Monday, June 23, 2008


“Give a man a fish,….

and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a life time.”
I don’t necessarily agree with this statement. It means that you assume that you know more about fishing than the man, and that is not always the case.

Over the past couple days I have been teaching about nutrition and water and sanitation in schools. Often just because I am not African, it is assumed that I should know the answer to every question that is asked. This is true even if the question has nothing to do with what I presented about, or if the question is related in a convoluted way. At first I thought it was because of an internalized perception of African inferiority left over from the colonial era, but sometimes I feel like the people are testing me. It might be a way of indirectly saying, “You think you’re so smart because you aren’t black.” I don’t take it personally though.

For example I was presenting about nutrition a couple days ago, and the teacher asked me something along the lines of “Why does Africa have diseases?” The answer is very complex, and public health specialists still debate about it. I didn’t have an answer for him. Then he said that he knew the answer. He said that people have the resources, but they don’t utilize them. I felt like he was saying that if a person gets sick, it is partly their own fault.

While it is certainly a person’s responsibility to take care of their health, I don’t think it is fair to blame people that are sick for their illnesses. While some people may not properly utilize resources to their advantage, there are those who just do not have the resources. I tried to say something along those lines.

Prior to that outreach, we went to a high school where the children asked questions because they were genuinely curious about the world. The questions were so intelligent. We were teaching about a product called Water Guard, which is sodium hypochlorite. It is used to kill bacteria in the water so that the water is drinkable. People asked questions like, “What about bacteria with particularly hardy cell walls? Are they affected as well?”, “Does chlorine cause cancer?”, “What happens if you put too much water guard in the jerry can of water?", "What happens if you put too little?” * They also put on a creative skit about what happens when a person drinks contaminated water.

I didn’t think I would be teaching when I first decided to come to Uganda, but I am very glad I am. I’m starting to understand more clearly the relationship between seemingly disparate fields like environmental science, education, and public health.

* In case you wanted to know, water guard kills all the bacteria that are harmful to humans in the water. Because only one capful (three or four milliliters) is used per twenty liters of water, water guard is not harmful to human health. If you add a little too much the water would just taste bad, but a person would probably get sick if they drank it straight from the bottle. Did you know that in the US our tap water is treated with a compound similar to water guard? It is also really nice because a bottle costs 1000 shillings (61 cents) and treats 1000 L of water (50 jerry cans that hold 20 L water).


JP said...

Saumya...your blogs posts are informative and insightful...its sounds like you are really growing and maturing as somehow who cares deeply about this type of work and the dynamics which surround it, which are all too often neglected because of the inherent constraints of intl work.

Keep growing and learning and posting! Thanks!

Danika Barry said...

Agreed! Great blogging Saumya!