I recently visited an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the Horn of Africa and noticed a beautiful young girl staring at me. This girl-child stared all through my tour of the camp with surprise and questions on her face. Finally, through an interpreter, I found out why. She was used to having mainly white people visit the camps, and when blacks come, they mainly facilitate missions and visits from whites, so she assumed that solutions came from white people. She was surprised to see a black Woman, an African woman leading in this visit and mission.
To recap, this African beautiful girl has had a lot of visitors mostly white and mostly male. She was surprised to see someone who looked like her, who looked like her mother, her aunts coming with solutions. She is surprised that the answer can come from someone who looked like her, a black African girl, woman, and she asked how it is possible. Oh mine, this is a moment I was created for.
I explained to her and the kids that they were the future, a bright future for Africa for Ethiopia. These are not poor kids, these are kids that the world is failing, and my role is to empower them by letting them know of their greatness. I went on that mission to assess what IDPs needed, but I came back getting what I needed; reinvigorated, inspired and re-energized!
I assured her that the solution did not even come from me, but from the decisions she makes in her place of displacement. I told her that as a black young girl she has power like me and every other, and that power came from what she believes about herself.
I have been challenging the use of the humanitarian image of the `white-man’ standing in the midst of Africans in need of assistance because this image sends a racist, colonial message and undermines the self-esteem of Africans affected by disasters and/or requiring humanitarian assistance. Such images send the message that help comes from outside the affected peoples. It positions the white man or woman as the source of solutions.
Normally when international actors go on these missions they assume that these are people in need of basics like food and latrines. I take a different posture, I tune into their dreams, because I know that I as little girl many years ago had dreams. I was committed to fostering a world where everyone is valued and everyone recognizes their value.