Tag Archives: Africa

“Nothing happens that we did not predict”: Rwandan media is still suffering fallout of 1994 genocide – Irish Times

Tutsi refugees in Kabgayi in May 1994: RTLM radio told listeners not to take pity on women and children. Photograph: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

Tutsi refugees in Kabgayi in May 1994: RTLM radio told listeners not to take pity on women and children. Photograph: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

The media put a stop to that. One of the most notorious hate-radio stations in history, Radio Television Libres des Milles Collines (RTLM), began broadcasting on July 8th, 1993, nine months before the genocide. Its reach was almost ubiquitous. Its presenters – who included Italian-born Belgian citizen Georges Ruggiu – preached violence, told listeners to “get to work”, and reminded them not to take pity on women and children.

In a country with a high illiteracy rate, radio was hugely influential, and many accepted anything said on it as fact.

Less accessible, but still incredibly influential, was the newspaper Kangura. In early 1994 it carried the headline “Habyarimana will die in March”, over an article explaining that Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana would soon be killed. The article opened with the words: “Nothing happens that we did not predict.”

Read the rest at IrishTimes.com

Cop. Farmer. Nutritionist. Rockbreaker – Irish Times

Malawi has a female president, but women still play a subservient role in the home, have limited access to education, and suffer violence and ill health. Four mothers describe their lives, hopes and role models

Dorcus Jussab. Photograph: Sally Hayden

International attention turned to Malawi in April 2012 when President Joyce Banda came to power. Only the second woman head of state in Africa, she was named last year by Forbes as the most powerful woman on the continent.

Banda took charge after the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, at what was economically a very difficult time. After the IMF encouraged her to devalue the kwacha, in 2012, the country experienced widespread food and fuel shortages. Recent events have made her term no easier. The attempted assassination of the government budget director, last September, led to a corruption scandal, dubbed cashgate, that saw Banda sack her entire cabinet, and the EU, UK and Norway withdraw funding.

Her leadership could come to an end in May with the presidential election, a highly contested poll that will coincide with Malawi’s 20th anniversary as a multiparty democracy.

Although her success in most areas hasn’t been fully evaluated, she has been commended internationally for her efforts to improve women’s rights. Working for gender equality is also a priority of Irish Aid, the Government’s overseas development programme, and Malawi is one of its priority countries.

There is a lot of room for improvement. Malawi is 124th in the world for gender inequality, according to the UN. Women make up 22.3 per cent of seats in the Malawian parliament, and only 10.4 per cent of women have a secondary education, half the rate for men.

January Mvula, director of the Sustainable Rural Community Development Organisation, says Malawian women are physically strong. “African women carry a baby on their head, one load on their back, and others in each of their arms.” But when your measurement extends beyond the physical, the empowerment of women in Malawi is still in the early stages. “We are from a background where women are often disregarded.”

Issues such as gender-based violence are widespread. Early marriages and pregnancies prevent women completing their education. One in seven Malawian women is infected with HIV or Aids…

Read more at IrishTimes.com.

Teen Clubs aim to speak up and end the silence surrounding HIV – Irish Times

Through plays, debates, games and quizzes, young Malawians are learning about ending the stigma of HIV

The Ntchisi region of Malawi. One in seven people in the Southern African country has HIV/Aids.  Photograph: Sally Hayden

Jake* is 19. He found out he was HIV positive when an ad on the radio station he was listening to mentioned that the hospital he had been attending every month was a HIV/Aids hospital. “At first I was refusing to eat, stopped going to school, thought maybe I will die soon.”

Jake is one of a pretty unique sector of young people.

Those in his age group were the last to be born before medical advances reduced the chances of perinatally transmitted HIV from 25 per cent to less than 2 per cent, but still born late enough to benefit from antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), which hugely lengthen the expected lifespan of those infected.

Although Jake’s mother died from the virus she passed on to him during childbirth, he has survived. Along with all the other confusions that surround adolescence, he has had to come to terms with his diagnosis.

