Friday, November 20, 2009

Orphans: Independent Study Projects

After splitting from the Biology group, we immediately got started on our Independent Study projects. We were given suggestions and some guidelines but often times, our questions, no matter what they were, were answered by our ‘professor’ saying, “It’s independent.” We had to develop research questions and prepare for interviewing/ surveying people in the village. My research project topic changed multiple times and drove me crazy until earlier this week, I finally settled on a topic that would stick. My research question is: how many households in the village of Olasiti house and support/ care for children that are not biologically theirs? I created a questionnaire and got some help translating it into Swahili. I have been walking around the village with my host sister who is 14 years old and knows English pretty well. We approach people at their homes and my host sister tells them about me and explains what we are doing, why we are doing this research, and answers their questions. Then, they hopefully agree to do the survey and we ask them about 20 questions ranging from demographic questions such as: year born, religion, tribe, etc. to questions more specific to my topic of orphans. We ask how many children the person has and if they have any children living with them that are not their biological children. We then find out why the child(ren) are living in this home and how they are related as extended family culture is big in Africa and relatives will often take in orphans. The survey takes about 10 minutes but we often end up spending more than 10 minutes just explaining our purpose and answering all the questions that the person has about the project, often regarding how it will help them. Being with a group of Americans in Africa for three months was something that I wasn’t really looking forward to very much before our program started. It has been difficult at times as some of the other students haven’t been so understanding and open to African culture and ways of life. Currently, we General Culture students are in home stays in Olasiti, located outside of Arusha. There are five of us in my home stay as we are staying with the Chairman of the village, Alex and his family. I enjoy home stays and don’t mind being the only student in the home stay but others have gotten a bit fed up with that by now so they are really happy that we are grouped together.

The main issue bothering me right now is the fact that spending time with these other students all the time is making them complain vocally at an extreme level. I understand that other students do not enjoy being called ‘mzungu’ when walking down the road and being asked for money and other things but I believe that it is our fault that this happens. Americans make all of these movies and music that display white Americans as rich people, better than other people in this world. Of course Africans who haven’t had the chance to interact with Americans only know what they have seen in the movies. And the children who have only seen white people a handful of times get excited when they see us. Some of the students think that the children should call them by name but they don’t take the time to talk to the children and tell them their names or explain to them that they don’t like being called ‘mzungu.’ It’s funny how they don’t even think about what it is like to be a child here in Africa and to have never seen a white person before but just looks at this through the eyes of someone who thinks they are of higher status.

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