Poverty in Africa
By Ann McLaughlin, MSW, ACSW
The most important thing that I ever learned as a social worker is how to do a needs assessment. Whether assessing an individual, a couple, a country, or the entire world, social work gave me the tools to evaluate what is going on and how to take action.
I was in Africa five years ago and went again in August and September of 2013. What has changed since then? What has stayed the same?
~ Tackling domestic violence. Five years ago, physical abuse was not being talked about. Now "gender based violence" is talked about in both legal and social work organizations. I met with organizations in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda who have their hands solidly wrapped around this problem. Two of those organizations are integrating men into their programs and solutions, so that DV is prevented.
~First steps addressing sexual abuse. While strides are being made regarding DV, sexual abuse is still a taboo topic. A social work colleague in Kenya introduced me to a woman who is using her pension fund to run a program for girls that have been physically abused. This is the only program that I know of addressing sexual abuse.
~Psychiatric social work. This trip, I had the chance to visit a psych unit. Medications were about 50 years behind. There is a strong need for family support work; outreach prevention; and psycho-educational work, so that people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can learn more, thus preventing a "revolving door."
~Crisis work. Colleagues in Tanzania have a crisis line in place. Cameroon is just launching one.
~AIDS haunts the continent. When I was in Tanzania at a meeting with social work colleagues, they asked how we handle AIDS in America. I said, "Well, in the 1990s, gay communities made a huge push to pass out condoms and educate peers; and needle exchanges among IV drug users reduced the problem there." You could have heard a pin drop. AIDS in Africa continues to be passed around the family: an unfaithful husband will bring it home to his wife...then he will die and she is "inherited" by his brother, who then has sex with his new 2nd or 3rd wife...and then gives it to his 1st wife. What I do not understand is why he didn't use a condom...and why one would have sex with someone who has AIDS. I am totally missing something cultural. One woman - devout Catholic, mother of five, and teacher and bank worker all her life - said to me: "I grew up with seven siblings. Now I have only one. All the others died of AIDS. It is a rare family that has not been touched by AIDS in Africa."
~Malaria could be prevented. While people may find a way to have a cell phone; they still cannot seem to find the $5 for a mosquito net. Malaria is another big killer, and with proper steps could largely be prevented. Bill Gates Foundation is dedicated to finding a malaria vaccine.
~Reproductive health. While Bill Gates is devoted to finding the malaria vaccine, Melinda Gates is focused on family planning. Melinda has said, "All over the world, women ask me for a way to have fewer kids. They know that it would mean fewer mouths to feed and fewer school fees to pay." NGOabroad partners have also asked for help with family planning and contraception.
~Water and sanitation. I met with a dynamo in Nairobi who has built toilets all over Kibera slum, then all over Nairobi, then all over Kenya. "Pit toilets near bore holes mean people are drinking contaminated water. Once we get sanitation taken care of, the next step will be to make push for clean water."
~Poverty stalks the rural areas. In the rural areas, farmers have food from the field and a stick and mud home. The world has done so well with the Millenial goals because China has pulled so many out of poverty. It is still a mixed report how Africa is doing with poverty.
~Alcohol Abuse. Requests for help with alcohol abuse are now coming in. Previously, it was unaddressed. First steps are community education and staff trainings. Poverty and alcohol exacerbate each other.
One of the most promising trends is how people are reaching out to Africa to help. Come join us and help with one of the above projects. We need you!
Ann McLaughlin MSW, ACSW, directs NGOabroad, a unique service that helps people enter or advance in international humanitarian work and provides frugal, customized volunteer opportunities.