Thursday, February 20, 2014

What is culture?

I am writing this entry after spending around 3 weeks in Burkina Faso:

Culture, a word used frequently to describe the personalised elements of each society differentiating from one to the next. To compare two cultures, for example the UK and Burkina Faso, would therefore be a difficult task, to rank cultures an impossible one surely. During my school years and throughout my relatively short life I have met many patriots who are adamant that their culture, their country is the greatest. Though I remain close friends with such people I cannot help but think this is a backwards, even colonial response when asked about your ‘own culture’. Each culture is unique with both strengths and weaknesses alike. Walking around the markets and watching from the open window of a taxi, I see a community built upon trust and loyalty. They uphold a pride, yet a pride that does not appear aggressively patriotic. In contrast the English (in particular) can often be accused of a pride that is blinded by its long history of dominance and control. However, this is not to say England's culture is worse. The UK has developed a system that gives each individual certain rights empowering even its poorest with schemes such as the NHS and social benefits, which is not apparent in Burkina Faso. It would then be a fair conclusion to say that to reap the benefits of culture, in all its contrasts and complexities, you must exit out of your own culture for a while and experience the bipolar. Only then can you reach a fair conclusion, and a fair conclusion would realise that any culture built by humans is flawed, yet has elements of beauty and astonishing progress. This is, if you’re a fan of logic, the most logical response or if you tend to a more existential viewpoint my emotional response to the question of cultures and their comparison.

CEFISE children speed racing

The project is moving along slowly as the concept of speed appears alien too many Africans. However, they are known to say that we have the time but we don't have the moment, in many ways a fair judgment of our busy lives. We continue to work with both able and disabled children, know ranging to late teens rather than purely young infants. Our work here I think can be demonstrated through the image of an intricate machine (an older one for the purposes of my analogy). This machine has many cogs and wheels that are necessary for it to function properly. Though one cog on its own may seem useless it is actually essential to the entire machine. We are one cog in the big machine, though we may not see much of a difference while we are here, we are important to the bigger picture, future volunteers and programs that will further our work with the disabled and promote inclusive sport. 

There is an issue however; Africa does not appear to conform to the west in terms of punctuality and conciseness. This has resulted in a lot of time being spent either planning or engaging in long meetings with partner program and people who despite wanting to further our goals fail to introduce urgency to such goals. It can be hard to remain positive in these moments and to stop my mind from wandering I must remain proactive. Planning is essential, obviously, though I have never been very successful in this area before. I personally take a more hands on approach, for example making useful resources e.t.c. I hope I can do this more and more throughout the placement as it is rewarding and I hope helps give schools the equipment and tools for inclusive sport. Currently I am working on a rounder’s bat and several small flags for the deaf football team to be used instead of a whistle; I trust I need not explain why!

Mark Birkett

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