On the White Savior Barbie, To-Do-Lists, and Transitions

When I started this job, I talked about it as a constant roller coaster, often hitting the highest of highs and the most gut wrenching lows on the same day. I am still on it. Tomorrow is my last day of work. And I must say, I am tired. All the things I have been trying to make happen for the last two months, all the meetings I have been trying to get, they all seemed to miraculously come to fruition this week. It is nice to end on a high.

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This week BCC ran a workshop on women and disability for Femme International staff, assessed children for equipment in six centers with the help of CCBRT, met with the head of special education for Moshi public schools, finished the annual health screenings for all children in the centers, expanded our partnership with African Impact so an additional center will receive literacy lessons, and held a meeting with all the pastors to discuss expectations for the centers. I’ll have another cup of coffee now please.

Two months ago, I was plagued with worry about this week. I questioned so many so many choices and so many courses. My end date was looming and I knew there was no way I would finish everything. I knew I was going to leave with projects unfinished, conversations half started, plans incomplete. Even knowing I had done my best, knowing that I was looking forward to the next stage of my life, didn’t help. The fact that my to-do-list was not going to be empty was keeping me up at night.

When the new Fellow arrived a few weeks ago, something clicked in my brain. This was not an end. Just a continuation, a transition.

You may have seen the “White Savior Barbie” articles that were flying around a few months ago. Several of us on the Mosaic International team had a laugh over them. White Savior Barbie parodies the mentality that Africa needs to be saved from itself, particularly by more economically privileged whites. The notion that Africa as continent could ever be saved or what that even entails is beyond me, but is delightfully addressed by the creators of White Savior Barbie.

I won’t say that during that month of stress I felt like I needed to save the kids of BCC. But I will admit the idea that this kind of work is ever ‘finished’ is grossly misguided. As soon as I complete one task, there are multitudes more waiting for me to take them on. Even if I had another year to check things off my list, there would still be so many things left undone. For those of us who want to work on human rights issues, international or otherwise, the best we can do is insert ourselves into the process with as much flexibility, sensitivity, and energy as possible. We offer up our skills in the hopes that they will be taken up and used to the betterment of the situation. Beyond that, we are mostly along for the ride.

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Me and Alex Bailey, the next Carman Fellow

As I transition out of this role and leave the door open for the Alex, with all her compassion, skills, and intelligence, I am grateful to have gotten to be a part of this succession of talented, dedicated women. As fellows, we all understand the glacial pace at which change happens. But we also understand the joy of the small successes; two and half year old Joshua’s first steps, Sheddie speaking in full sentences, the kilo Joyce put on after the first month of nutrition supplements, a new partnership that will increase disability awareness locally, the first ripe tomato from the shamba. We get to participate, not to save.

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