Community

It Takes a Village

By Blair Jackson |

Photo by Blair Jackson: Joanna Pollock models traditional African garb. Part of the Green Village's cultural exchange program is to introduce Western culture to the traditions of the Global South.

The Green Village Foundation is a new nonprofit nongovernmental organization centered in Fayetteville.

GVF offers rural communities in Africa sustainable initiatives to promote local economies and standards of living. The organization views its relationship with other NGOs and African communities as part of a cultural exchange, in which cultures from both ends of the spectrum can influence one another positively.

George’s Majestic Lounge will be hosting a benefit concert for the Green Village Foundation on April 16. The entry fee is $10 and $5 for students to enjoy local music, African drums and African fashion. The benefit is just one in a series of initiatives that seek to bridge the chasm between the West and the Global South to support the ideology of balance and benevolent communities.

“Today, in this world, there are people who have an excess. On the other hand, there are people who have nothing at all,” says Janvier Kwizera, a UA student who is part of the African Student Organization and GVF. He is originally from Rwanda, where life is very different.

In contrast to his home community, Kwizera finds the U.S. culture to be more competitive and individualistic. “You either kill or get killed,” he says. “There is no partnership.”

Courtesy Photo: "In addition to actual education, the training and resources provide by Green Village Foundation frees time from water collection, farming and other necessities so that more children can remain in school." - GreenVillageFoundation.com

“Organizations like GVF are one of those things that are trying to bring the world to a balance, an equilibrium,” he explains. “GVF can be a bridge between one side of the bar, which is Africa and other underdeveloped countries, and the other side of the bar, which is America and other Western cultures.”

By bridging the two cultures, and offering Westerners exposure to the day-to-day lifestyles of the Global South, Kwizera believes that Westerners can begin to question the materialism and excess that defines success and power within the culture.

The engineering major says he hopes to return home after completing his education, if not to Rwanda, at least to another undeveloped country, where people are in need.

“If I stay here, I’m just going to produce and produce, and it’s not really going to have an impact. I need to make an impact somewhere,” he explains.

Co-founded by Dr. Theo Vodounou, a native of Benin, the recently created NGO has years of experience backing its development and direction. Dr. Vodounou is currently working with the United Nations as the financial director for the High Commissioner for Refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Joanna Pollock, International Development Coordinator in Fayetteville, returned from the GVF’s initial trip earlier this year. To truly help the communities of the Global South, Pollock explains, it is important to forge a strong connection with people and their customs, which sometimes means shedding good intentions in order to understand traditions.

Pollock gives an example, citing the first time she was in Africa. She saw women walking for miles alongside the road with water baskets balanced on their heads. She voiced her concerns to the locals in the village and was told that her attitude was disrespectful to their culture.

“My first impulse was that these people were being disempowered, but I didn’t talk to them,” she says.

One of the defining characteristics of GVF is its dedication to developing projects that are born of an already existing tradition or economic system. Pollock explains that misinterpretations of cultural traditions can be a stumbling block in bringing aid to rural, indigenous communities, which makes communication key in the strategic process.

Pollock gives an example of a project that failed due to a similar misinterpretation of the significance of transporting water. When another NGO put a well in a community, volunteers returned to find it

destroyed, again and again. Finally, the mystery was solved.

“The women were destroying the well because walking to get water was their only time to spend time together and to break away from domestic responsibilities,” she says.

Empowering women is another cornerstone of GVF. Pollock explains that when women become involved in the community, it becomes more prone to success.

“When women get plugged into the economy, they gain social leverage. It gives them a voice in the community. They lift up women, children and family members in the community development.”

One such community is in Benin, where women run a cassava co-op. Together, the women process the cassava root, which is very fibrous and produces a product comparable to wheat.

GVF hopes to provide the women with crankshaft machines that will grind the root for them, eliminating the need to work for long hours in a stooped position. Pollock hopes that the simple machine will allow the women to process more cassava so they will not only be able to feed themselves, but also to sell the surplus and create an economy for themselves.

In addition to helping local economies, GVF has projects aiding in education, sustainable energy, health and finance in communities.

Some projects address multiple issues, such as the solar ovens that the group hopes to take to a village in Kenya. Here, where trees are used for firewood, solar ovens would mitigate the depletion of environmental resources. The women in the village also cook over the open fire, in semi-enclosed structures that fill with smoke. Many women suffer from bronchial and pulmonary ailments, which would be alleviated by using solar ovens.

Pollock says it is important to introduce alternative concepts of energy to developing nations in order to counter the concept that progress and industry growth must parallel a consumption of fossil fuels.

“We do not want them to develop our ways, the Western ways, of using energy. If the Global South starts trying to use coal, oil, lignite and natural gas, what chance do we have as a species?”

Pollock and Kwizera both say that Western cultures could learn from the Global South.

“We need to learn from one another. We can learn to live with less,” says Pollock. She goes on to say that though the U.S. considers itself to be in economic distress, many people in these villages lack basic needs, yet they remain happy and connected to one another and the environment.

“We are going to have to learn,” she says, “what ‘enough’ means.”

 

 

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