In the beginning of this semester I was asked to write an essay defining “Development” for my development practicum class. As an economics major, I started going on about GDP per capita, industrialization of sectors of the economy, agriculture and so forth. My peers related to their experience in the United States and France and compared it to things they saw in Senegal. They talked about “processes” and “equitable” opportunities. I also talked about hard it is to define development because measuring and evaluate development is not even an easy thing to do. But this exercise was all about theories, on paper… I was faced with development problems in my rural visit in Senegal.
I, along a peer of mine, went to visit a health peace corp volunteer in the village in the Bakel area for our first week of rural visit. Here is a story that I would like to share: after a long day of sweating and sleeping, it finally started to cool off in Guade Bauffe Village. The village is in the east of Senegal, about 30 km from Bakel and about 700 km from Dakar, the capital. That night around eight p.m. we were hanging out at the health worker’s place waiting for dinner to be served since a new midwife from Dakar cooked dinner. Suddenly the matron came and called the midwife because a woman was in labor from the next village. The midwife got ready and told me and the pcv that we could assist with the birth. I was excited and scared.
As we got closer to the maternity, we saw two people holding two babies wrapped in cloth. Just kidding, then I thought, the babies are here. The matron confirmed that the babies were already born few hours ago at home. The midwife inspected the twin brothers while asking the woman where the placenta was. The mother replied that it was not possible to see where it is anymore. The midwife looked at the umbilical cord of the children and realized that the babies were actually born a few days before that day. She started saying how bad it is first that these babies were not born at the hospital but how they did not benefit from neo-natal care.
It turns out that one of the babies developed an infection and had a hard time breathing. The twin had to be evacuated to a bigger hospital in Baker, which was 30 km from there. Yes, you can drive for fifteen minutes and get there… if you were in the USA or even easier, Dakar. The only way to get to Bakel is to take a chariot to go to Bandji, five km from where we were, and get a local bus to Bakel for another hour, so it would take two hours if they were lucky.
But I don’t think they would do that. It was late at night and there would not be an available chariot or any bus. And no, there is no ambulance at this place. And what if these babies only had a few more hours to live? When do the lives of these children depend on whether there is an ambulance or not? Isn’t life far more important than a car? How can you lose life so easily in some places and be “lucky enough” in others?
This reminded me of a story I had experienced when I was growing up. My mother was a physician in a similar remote area of Madagascar. One time, two men brought a woman who just gave birth at home when I was about eight at most. They lived three hours walking from our town. She was losing a lot of blood. According to my mother at that time she had an hemorrhage because part of her placenta was still inside of her. I saw people closing her eyes after she died; my mom could not do anything for her.
One person told me once that I deal well with death, but I don’t. I just learned over time to accept it easier because I saw friends, loved ones and strangers dying a lot more often that an American person in my so far short life. My friend Malahat from Afghanistan shared her thoughts after I told her this story. She told me, “All we have left is to pray,” and that is what I can do. Who am I going to blame anyway?
That night I was looking at the beautiful sky of Guade Bauffe. I looked at thousands of stars thinking about public health class, about the definition of development and how the beautiful, fragile and precious baby that I just held in my arms can die anytime soon and not enjoy his right to live. There, I experienced development problems and it is so much harder to deal with than an essay about it. I saw a shooting star but I did not make a wish.
A chance to study abroad like this was practice I could face in reality and contrast to theories in class, making attending a college like Lafayette a great opportunity for me. The road to real development, the improvement of the living conditions for citizens, so much more than economic development, is needed for countries for Senegal or Madagascar. I know my people in Madagascar, my blood, my flesh, experience similar and even worse problems. In Senegal 320/100,000 women die when giving birth and the numbers are only 9/100,000 in France, 27 for the USA and 440 for Madagascar according to the WHO as of 2013. I know my people have to go a long way, too.