Monday, May 24, 2010
In the Margins
I confess that I've spent the last five months working. As much as I'd like to keep this blog somewhat entertaining, I was perusing my photos for 2010 and realized how little I've done that might thrill or excite. The only travel I've done is work related and even many of the social functions I've attended were, I'm afraid, connected to my job. Alas, it's probably best I don't keep readership statistics.
I do have vacation coming so don't give up hope that I might say or post something interesting.
World Economic Forum
And so it continues. A week and a half ago I attended an event of the World Economic Forum (Africa). It was an event targeting partnerships of non-governmental organizations, government and private sector. The WEF in general is a pretty big deal with lots of suits and important people talking about how important they are. I sipped cocktails with a few of them and had some nice snacks. While we have connections with the government, the private sector doesn't have a lot of reason to do business with us. There are a lot of cool ways that business is getting involved with development around the world but refugees in this country don't have a lot of freedoms that are necessary to connect aid organizations with the private sector. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to hear about what is being done and new models for lifting up the economic "bottom billion".
I also attended a Europe Day function hosted by the European Delegation here in Dar. I met the Head of Delegation (ambassador) a few weeks ago and he said he'd make sure I got invited even though I'm not a card-carrying European (though more than ten years in Europe and two years with the European Commission should at least get me a free drink). He and I chatted about the theme "Living on the Margins" in which he's been looking into what he can do for some of these disenfranchised people groups in this society (disabled, albinos, etc.). I told him that we work with disabled refugees and are exploring ways of ramping up what we do. He seemed interested and said I should meet some of the people he's been meeting with. He really wants to use his position to make a difference and I have to say, this is not a bad way to do it. He said, "It's going to be great. My place (his huge official residence) is going to be teeming with disabled people – a big change from the usually snobbery." It was pretty cool, I have to say.
The event was connected to a number of other events to bring attention to these people who live on the margins of this society. As he said, normally these are rather dull affairs in which, like the event above, important people stand around talking about their importance. Or people discuss who they saw at the yacht club the past weekend. Or they recount the events of their last holiday abroad. This was a bit different. Albinos, poor people, disabled in wheel chairs, orphans and so forth were in abundance. Though many of the usual suits sequestered themselves to discuss whatever, others seemed to be mixing it up with the representatives from the marginalized groups. The message, as he stated in his speech, is not that we should collectively feel sorry for the marginalized. It's that we should stop marginalizing them. Hire them. Buy their products. Greet them on the street. Treat them as equals.
Isolated events often contribute little to sustainable change. However it's hopeful that the relationships established will go a long ways to making a difference. As we work with the marginalized with the refugee population (sort of a marginalization within a marginalization), it gave me a bit of a boost. Good to see that people are out there making things happen. We have some significant struggles to get support for such things in a refugee camp but maybe there is some interest out there.