One-third of all those currently infected individuals are youth, aged between 15-24. Last Monday the World Health Organisation warned that governments were failing to provide adequate youth-specific services, something which has contributed to the 50 per cent increase in Aids-related deaths among 10-19 year olds between 2005 and 2012…

Read more at IrishTimes.com

Irish Aid Blog Post 4 – Sally Hayden in Malawi

On my way to the airport my Malawian taxi driver asked me what kind of music I listen to. He added, cheerily, “My favourite type of music is blues music… Like Westlife!” Then he pulled out his Coast to Coast CD. After we ruminated over the chances of the band staging a reunion some day, I asked him whether, given their huge following, they had ever played a concert here. “Of course not,” he said. “Malawi is too poor for Westlife.”

IMG_2617_-2_-3_tonemapped IMG_2629_-2_-3_tonemapped

Malawi is a country of over 16 million people. The official languages are English and Chichewa. The average life expectancy is 54 for women, 52 for men. Formerly called Nyasaland, next year Malawi will celebrate 50 years of independence. One in seven Malawians have HIV or AIDS, though very few people talk about it.

There are no Twitter trends for Malawi. Neither are there, less surprisingly, for North Korea, though let’s not get sidetracked. When you enter Malawi into the Twitter trend search engine, it will ask you whether you meant Lusaka.

Malawians have a positive but somewhat cynical sense of humour. In some parts of the country ‘Osama bread’ has been renamed ‘Obama bread’. Kupinga ndale, the Chichewa for ‘practicing politics’, translates directly as ‘to throw an obstacle in the path that your fellow may stumble’. My taxi driver told me that this is representative of the fact that African politics is largely smoke and mirrors.

Some common Malawian names include Gift, Blessings, and Precious. Less common but still in circulation are Limited, Funny, and Omnipotent. Whilst on a tour of his factory last week, I discussed acute malnutrition with a man called Happy.

The colours in Malawi are red-tinged. The roads are dusty. Many times I thought I was getting a tan, only to have it wash off. The sounds when you’re falling asleep are of insects, howling dogs, and distant voices.

Malawians don’t eat out. A friend called Elias told me “In Malawian culture if you want to try Indian food you find an Indian woman and get her to invite you to her house”.  Several people spoke to me of poverty with the same breath they used to offer me food.

Expats in Malawi talk about how difficult they find returning to their “real lives” abroad. Their friends complain about low wages, or hospital queues, or a single power cut. They find that actively forcing themselves to empathise with people’s complaints creates a disconnect, a situation where they begin to resent their home countries, and the people who live in them.

I told Malawian friends that Irish people often get depressed. “But why?” they asked. “Maybe it’s the weather”, I said, and tried to explain a month of grey skies.

I’ve learnt a lot about poverty on this trip, but I still can’t comprehend it. Poverty isn’t tangible, it’s a series of omissions. It’s a lack of security, a lack of entertainment, a lack of opportunity. It’s a lady who has sat on her porch every day for two years because she broke her leg and her local hospital couldn’t fix it…

Read more at SimonCumbersMediaFund.ie.

Irish Aid Blog Post 3 – Sally Hayden in Malawi

In a small brick church with a roof of straw and plastic bags a preacher speaks of heaven as being a country free from sickness and corruption. 200 metres down the road a woman sits for twelve hours in the same spot every day, hammering stones into chippings, which she sells to buy food for her grandchildren. Their parents died from Aids, and her husband is long deceased. When I ask her what the biggest problem in her life is at the moment she says “Young people. They’re not as respectful as we were when I was young.”

IMG_2888  IMG_2382_-2_-3_tonemappedb

In a local bar a government official’s son boasts about how expensive his car is. Later that night a white South African asks me whether I want to join his group, the “white people group”, because I might be “scared of all the blacks”.

In the market a dreadlocked man wearing an ‘Eat Pray Love’ t-shirt tells me that Irish people would make great Rastafarians. At a lodge a few miles away someone from England explains how he came here to volunteer organising soccer matches in an orphanage and was hired as the coach of the national football team, aged just 17.

At a public debate on corruption Victor Charles Banda from the Anti-Corruption Bureau proclaims “What I have seen is such that our government system is completely corrupt. When 10% of the population are getting richer abnormally and you are walking barefoot you should be worried.”

Mother’s Day in Malawi is a national holiday. 1 in 36 women die in childbirth here, compared with 1 in 8,100 in Ireland. A fourteen year old whose mother died in May tells me that poverty is the feeling of embarrassment when she’s talking to someone who has everything, and she hasn’t even got shoes.

