2010. december 14., kedd

Article for YRAP competition: Connecting in a bike-way

„If development policies could be linked as strongly to the strengthening of
the civil society as to the economy it would create a strong improvement on
governance”- said Aung San Suu Kyi Nobel Peace Laureate in her special video
message for the closing ceremony of the EDD (European Development Days).

The EuropAid aims to deliver development assistance in a more effective way by
moving from projects towards general budget support. The large money transfer
to the national treasury of a partner country in support of a national
development policy can work in democratic societies, but will be
problematic in those where human rights are violated daily.

How can a local community in a small African village influence the high-level
policies? What can an ordinary European citizen do to be ‘development friendly’?
The European Union Ambassador of the European Year for Combating Poverty and
Social Exclusion, Dr Lesley-Anne Knight said „When we start to see global issues in
terms of people, individual lives, we are far more likely to feel solidarity and
compassion with those who are affected.” Feeling solidarity is not enough. One has
to act to make change. But when it comes to helping others, a very important
question should be asked. Why do I help? Because I have more, I know how to do
things better? Rama Naidu, the South African Democracy Development
Program’s executive director came up with a totally new perspective. “We have
to change the whole conversation that usually creates and keeps the world
unbalanced. These are the stories about ‘Them’ and ‘Us’. Stories, in which one is
better and has more to offer. We’d rather spend the time to find each other first and
say ‘I want to share what you do and I want to feel what you feel’.” Here is a case
to illustrate the kind of collectiveness that can make positive change in the world.


On a dark winter day of 1996, Elise got a phone call. „The strong voice was
penetrating my cold Danish heart”- she laughs. A man introduced himself as the
leader of the farmer’s association in southern Senegal. He needed help to
collect old bikes for his community. A few months later the man visited Elise, and
they fell in love. She became the third wife, and got a new name: Mariama
(mother of Jesus). “The fact that I converted to Islam and accepted to make
my prayers together with him in a Muslim way, gave a strong help for me to become
accepted as human being, wife, mother, and as a nurse.”

She created an organization called ‘Cykler til Senegal’ (Bikes to Senegal) and started
to collect bikes.

They have sent 5700 bikes since 1996, 2 containers annually. “I found the idea very
good. It is concrete; it does not demand big machines or technology. Connecting in
a bike way is a direct, face to face thing.” They started to collaborate with an NGO
that was part of the Danish International Development Agency (organization inside
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark) to get funding.
Going back and forth between Denmark and Senegal, she started to give lectures.
She got inspired and became better informed that she set out to raise
awareness on the key issues of development: the people.

“It was always positive. I spoke about strong people in hard situations.” As she
got more and more invitations, she started to organize exchange travels for small
group of people and initiate other projects. „I had an optician friend. He
made 9000 pair of used glasses- they gave it out after testing the eyes in schools so
that they can see better.”

Another project was the ’dinner against malaria’, a series of charity concert and
dinner on a ferry. „We raised 40 000 Danish kroner, sent it down to local
NGO’s, who bought mosquito nets locally, as they are cheaper and supported by the
government.” They made a theatre team: a man with 2 wives. They go around the
villages to talk about why do you get malaria, what do you do for prevention,
when do you need to go tested, what can you take as medicine. “In the role-play the
man and the first wife doesn’t want mosquito nets, the second wife does.
When the malaria is critical, the man and the first wife is about to die, so the second
wife invites both of them under her net, and save them. They laugh together with
the audience and discuss it in a cultural level. That is how they integrate it. I can
see now more people having nets. The state got involved, and now they have a
strategy against malaria.”

As a poverty reduction strategy, Mariama’s organization cooperated with
the University of Agriculture. They brought poultry to the village.
”Women were trained in income generating skills to become self-reliant.
They learnt how to calculate, read an
write, as part of the program. Groups of ten women came together and applied for
small loans from local banks. So the poorest women who had nothing to
guartntee were finally able to have loans. They had business plan, and they learnt
how to better handle their own projects.”

They also care about maternal health. „We are using massage and acupuncture
points as a tool to help women during delivery. It is easy and free, and has its
long traditions. But we also have supported women by sending 2700


Why to put gender equitable local development at the centre? „The reason
we should emphasize gender equality is because it is not only women who benefit
from it, but the whole society. Women are the care givers, and they have a lot of
indigenous knowledge on how to preserve the environment.”- explains Mary Okumu,
Chief Technical Advisor of the United Nations Capital Development Fund, South
Africa. „If we can bring women’s aspiration into policy as well, I think we
would have more stable governments.”

To improve development aid to the developing countries, decision makers
should have a background in working with local communities. Former NGO leader
Krzysztof Stanowski remembers how he became the undersecretary of State at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Poland. „Suddenly my government realized that
people who are working in field should influence the policies.”
Development must be about creating space for dialogue, especially among
different actors and stakeholders. But we should remember that the dialogue is
about people, and their real needs. Their voice should be heard and told, and we
better listen to hear it, because there is so much to share.

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