A Moment of Clarity

Tiffany Tong is currently working in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in Urban Agriculture.

I had an “aha” moment the other day.

I was having dinner with some new friends. The person who sat next to me was an American who worked with the department of social work at the University of Dar es Salaam. Among all the interesting differences she learnt about social work in the US and in Tanzania, one in particular stood out in her mind.

Government-provided social safety networks are practically non-existent in Dar es Salaam – the government simply doesn’t have the funding to provide extra support. While North American social workers often refer patients to appropriate social support networks, Tanzanian social workers have to rely on informal ones.

Due to the social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, often families will not care for the sick. Instead, Tanzanian social workers will take them to the “ten cell leader”, who cares for ten small groups of sick individuals. The end goal is to try to educate and convince the family to take the patient back into their care.

Then, the “aha” moment came.

What if the “development” power dynamic were reversed, and Tanzanian development workers came to Canada to tell us that: “you really should implement this ten cell leader institution. It works great in our community! Why not yours?” What would be your reaction?

I wonder how many ideas work for us that sound absolutely ridiculous to the people we are trying to work with? I’m not saying that cross-cultural teaching is a bad thing – I’m sure we have all learnt amazing ideas from people of varying backgrounds. That is the beauty of diversity. But how often is success lost in in the nuances of another culture?

Anyone else have any examples of our “common sense” colliding with common practice?

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Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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One Response to A Moment of Clarity

  1. Pingback: Tiffany » Blog Archive » an Aha moment

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