Arriving in Charles de Gaulle Paris airport, the cool, clean floor, the manicured hostesses and the orderly queues were a sight that should feel reassuring, comforting and familiar, but after just 8 days – I feel alienated.
The body aches for constant touch, senses ache for comforting sounds, smells, connection, in this sterile environment.
I am confused – we go to Africa to “help”, but as so many aid workers, we come back wondering who is actually being helped? In economic terms, it seems clear; we, the privileged West help the less privileged countries to become more stable, “civilised”, wealthy, healthy.
It all makes sense… or does it? Sierra Leone is above and below ground one of the wealthiest, abundant countries, dig a little and you will find potatoes, oranges, mangoes, bananas and every other fruit and vegetable you sow, dig a little more and you find gold, bauxite and a little more to find the biggest diamonds in the world, deeper still the oil reserves are there. The country has access to abundant seas rich with fish and deep forests of teak and mahogany, yet it is the “poorest” country in the world, by whose standards and why? What is poverty then? Is it having the ability to constantly feed its people from its land and have the potential to create wealth by digging under the earth? Then surely Sierra Leone is richer than the UK? (Watch Mallence Bart Williams excellent Ted-ex talk on the topic)
How do we actually measure poverty? I am not closing my eyes to violence, inequality for so many young women and the fear emanating from a horrendously traumatic past, which is so clearly still present, and which is the reason for my trip, but I am opening my eyes to a wealth that I am afraid many of us do not see. Not only is there an untapped material wealth, that is either untouched or smuggled out of SL by other nationalities that are raping the country but there is another wealth, a wealth of human connection, of warmth, gratitude, support, faith, spontaneity, presence, hope and vision. We blindly carry on looking through our narrow consumerist lense and miss a much larger humanitarian picture of connection, responsibility and big-hearted love. It is time we opened our eyes to our global connection and learnt yet again from the wealthiest and most ancient civilisation in the world, Africa.