Thursday, October 28, 2010

Celebrating Experts

When we in the West think of people in poverty, we often picture the bloated
bellies of malnourished children and the tears of their helpless mothers, people inflicted
with starvation, disease and despair. We envision conflict and bloodshed, gun-toting
toddlers and their ruthless guerrilla leaders. We pity these people who must desperately
need our wisdom and money. Many think that because we live in a more “sophisticated”
and “developed” part of the world our ways must be superior to theirs. If this is true, we
ought to share our methods for success and resources with the poor to deliver them from
their own ignorance and suffering. It is our responsibility to lift them from their depths
of despair. Easterly calls this “the white man’s burden,” I think of it as being something
more akin to ethnocentrism.

The world has seen decades of unproductive aid, much of which has caused
more damage than good. This savior attitude is not an effective way to address poverty
alleviation and development. When we embrace a top-down stance on development, we
perpetuate a great lie, assuming that human beings are innately stupid. We negate the
dignity and personal worth of those we claim we are trying to help, teaching them that
they are incapable and doomed to fail without our input.

I believe it’s time for a new perspective. Rather than entering an environment
imposing all the “right” answers, I see development as a means of helping people to
recognize their own potential, building human capacity while encouraging community
solutions. Contrary to popular belief, people in poverty are generally not in poverty
because they choose to be, but rather because they lack the opportunities to pull
themselves out. Development should seek to open doors that have previously been shut,
embracing local solutions while building skills and self-reliance among community
members rather than dictating what should be done.

Helping to connect skilled artisans throughout the developing world, Elevita aims to do just that--provide opportunities for hardworking, talented people so that they can pull themselves out of poverty. Development work needs to be participatory and empowering in its nature. It should seek to nourish self-reliance, allowing people to come up with their own solutions. Supporting local businesses, Elevita aims to do the same thing by providing a market for gifted artisans so that they can accomplish their own goals. Elevita embraces the expertise of local people in their own development, recognizing that it is the people who know best their own dreams and desires, their strengths as well as their limits.

In the words of the great Dr. Yunus, “Each of us has much more hidden inside us
than we have had a chance to explore. Unless we create an environment that enables us
to discover the limits of our potential, we will never know what we have inside of us.”
Let us work together to create these environments of which Dr. Yunus speaks, to create
opportunities where all can learn what is really inside of them and discover their limitless

In Ghana, West Africa local experts batik beautiful fabrics

They start by first creating stamps out of sponges, often incorporating symbols such as Gye Nyame which means "Except God" or Sankofa which alludes to learning from the past

The sponge is then dipped into paraffin wax and pressed firmly onto the fabric, creating an intricate pattern
Next the fabric is dyed...
and then boiled to melt off the wax
Finally the fabric is hung to dry and the fabric is finished

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