I spent a cumulative 22 days in Africa in October. I won’t lie – it was amazing!
Throughout October I traveled to Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa. I went to Tanzania to report on agriculture, health, food security, and poverty as an International Reporting Project fellow. I traveled to Zambia as a guest of Malaria No More to cover their brand-new Power of One campaign that is essentially a global movement where a small $1 donation goes to test a Zambian child for malaria and treat them. $1 literally keeps a child alive. And finally I traveled to South Africa on the final Social Good Moms’ insight trip for the year.
During my travels in Africa I have learned many things: the continent is gorgeous! Gorgeous! My photo collage does it absolutely no justice whatsoever.
But there are places in Africa where a lot of work needs to be done. In some places infrastructure isn’t worth a damn. Pardon my French. It’s true. That is why I was happy to hear about the upcoming Building Africa conference that is taking place in February because something has to be done about the roads. Of course, I am not saying anything new here, but having spent time on many dirt roads in October to the detriment of my backside I thought I’d mention Africa’s massive roads problem. If Africa doesn’t fix its infrastructure problem, health and transport woes will continue to be a constant burden on African countries. To wit, you cannot transport medicines, food, and essential items to people who live in areas you cannot reach. That’s problematic. Last week the African Union’s economic development arm, NEPAD, convened a conference in Johannesburg that is looking at bringing on private partnerships to help fund roads in Africa. $500 billion dollars is needed to fund infrastructure improvements on the continent of which $100 billion is expected to come from private funders. That’s a start.
I also was reminded that the African people are amazing and beautiful, and warm and welcoming, but there is still corruption that prevents or severely stalls a lot of good projects from happening. Even Kenya has set up a name and shame anti-graft site to curb bribery and corruption. Who knows if it will work, though, or is significant in name only.
The United States government has a heavy presence in Africa through global health programs like PEPFAR, Feed the Future, and the President’s Malaria Initiative – not to mention the millions of dollars in funding that goes to NGOs on the ground. A lot of productive, life-saving work happens on the ground in Africa. I have seen it, reported on USAID-funded projects, and have read about countless programs that are helping those in need. You wouldn’t believe how many USAID logos I see throughout Africa. Seeing USAID’s African presence gives me a sense of pride to witness what the American people do for other countries even if they don’t realize where a minuscule fraction of their taxpayer money is going. This I know to be true: the people who work for USAID are fantastic stewards of US taxpayer money. It’s their duty to use the money in the ways in which they are intended. And although I haven’t seen every USAID budget allocation line for foreign aid programs, I have talked to enough USAID employees to know they take their work very seriously. I enjoy seeing where taxpayer money is going in Africa and have many times. Most Americans have no clue that as a nation we are keeping millions of people alive and healthy and that’s a shame. I wish more people knew.
Being in Africa for nearly a month teaches you that time flies! 22 days goes by extremely quickly even though at first it seems like the month will drag on forever. I also realized that I need to set my eyes on west Africa in the near future. I have only visited east and south Africa. That, my friends, has to change. I am sure I will go to west Africa for some reason in 2014. That is a promise to myself.
I also learned that if you set goals things will get done! I had goals of traveling internationally more in 2013 and that has happened time and again and I am grateful for it. My next international trip will be visting India next year. Many of you know I was supposed to go to India this month, but the kind folks at Water for People (the fantastic NGO I am going with) were so kind to move the dates to 2014 that my year of travel will start in February of next year. And as you can expect I am truly looking forward to going to India again.
Finally, I will leave you with this: whatever it is in your life that you want to do, do it! You probably don’t want to spend nearly a month in Africa like I did. But, whatever your goal – go after it. Time won’t wait for you!