Last Monday was the first field day that Jacob, the other intern I work with, and I got to attend. It was so fun and interesting! I was introduced as “Chey who is not shy… except when it comes to chickens.” (I have an irrational fear of chickens that all of my co-workers and mentors found out about). All of the farmers erupted with laughter and had lots of fun teasing me and picking up conversations with me. I was, for the first time in my life, very thankful to be afraid of something so harmless.
Even though the field day was teaching farmers about the push-pull technology in the local language, that I am only beginning to understand bits and pieces of, I learned a lot. Just sitting in the shade with the farmers, I was able to soak up so much rich Kenyan culture. After the field day, we were invited into the host farmer’s home to try some traditional Homa Bay dishes.
On the bumpy, winding, and dark, two-hour ride home I found myself drifting to sleep. That is until our driver suddenly swerved and slammed on the breaks. I lunged forward, even with the seatbelt, and my eyes flew wide open. The yellow headlights illuminated people trying to protect a person lying still on the road. The conversation that was happening, however, between the driver and my mentor was not about a “person.” It was about a “body.” We thought that the person was dead.
About half of a mile down the road, there were people congregating. We stopped and my mentor got out to talk to them. We learned that whoever hit the person had driven away. They left their side mirror and the woman right there on the road. The police had already been notified and they were on their way.
We drove away. I was in shock. That night I prayed for the woman and her family.
Tuesday held the promise of a new day and a new farmer field day. I did what I always do when faced with a problem: I try to solve it. I had an idea to start a non-profit (surprise?). We could make little solar-charged lights that could be clipped to head scarfs or shirts of woman and children that were walking on the side of the road passed sun-down. We could even make them a color, I was thinking blue, so that drivers knew that a person without a vehicle was there, walking, unprotected. Jacob had the idea that from the home front, in the US, we could sell water bottles. For every water bottle that was sold we could send a light to a family in the developing world. Many woman and children are walking late at night carrying water for their families; so you buy water bottle to help a woman or child carry their own water safely, somewhere across the world. Wattle bottle in the US for clean, safe water somewhere else. I was encouraged. Excited, even. I wanted to name the non-profit after the woman who was hit the night before.
It just so happened that we were headed to the same area that we were in last night when we saw the woman who had been hit. We were given information that would stop me in my pre-determined and prescriptive tracks and teach me a very important lesson.
The woman was actually a fifteen-year-old girl. She was mentally handicapped, and would often sneak out of the house at night and wander around. The family was struggling to control her. It wasn’t the first time. She was taken to the hospital that night. She was okay besides having to get stitches. There was so much more to this seemingly simple situation.
What is the lesson here? A problem like this one, it just can’t be solved over a sleepless night. I have merely been here for twenty days. These people, this culture, this country, this continent, has problems that I cannot fathom. I can’t always wrap my heart or mind around these things, why on Earth did I think that I could solve it? My heart and my naive spirit got in the way of me thinking clearly. But this brought to light something worth talking about. I’d be willing to bet that this is not the first time this has happened to a good-intentioned, but equally naive, potential do-gooder.
All too often, non-profits for developing countries are started by philanthropists that have hardly even visited the places and people that they set out to help. It is not enough to see or to hear! It is not even enough to feel! To solve the problem, we must BE. We must understand the culture immersed in the problem before we can even say we know the problem. We must know the problem, know people who know the problem, and know people who live the problem before we can say that we understand the problem. Even then, I’m not convinced we’re ready to propose any solutions.
Monday night I prayed for the person who was hit and I prayed for her family and her friends. On Tuesday night, I prayed for the grays. I understood that this situation wasn’t black. It wasn’t white. I knew I wasn’t able to simplify or label it because even though I felt a great deal on Monday night, I have yet to understand. So I put my faith in something else I don’t always understand: His will, His grace, His plan.
Those are the exact things that keep me from walking away from solving problems in the developing world. I know the road is bumpy and winding and dark, and it’s even longer than the two-hour ride home! But these are the problems I’m called to. So I’ll keep working to understand. I’ll keep asking questions; even when they hurt. I’ll keep my eyes wide open – but only through His will, His grace, and His plan.