By Fiona Henry
It’s Friday 7.00 p.m. preparing for work at the end of our second week here. We arrived keen to get stuck in and help. We have worked hard and are proud of what we have done so far. The sites we have worked on have been transformed and will provide much better services to the people here.
This second week is however, markedly different from the first week. The initial shock of the squatter camps provoked a very basic response to do something, anything to improve the situation. So lashing into the work was easy and rewarding. The second week so has brought some uncertainty and questioning. As we learn about the complications of life here, how every problem is interrelated and how corrupt the systems are. Doubts about the effectiveness of our work, especially for the long term flood in. People migrate here in the hope of work, few get it. They have no papers, so they have no rights. Parents die of Aids related diseases, children are left to be cared for by grandparents, neighbours are on their own and they are luckier than those preyed upon and abused. They get fed at the feeding station we are working at but it may be there only daily meal. The drug problem is increasing, alcohol abuse is rife, teenage girls become pregnant and their lives come to a standstill. Local Gang Lords control the camps, just as corrupt as the indifferent government.
Sounds awful, and it is. Then you see an individual child’s face light up because of a simple toy or a tiny amount of attention. You speak to amazingly strong women who work tirelessly to care for these children and you are humbled and baffled by their thanks to us.
I read recently that as nations we treat large groups of people in ways that would be criminal, if done to an individual. Leaving a child in a shack with no running water, electricity, no love or care would be a scandal anywhere. Yet the scale of the scandal here is so far beyond that, that it is difficult to relate to each of these thousands of people as individuals. So this week is different from the first, it is more demanding intellectually and emotionally more disturbing. A good foundation perhaps for personal change and for questioning the status quo?