When kind, tambourine-wielding Bishop E. I. Lazaro says “I hope we are of the same family because in heaven there is no skin colour”, I think it would be nice if everyone lived by those sentiments. It would be nice if the officials at the immigration office didn’t expect me to skip the queue, or if the bar down the road didn’t only turn on football matches for white people.

When I came to Malawi I brought a suitcase full of old leggings, runners, and large-sized men’s t-shirts, which I would like to believe says more about my prejudices than my terrible fashion sense. People make fun of Westerners in Africa for leaving all their good clothes at home and dressing like they’re going on safari. While packing I didn’t consider that I might end up dancing in a night club with beautiful girls in heels, or driving through Lilongwe in a convertible with a best-selling hip hop artist.

It’s hard to describe the things that exist and don’t exist in a developing country.

There isn’t an organised infrastructure. Complex improvement plans are in place, but there are several, they’re NGOs and they’re competing against each other. There isn’t transparency. It is estimated that 30% of the national budget is lost through fraud…

Read more at SimonCumbersMediaFund.ie.

Helping Others Help Yourself

Published on 1st November by the University Observer.


With a growing number of organisations offering students the chance to do volunteer work overseas, Sally Hayden examines who really benefits from these initiatives

At some stage even the most hardhearted amongst us feel the urge to better the world we live in. While societies such as St. Vincent de Paul offer opportunities to volunteer in Dublin on a regular basis, more and more students are being drawn to bringing their goodwill overseas. Sun, sea and service can appear to be a winning combination for an alternative summer.

Each year droves of unskilled idealistic students head from the West to the developing world for between two weeks and two months. Tour operators have recognised growing demand for the feel-good factor, and ‘voluntourism’ trips, combining sightseeing with charity work, are becoming much more prevalent. Cynics call it ‘poverty tourism’. Building houses or teaching in orphanages can certainly feel very rewarding, but is such a short period of time long enough to make this much revered ‘difference’, or are we simply adding to existing problems?

UCD Volunteer Overseas’ (UCDVO) auditor Sinead Hughes recognises that there are positives and negatives to having such a limited time abroad. “I think short-term volunteering is more intense. You get a lot more done in a short time, I think if you were there for longer it would be more relaxed so in that way it’s good to go out and be efficient with your time,” she says. “But then I guess if it’s a case where you’re going into a country for four weeks and then not coming back then it has negative effects on the whole community, but with VO, I think the way we’re coming back year after year has a positive aspect.”

After working in a centre for children in Delhi the summer before last, third year medical student Rachel Rynne-Lyons admits she did consider whether it was unreasonable to become close to the children when she was only going to leave them again. “I thought, ‘was it fair?’ But I think a lot of the places that VO sends people to have a continuous system of volunteers and they’re used to it, and it’s really exciting for them because they get to meet new people, and new things to teach. We’re such a different culture and I think we try to be really caring with kids, I think it’s just natural instinct, to girls especially, and then to become really close to the kids and then leave isn’t fair but I think it’s good for both of us to have, to make a connection even if it’s just for a month. You see that they do have someone all the time. And also the kids are really clever and as much as you think that you’ve made them fall in love with you they’re very smart kids and they kind of know how to win everybody over, they’re really cute.”

During the course of their studies at UCD approximately twenty-five per cent of students undertake a course in some area of development, a statistic that demonstrates a legitimate and commendable interest in the field. However, Dr Patrick Walsh of the UCD Development Studies Department sees volunteering overseas as an extension of this education, more of a benefit to the student who embarks on it than to the locals that are their target.

“I think it is what it is, to give relatively privileged students in Ireland the chance to see firsthand the conditions people have to live. It’s an important thing for people to see. When we’re giving money to students to do that I think we understand that this is for the development of the UCD student,” Dr. Walsh explains. “It’s not just about having an impact in Africa; it’s also about the education of the UCD student to have a more global mind. You could have views on a person’s trade and whether aid works in a big macro sense but this is not about that, this is just about UCD students broadening their horizons. I think you’re looking at a different return to the money.”

Foreign aid has arguably caused more harm than good in many regions when benefactors fail to properly research the local economy and examine the potential knock-on effects of their efforts. There are arguments with a sound basis that suggest that free volunteer work can lead to local unemployment, or free food to an exaggerated inflation of local farmer’s prices, and thus result in far-reaching negative impacts for the local community. Dr Walsh also notes that aid volunteers are setting the required spending, rather than letting locals or a government do it themselves. “You’re enforcing a curriculum, a kind of value setting in the way you do things.”

