Did I mention before about ignorance and arrogance? 🙂 I know, it was one of the most recent posts! However, I wanted to share a bit of ‘soul bearing’ that I did at work. Yes, I went to Zambia for a work related issue, but sharing my life lessons with my brilliant and inspiring colleagues…I certainly was not all that willing.
But, I said yes. So, even though to faithful blog readers, this may be a bit redudant, it is proof of my personal growth, and something I wish to share with you!
Two weeks ago, I traveled to Zambia to speak at conference co-sponsered byand on Extractives in Southern African. My task was to speak about ICCR’s work and run a session on Shareholder Advocacy. However, I had a few days to explore the region, before the conference began. That first weekend, I went to Mongu in the Western Region. This is the poorest region of the country.
After a 7 hour bus ride from the capital, I arrived and went to visit the Diocese of Mongu Development Centre (DMDC). When this opened in the early 70′s, it’s focus was provide nutritional assistance to the local residents, specifically children. Today, it focuses on local food sustainability. To meet that goal, DMDC provides everything from farmer training; to running a distribution center for seeds and equipment; and operating a rice polishing machine, free for the community to use. DMDC is even exploring technologies with bio-diesel. One of the greatest benefits of all their work is how earnestly they commit to sustainability. They teach people how to grow rice for sustenance as well as for sale at the market. All the rice seeds sold to the local farmers are organic. Rice husks and residual powder are given purposes such as fertilizer for local crops and road cover. Trees are grown at the center and then planted to restore deforested areas.
Also at the Center, the plant jatropha is being grown for biodiesel. This is a non-edible, native plant, that when pressed creates oil for use as biodiesel. But just like the rice, DMDC works to ensure that byproducts are also used. The briquettes left by the plants used for bio-diesel are made into pellets to be used in fires instead of charcoal and the additional byproduct is used for making soap.
Not only did I learn practical lessons and witness great project, like what DMDC has to offer, I learned some life lessons. For example, I was looking forward to possibly seeing Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world, but when the trip to Mongu presented itself, I knew that I could not do both. I wanted to honor the hospitality of the Oblates and others, so I went to Mongu. I will say that part of me was disappointed to not see this famed site. Also, I have been in the presence of poverty before, and been to a different region of Africa. On my ride back to the capital city after my weekend in Mongu, I realized that I must be careful, because I now see there is a fine line between ignorance and arrogance. I do not want to live my life unaware of how most of the world lives, or of challenges that people face. However, I must be careful to not assume that the poverty I say, in say Ecuador, would be the same as in Zambia. It’s not. And assuming that they are the same, denies people the dignity of letting the world knowing their story.
In addition, one of the other lessons I re-learned was being not doing. I’ve struggled with this before, as when I see a need, I want to help. I don’t necessarily want to be in the presence of it, I want to change it. But, being allows me to learn more deeply, as I can sit, talk to others, hear their story, and learn about the differences and difficulty they face. As well as being vs. doing is deeply connected to my spiritual life. Which I was reminded of when I met with the finance director of the Mongu diocese. When I met with Fr. Michael, I was wrestling the things I just mentioned, with the ability to see need, but not do much about it. By this time, I had toured much of Mongu, but was struggling about why I was seeing these things. As I was thinking about “Could I donate money, or could others? Could I help fix some of these issues? I felt compelled to act”. Fr. Michael gave me the greatest gift: the reminder of my purpose in this trip. He told me to share the story of Mongu. He did not ask me to take action; he did not ask me to find funders for their wonderful programs. He asked me to tell others of the poverty, but also the wonderful hope and programs that do exist. His message was wrapped up in his quick statement “Be a mouthpiece, Kate”. And I think that is what we are collectively called to do with this work- be a mouthpiece and lift up the stories. So, as our work allows us to be a mouthpiece, the rest of my time allowed me to hone that ability.
The rest of the week I spent in Lusaka at the CRS/CAFOD Conference, which was incredibly well run. There was such excitement over this work, and it brought over 100 people from 13 countries together to strategize on such a complex, yet crucial issue of extractives. As we know, conflict minerals are still being addressed, but positive movements such as the Dodd Frank legislation requiring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to write new rules for public companies that will require them to prove that they are not using conflict minerals.
But what about the rest of Africa?
The continent is rich in natural minerals and resources. Yet, the local people do not always benefit from these resources. Our conference pulled together NGOs, CSOs, company representatives, and others to begin to talk through the issues. We learned about Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, and how to utilize it before an operation begins; we learned about international laws and remediation tactics; how to utilize social media, especially in the wake of Egypt’s example; we studied conflict resolution; and heard about great groups like EITI and Publish What you Pay. What was difficult was some of our differences in US ownership of companies vs. ownership in general, which is so incredibly dissimilar, and not what the organizers wished to spend time on. The good news is that conference participants did strongly appreciate how to engage companies, regardless of different securities laws- such as skills to use, knowing it takes time not a silver bullet, and how to build relationships for the benefit of communities. The CSO groups were very excited to take these strategies back and if there can be partnerships, they will let us know!
Lastly, one other thing disturbed me. In the capital of Lusaka, there is a large Chinese embassy being created. The one university in the entire country is in the capital, and many local students do not get in due to the high competition. However, Chinese students are given free education. As Chinese companies continue to seek a presence in Africa, by buying land or other ventures, I think we must be mindful. In the worst case scenario, this can be the re-colonizing of Africa, but instead of it being foreign nation states, it is private companies, with less accountability. All in all this was a great experience, getting to see some fantastic sustainable food production, as well as work with on the ground groups in the extractives industry as well as learn some critical life lessons.
Thanks for letting me share this experience!