By Lisa O’Rourke
Have you ever considered your place in the world?
Have you ever been confronted by your privilege?
Has it ever hit you so suddenly that you felt stunned by it?
This is something that I have experienced on a recent Development Education experience in Tanzania.
I had travelled over there as part of a larger group of participants with Development Perspectives – an organisation with a goal of challenging our ideas of development. We were hosted by a Tanzanian organisation called Uvikiuta. Here, we lived all together with Tanzanian participants-we shared meals, accommodation, workshops, work camps and many other experiences together. The difference economically between our respective countries and our lifestyles became apparent very quickly. The difference was vast and we found so many other things to talk about. It made me feel confronted and uncomfortable. Tanzania and Ireland are so far apart in terms of poverty levels. The reality of our socio-economic status is something that cannot be taken for granted. However it was the different attitudes as a result of this ‘status’ that stood out.
In Ireland, we have a consumer driven society. There is something in us nowadays that makes us feel the need to buy ‘stuff’. I actually know people who shop when they are bored. Why do we have this need to buy, to consume? It does not make us better people. If anything, material possessions weigh us down. They can cause an unnecessary stress that we don’t even realise is there. Don’t get me wrong, our Tanzanian counterparts are also consumers. They eat delicious food, have a beer and have beautiful clothes. But, the attitude they have and the way in which they consume is different. This is due to their financial circumstances of course, but it leads to a more conscious consumer attitude.
One participant in particular stands out for me- Mwasiti. She came to workshops in nothing short of a gown on many occasions. These outfits she had most likely made, if not, carefully thought out and designed with the local tailor. I also witnessed her putting away her belongings and the care she took to fold and pack everything away in its place put my dusty stuffed backpack to shame. This is a different approach to possessions and consumerism. In Ireland, there is a lot of thoughtless purchasing of items and almost a disposable aspect to some of the clothes that are for sale now. We need to learn from Mwasiti. Buy once, buy well. Make good investments into ethical, good quality products. Consider an item lasting you for years as opposed to merely wearing it once or twice and ‘tossing’ it.
Tanzania is economically a poorer nation but in this regard their values are in the right place. We need to remember SDG 12- Responsible Consumption and Production and consider this in our consumer lives. Another lesson that struck me even more after I had arrived home and the programme had ended, was the effect of climate change upon us all and the importance of SDG 13- Climate Action. This past winter, when the River Shannon had flooded nearby towns, farmlands and homes, I recalled my experience of a similar problem occurring at the riverbanks at Goba in Tanzania. We spent some days here as part of the project, assisting the local communities to plant trees. It was hoped that the trees would grow and help the river bank from eroding further. This was an important moment to share with the local communities- we were not there to
show them how to plant trees, we were working all together as a team facing a problem created by climate change. It really hit home that this is a global issue that we all face- whether you are a business owner along the Shannon or a homeowner on the collapsing banks of the ever encroaching river in Tanzania. Climate change is going to affect us all.
Although, we learned that we are united against a common foe, sadly, it also brought to light how people living in harsher climates and poorer conditions are often the first victims of climate change. All the more reason for us, as active citizens, to put action into what we have learned and work towards achieving SDG 13. These are only two of the many impactful moments I experienced on this journey. There were many invaluable lessons to be learned in Tanzania, lessons I did not expect and that seemed to confront me out of nowhere. I believe these moments are where the greatest learning experiences are made. I now strive to be a more conscious consumer and more vocal, passionate and determined in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.