25 August 2011

More Le Sigh from the US – or: God’s Recruitment Process Flawed

It’s a good day for Africa stories from the US: Here’s a fun article about the Riegers, a family from Tillamook who are about to move to Gulu in northern Uganda as missionaries. God called them, you know. They will set up the Rieger Ministry that will ‘focus on orphans, child moms, ex-child soldiers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.’

Susan Rieger is ‘excited about what she has to offer the women and girls of Gulu. “I’m going to teach nutrition, gardening, work in the school, and develop exercise programs for people with AIDS.” She’s quite fit and likes running, but anticipates that being difficult:

‘She and her daughters will wear modest dresses and avoid doing anything to put themselves in overt danger, such as running for exercise. This will be a difficult adjustment for Susan, who is an avid runner.

“I put in 30 to 40 miles per week here,” she said. “When we get there I’m going to have to do step aerobics and yoga in the house. I might be able to run with Joe, but I would have to wear a dress, and we would have to go early in the morning before it gets too hot.”

I’m not really sure how a dress is going to help. I checked with Jane Bussmann (not known to jog in dresses) and she said she went running in Gulu, no probs.

She’s also not so confident about the school system:
‘Susan will also be homeschooling four of her own children in Africa. “In Uganda there is no public school,” she explained. “Every child who attends school has to be able to pay the fee, and the highest grade they teach is sixth.”’

Well. Uganda has a free primary education system, although I expect that like in Kenya, some ‘fees’ must be paid regardless, and the quality probably isn’t impressive. Wikipedia says: ‘The system of education in Uganda has a structure of 7 years of primary education, 6 years of secondary education (divided into 4 years of lower secondary and 2 years of upper secondary school).’

Anyhoodle. More substantially, what bugs me is this:

Here is a population that has indeed lived in incredibly difficult conditions. How is a bunch of Americans, well intended, but who seemingly can’t use google, who literally have no idea where they are going, qualified to address this? “These people have lived in trauma, it’s all they know. It is our mission to teach them how to function in peace.” Because you understand what it’s like to live in a civil war zone, because you have the skills for post-traumatic stress disorder counselling?

Susan Rieger plans to “to mentor and disciple child moms. I want to get to know them and teach them how to tend their children. The idea is that if we love on them and show them love, they will then be able to turn and love their children.” Because Ugandan child moms don’t know how to love their kids, and they don’t have parents, family, mothers and grandmothers to teach them parenting in their own community?

Is it just me, or is there something quite (albeit unintentionally) patronising about this whole venture?

Le Sigh: First Lady-Type Persons Visiting Dadaab

Mike Pflanz recently wrote a great piece about the visit of Jil Biden, the US Vice President’s wife, to Dadaab. Dadaab is really the hotspot of ‘look, people are dying!’ tourism at the moment. Here are the logistics behind Biden’s two-hour visit, according to Pflanz:

‘Watching the wife of the US vice-president touring the world's biggest refugee camp for famine-hit Somalis was a scrum of television cameramen, international reporters and Washington staffers thumbing their BlackBerrys. A circle of secret-service agents, their oversized shirts flattened by the hot wind onto the outlines of bullet-proof vests and pistols beneath, fanned out, watching 'the perimeter'.

Parked off to the side, waiting to whisk the visitors back to the airport, was a convoy of 29 polished vehicles, including armoured US embassy Land Cruisers driven the eight hours up from Nairobi the day before.

Two US Army Hercules C-130 aircraft were flown in – one as a backup in case of technical hitches – to transfer the Americans to Dadaab from their overnight flight from Washington. They would fly home the same day.’

And we’re working our way down the hierarchy: Just now, Cindy McCain, wife of US Republican Senator John McCain, has found her way to Kenya and to Dadaab. She found horror, death and starvation of biblical proportions, as she recounts in an interview with her daughter Meghan McCain:

‘It’s a horrible situation that has been going on for quite some time; it escalated recently due to lower-than- normal spring rains and lack of food security due to the increased conflict.’

Yeah, that. And also two decades of civil war in Somalia and no functioning government, which doesn’t really help. Aidan Hartley recently pointed out in a good piece in the Spectator, ‘Drought didn’t cause Somalia’s famine’: ‘the ‘Somalis’ are not starving. The victims are mainly the weak or minority clans — or anybody who has not armed himself to the teeth. Add to this political mix the failures of the United Nations and its main sponsors.’

Well, she does try to look at the context. Here’s an insightful piece of analysis:
‘There are bad guys roaming around this place not because they want to be good citizens but terrorists. Somalia is where the pirates are. We’ve had so many issues in regards to our military. They kidnap people on a regular basis— kidnapping is an industry there. It’s in our best interest to make sure these people are helped. I also encourage those that have the means and are willing to come here—and I’m particularly pointing at Hollywood.’

But my favourite bit of the whole article – Meghan: ‘If you weren’t my mother, I wouldn’t know this was going on.’

Try reading the bloody news, for crying out loud.