Happy faces in rural Kenya

I put this image together after a conversation with a friend who runs a school in a Nairobi slum. She told me that she recently spoke with one of the parents of her schoolchildren who was telling her a story about a reporter who interviewed her about what it’s like to be poor. The woman recounted how the reporter assumed that because she was poor, she was unhappy with her life. But in fact, the woman said she was happy – her kids were in school, she can pay her rent, she can buy enough food so that they do not starve, and she has a job and works six days a week. But the reporter kept questioning her and she started to think she was crazy to think this way.

It seems to me that too often we who work in the so-called “international development” industry begin our work with the assumption that those who are poorer than we are aspire to be like us, to consume like us, and to live like us. We impose our Western values on them in return for aid, and stipulate that they adapt their economies and societies so that they can become “successful” like us. But success for us may not mean the same to them. We need to rethink and reframe the conversation we are having on global development. This image is intended to provoke some thought around this.

There is a quote attributed to Lila Watson, an Australian Aboriginal:

“If you’re coming to help me, you’re wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

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