – what Africans need!

(Miss Sarah Ferguson is a University of Alberta student who had traveled to Uganda to do a research work on TB in 2003. In her own words are some extracts from her email dated October 9, 2003.)

The other day Stephen (Sarah’s driver) told me that God answered his prayers by sending me to him. He has been working for the past two years to start a chicken farm. He took me to the village where he was born and showed me the chicken house he had built. He explained how he was going to fashion an incubator to keep the chicks warm, and how many eggs he could expect to produce each week. He showed me what he bought with his first week’s salary – it was nesting material for the floor of the chicken house. This weekend, he is going to go to Kampala to reserve his chicks. He can buy 180 chicks for 190,000 shillings (about $100US).

He thanked me for giving him a job, explaining that he can now afford to finish this project, and once it is done, he will have a constant and reliable income. I may not be able to rid Uganda of TB, but at least I can say I helped one person and his family. That makes me feel good.

Africans are so joyful. In this way, they have much more wealth than do most North Americans. Africans laugh. They laugh with their whole body, from the deepest part of their soul. Not little giggles or gentle chuckles, but complete, loud, throw-your-head-back, full-hearted laughter. It is truly amazing. I’m not sure I know how to laugh like this. This is one of the things that I will miss the most when I leave Africa.