Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Must See Experience

So far our trip has been fairly easy for everyone; we have participated in some cultural experiences and observed from a reasonable distance the issues of poverty and hunger. Although we have driven past many shanty towns and areas that are obviously well below the standard of living we are used to in Canada, we have passed these areas on the highway or driven through them briefly on our way to a work site. Wednesday was different.

I was part of the group that went to four different schools to lay the wooden forms for the concrete bases the water resevoirs will be installed on. These schools were all witihin a few minutes of each other, and each was further inside the shanty towns. Initially it is easy to simply acknowledge that these are poor areas and get on with our work, however this became more difficult as the day wore on. The schools we visited are surrounded by razor wire security fences which must be unlocked to allow any visitors such as ourselves inside. Our last school of the day provided a stark contrast to life in Canada. The drainage gutters next to the vegetable garden had water in them, which was unusual since it is the dry season and there is no rain. We were informed that a manhole was backed up; the water was actually raw sewage backing up from the school. The water we could see in the fields on the other side of the fence was raw sewage from the shanty town that the school is on the edge of. This would be an outrage in the communities that we come from, and the nearby vegetable gardens would likely be considered unsafe for eating because of the proximity to the sewage. But this is the environment they live in.

On our way to the work sites we passed a fairly large cemetary with many new graves easily identified by mounds of fresh earth. Our local guide explained that this cemetary holds up to 50 funerals each Saturday; the result of HIV/AIDS in the community. This community only has an infection rate of approximately 33%, significantly lower than other parts of the country. The cemetary is only 10 years old and has many, many more graves than significantly older cemetaries in other parts of the world. We hear numbers and statistics about the epidemic, but numbers do not provide the real effect that this cemetary did. Numbers are sometimes just numbers; these are real people with lives and families. Standing at the side of the road paying our respects and contemplating what we were seeing was sobering. It was a very quiet car ride back to our base.

We saw some things that are difficult to see and impossible to brush aside as someone elses problem. Although it was difficult, these are things everyone should see. Once you have you can never be the same again.

Written by Dawn

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