While we feasted on his excellent chicken, MacRon told me a couple of interesting stories. He’s very much of the opinion that people round here don’t want to save themselves: initially, I thought he was just another racist white farmer, but he told me a couple of stories which made me think otherwise.
Firstly, he said, despite business being down he was refusing to lay people off. A pretty good start. Then he told me his neighbour had been coming to his borehole every morning with an ox cart and two barrels for water – his own pump wasn’t working. Ron replaced all the piping in the pump and told the community they could pay him back the 500,000 kwacha (about £60) over as many months as they wanted. He hasn’t heard from them since – not even, he says, a thank you.
Then he was approached by the PTA of another school who wanted help to build a building. He gave them some bricks he had in his yard, and asked that they replace them over time (the community of Simakakata has already made 60,000 bricks by hand in preparation for construction). Again, he says, he hasn’t heard from them since.
Now obviously there’s more to the story than that, and I don’t have time to track down Ron’s bricks to find out the communities side. given the level of poverty and hunger round here, I’m not surprised they couldn’t replace them – but it helped me understand why Response Network can be so brutal in their insistence on self-help. Send the children of Simakakata money to buy expensive building materials they will never have otherwise, and a borehole that is essential, but let them learn how to buy their own shoes and textbooks is the message. It’s a kind of tough love – that the people rounnd here are so broken by years of starvation and hardship, they need to prove to themselves that they have the talent to pull themselves forward on their own.
Having seen the energy, pride and passion of the people of Simakakata for the school, it seems to be working. It’s not quite as vigourous as Livingstone – where I met an out-of-work actor who was arrested for two days for drawing cartoons of the president – but they were all fiercely independent. There are 300 or so communities here though, and it’s going to take a long time for Response Network to visit them all.
By the way, it may seem there’s a lot of words on MacRon and not as many on the school on my blog now, but it’s only because a lot of the school stories have to be saved for LearnAsOne, and I want to make sure that wheen I write in detail about them here, they’re more considered posts.