“I agree with Mr. Njabo. I don’t think we should be treating Africa as a continent in perpetual need of handouts. I think we should do as he says and find our own solutions.”
“Yes, I agree, in the long run, but other countries outside of Africa have skills that we do not yet have, for the moment we have no choice.”
“Well, I don’t agree, I don’t think there is any problem accepting assistance from outside.”
“But when we do this, we are forced to do the things that they want us to do with their money. They don’t want to give us money to do what we want to do. How are we ever going to find our own solutions if someone is telling us what we can and can’t do?”
“Well, I think there is a contradiction in what Mr. Njabo is saying anyway. He says that he has come back to Africa to help Africans find their own solutions but he has brought with him European and American scientists and entrepreneurs to help. How is that any different from what he is saying we shouldn’t do? He is still working with outsiders.”
The faculty from the University of Rwanda are sharing their thoughts about what Kevin Njabo, from the Congo Basin Institute, funded in part by the University of California’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, calls the “African Brain Drain”, a phenomenon where Africans leave the continent to study, never to return.
These are complicated questions. When is aid really needed? When does it direct growth in a way that would not have otherwise occurred had a people been allowed to make their own decisions, and their own mistakes? When is it just another form of (economic) colonialism? There are no easy answers. But the fact still remains that, no matter how well-meaning those of us who come to provide assistance to a country may be, we really can never know what it feels like to be the recipient of foreign aid, and to live in a country that needs help from outside its borders in order to survive.
I chose the talk as part of a sample language lesson for English teachers because it was by an African who was speaking about challenges that Africa faces in the field of education and research both for its subject matter and for its linguistic characteristics: I thought that the speaker’s accent might be more familiar to my audience than mine was. I was not fully cognizant of how prescient my choice really was until, a week later, I started planning their workshop on teacher-centered inquiry, a classroom-based research methodology designed to empower teachers to find their own answers by systematically studying interactions in their classrooms. The significance of its application in this context was suddenly obvious to me: It was a tool for African educators to use to find their own methodological solutions to the particular challenges that confront them in their classrooms.
- To be honest, I never thought that one could be a researcher in one’s own classroom. This is something very interesting because we now know that we have to study in depth every step taken in the teaching/learning process in our respective classrooms. Then later, the research done has to be published to help others facing the same problems as ours improve their teaching methodologies. In short, this is a way people can learn from each other/ one another without even [leaving our] classrooms [or looking outside ourselves]. A workshop participant.
While I don’t have all the answers to the conundrum that needing, and accepting, foreign aid presents to any country, I have concluded one thing for myself: The only way to protect the integrity of an aid recipient is to give them tools to find their own answers. Presenting them with the solutions that other countries, sometimes thousands of miles away, have evolved to solve their challenges, is not empowering. It keeps the recipient dependent upon “experts” from outside of their county. No matter how similar the challenges between two countries may appear to be on the surface, or how appropriate the answers were in the country where they developed, if solutions do not emerge naturally through creativity and innovation by the people living in a specific context, they can never truly become a part of their common heritage.
It is not answers that we need from our neighbors. Rather it is strategies for finding our own solutions, in our own time and in our own way, that will truly liberate us all, those seeking assistance and those offering it, to meet as equals in our global community.
If I give a man (or woman) fish, she (or he) will eat for a day. But if I teach him (or her) how to fish, she (or he) will have food for an entire lifetime. (Adapted Navaho proverb.)
I now understand that I am not here to give away fish. Rather I am here to share what I know about how to fish in the context of foreign language education.
*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.