During my time in Malawi I’ve done a lot of questioning.
I’ve often wondered if I have imposed myself by coming here to work in development, a field that I know little about.
I’ve been questioning systems and structures of development and watching my optimism dissolve into a realization that they aren’t always all that they’re cracked up to be.
I’ve found out that the type of development that we imagine is happening is oftentimes broken and that we can’t expect that our best efforts will always translate into a full stomach or a sustainable solution.
I’ve discovered that we (myself and similar minded individuals) can’t possibly believe that the way that WE think development should work is absolutely right. I’ve learned that the ‘dollars = higher moral ground’ equation deserves some serious questioning.
At times I have felt hopeless and helpless and have left the country twice during leave time to take a break.
One of these times I had the privilege of going to Ethiopia.
I will put details about my Ethiopia trip in another post, save for this.
I was sitting in a hostel in North Western Ethiopia when I met a man whose name I fail to remember but whose words are entrenched in my being.
He was Ethiopian, working as a professor in international affairs and development at a nearby University.
I asked him questions on certain aspects of development, curious to hear his thoughts and desperate to gain some perspective.
After answering my questions, he asked me what I thought.
I admitted to having little development knowledge or background.
Admitted that I, like so many other well-wishers had hoped to ally and support my Malawian counterparts in their development work.
Admitted that I didn’t know anymore if I believed that international development can actually work
‘Why?’ he asked.
I found myself searching exasperated for an answer.
I finally sputtered ‘it is more difficult than I ever imagined…. the problems with development work are so BIG, the issues we are fighting are so BIG, the challenges are so BIG…’
We sat silently in the wake of my awkward admission. When I raised my eyes to meet his, he held my gaze and offered me one of the most profound gifts I have received in the form of a seven single syllabled words.
‘That is why you need BIG hope’.