After They’ve Seen Paris? Posted January 23, 2010 by Natalie


As we get closer to the day of ground breaking on the school, one can sit here pondering what next? I have been thinking about questions and issues critical to LeapingStone as it is today, and as we hope it becomes tomorrow.  After reading this, we would love your thoughts and comments.

Because we are immersed in the project, we worry about losing sight of the big picture — the forest-for-the-trees dilemma.

As in quantum physics, (believe me, I don’t even pretend to understand it, but I’m told the simile makes sense) everything we do in/for/with Dédékè— every interaction of any kind — will have consequences, some foreseen and some not.  Our project in the village will create change, inevitably.
The bigger question, which is less simple than it sounds, is how do we know we are doing good? What is good in this context?  I’d like to think our guiding principle — inspired by the medical profession is:  “First, do no harm.”
Will we be changing Dédékè?  Absolutely.  Will we harm things?  Depends on what you mean by harm.

Change, even so called progress can be harmful.  Likely, we will be changing centuries of customs.  With a well and a self-sustaining economy and a school, we will be helping the people of Dédékè to interact more with the greater world around them.  No longer will they have a relatively isolated existence, nor a subsistence economy.  This may change some of their culture.

By schooling the children, we will (most likely) be encouraging the children to further educate themselves and perhaps leave the village.  As the song asks: How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris? And what happens to a village that loses its most ambitious and adventurous young adults?

The answer to this is: we are not parents or patriarchs.  We are not magical fairy godmothers who know best and grant wishes.

The people of Dédékè want this change.  They are adults who know their own culture best.  They have an aquaintence with 21st century change in Africa and what it implies. We are providers as per their requests.  We are not parents of backward children.

They are different, but they are our equals.  In the case of self-determination and village choices, we are the ones who are subordinate to their wishes.  We do not get to dictate terms.

So what next?  On optimistic days we can look on this as our training ground.  Next we find another village.  Perhaps we train others to build schools.  Perhaps we get apprentices (grad students etc.) to work with us to multiply our effect.

On less optimistic days, when we can’t seem to raise one penny, or it seems like we are talking into the wind, we just have to push forward and keep working.  This is something we are committed to wholeheartedly.


  • donpeterson February 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Comment test, we are trying to configure this comment section to be seen by default…

  • Erica February 9, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I understand the need to be sensitive to the possible changes that education could have on the existing culture of the peoples. Yet, what’s the alternative? If an education changes people, it is for the betterment of the society at large. It’s not a matter of ‘progress’ as it is of bettering one’s quality of life. I cannot see how basic maths, health care and trade skills can do anything but good for both individuals and the community. I think of this especially for the young women of Western Africa. I just finished a book called “The Cruelest Journey” by Kira Salak, documenting her solo kayak up the Niger River to Timbuktu. It upset me immensely to learn about the female genital mutilation that over 90% of the women in Mali still undergo. I can’t help but cast judgement on the society for condoning this and feel that education is the only way for both men and women to break these horrible traditions.

    So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that in my opinion, you should continue building schools. No question about it.

  • Vicki Baker January 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I know it will bring change but if the village supports what you are doing, then it is important to continue. What next? It would be wonderful if this could be an experience that results in training others to build schools.

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