Dr Walsh believes that if small projects are undertaken and tackled effectively, these can be far more useful than trying to surmount grand tasks. “Obviously the volunteer work is very community based, it can be very so-so, but they’ve done clever things. [UCDVO] brought second-hand computers, they fixed them, they’ve shipped them into Tanzania, and they brought them up to Eritrea. They have the skills. These are probably relatively small projects but they do them very effectively.”

Dr Walsh says that avoiding negative consequences can be best done by keeping your aims measurable and targeting those who need it most. “In general, if you go to an area [that] is the poorest of the poor, they genuinely have nothing. Nobody’s coming to build the road, nobody’s coming to fix the hospital. It’s more about going inside a community where you do this little job. It’s like going to an old person’s home, and you fix the shower or you fix the gate for them. It was not going to be done by someone else. And I think once the project is careful that you’re not displacing people, that you’re doing something that was otherwise not going to be done then I think it’s ok. [With] any development project, or any intervention, you should be very careful that you’re not causing unintended bad outcomes. You should test yourself against these kinds of questions.”

Auditor of the UCD World Aid Society, James Mac Mahon reiterates the need to take care when picking your project and says “you can’t blame someone for being optimistic and wanting to help, but people need to know where they can apply themselves and where they are needed”. The World Aid Society is a well-known supporter of fair trade, and are also currently in the foundation stages of their own alternative travelling scheme, an exchange option with Africa. Aeshi University in Ghana encourages African graduates to remain in Africa, an anti-brain drain that is vital for sustainable development. “It’s encouraging Africa from the inside and promoting things like the middle class, and working it up, helping establish companies and businesses.” Bringing their students to UCD for a term could be very empowering, giving them experiences and skills that they could use later to enhance their own region, whilst UCD students attending Aeshi could likewise learn a great deal from their African counterparts.

Changing attitudes and enhanced understanding are essential for global interaction and sustainable development. Hughes points out that in the long term a student can be suitably moved to dedicate further time, or even their profession, to improving the areas they’ve witnessed. “There are so many of our past volunteers who have focused their career on it, which greatly benefits that country. That’s really positive. And as well sending the money across could create a dependency that you don’t want to create in the country. If you just feed money into them, when you stop what happens then?”

UCDVO holds information evenings annually, encouraging applications and holding interviews to guarantee they have the best teams possible. Eagerness, diversity and skills are all components that can secure you a place on a future project. As Hughes says, “Things like enthusiasm, people who can work on their own initiative. Obviously people who have done construction or teaching before would be a benefit, or if they’ve got languages, exposure to working in hard conditions. But I think the main thing is to get a diverse group from different schools and characters.”

Finding the money necessary to fund a student’s time abroad is another issue with temporary volunteerism. A lot of providers will often charge inflated prices, with no encouragement or suggestions to aid potential volunteers. However, with UCDVO there is a lot of support in place. “They have to raise €2,500 and there’s the student committee that provides support for them so I think it’s daunting at the start, but once you get going it’s fine. People do bag packs, we have Rás UCD, we did the Wicklow 200 cycle and got sponsorship for that, so there are a lot of generic events that they can latch onto, and then they can do their own things as well so it’s very doable. Most people reach beyond their targets.”

Most volunteers recount a similar tale of gaining a new insight and understanding of the plight of others. Rynne-Lyons’ experience taught her to focus on a more global picture. “It sounds a bit ridiculous but you become more realistic about things you would have usually worried about when you come home. It puts things into perspective a little bit more.” This sentiment is echoed by Hughes. “I think on a personal level it teaches you a lot about yourself. How to deal in situations that push you outside your boundaries, and you appreciate everything once you come home.”

Though it is noble and commendable to want to change the world you live in, opportunities to volunteer abroad should always be tested for unintentional harms. Sustainable projects that operate on a manageable scale without displacing locals should be focused on, and volunteers should always be aware of keeping their agenda in line with what is best for the locality. Meanwhile a willingness to learn as much as you teach will ensure that you gain the best personal return on your investment, and realise that the difference you aim to champion will be as much to do with yourself as with anyone else.