“Making their vision a reality”

“You can’t do it alone.  But if I bring my bucket of knowledge and you bring your bucket of resources, together it is possible.” Edwin Wetoyi, WOPLAH’s Program Coordinator

Foreign aid can be helpful, but can also be harmful if not approached in the right way. A huge issue with foreign aid is that, it is ‘foreign’—distant, external—and not local, and with this comes a huge lack of context and knowledge. To me, foreign aid is effective if it helps to create sustainable and long-lasting practices that are run by the local people. I am part of the GlobeMed chapter at Colorado College, and we partner with the Western Organization for People Living with AIDS/HIV (WOPLAH) in Mumias, Kenya. We raise money during the school year for WOPLAH, and they use that money to create sustainable projects that help people living and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.

The power of WOPLAH is that it was started by locals and has been run by local people ever since. The 13 Ambassadors of Hope who run WOPLAH are known in the area, trusted by their peers, and are aware of the challenges their work faces. They have an understanding of their community that no outsider could have and know how to approach health issues most effectively.

When I consider how we should rethink aid, I immediately reflect on my experience interning with WOPLAH this past summer and my realization there that while I was interning for them and supposedly helping, I was really the one learning from them. Yes, I could provide technical support and help write up descriptions of their work in English for people to read about, but I wasn’t saving anyone’s lives, as people often assume I did when I say I went to Kenya. Rather, they were teaching me what they do to save people who are living and/or affected by HIV/AIDS, every single day.

Aid can make it seem as if the people receiving the aid are helpless and weak, but the opposite is true. The people running WOPLAH are some of the strongest people I have ever met. They have been through and learned to live with health disparities, they have proven that people can survive and overcome an infection that has taken millions of lives, and they have done all of that on their own account, with their own visions of happier and healthier lives for people living in their community.

Coming from the US, or any other foreign place doesn’t mean we know how to help people in need. We don’t know what it is like to live in their shoes everyday. How would I know that taking snacks away from community health dialogues would decrease the number of attendees dramatically, or that providing a man with a goat would not only allow him a source of nutrition and fertilizer, but also give him respect and a feeling of self worth and value in his community? How would I know that providing a shipment of shoes to an elementary school won’t get rid of their jiggers problem, because back at home each night, 5 children are sharing one bed and one blanket, allowing the jiggers to easily jump from one child to the next? I wouldn’t.

I think the best way to approach aid is to rethink current strategies. To listen to local people’s ideas, focus on addressing the problem from where it starts, and provide aid by helping them to make their vision a reality.

Libby Alvin, Communications Intern

Click on this link to meet the new summer interns at GHETS! —> http://bit.ly/1KqEhZM

Photo credits to Nicole Jorgenson