Friday, January 24, 2014

Growing Pains

As I think about the time I will spend at immigration tomorrow, checking to see if my residency permit has gone through, I am reminded of the frustrating aspects of living in Botswana. I have spent six days at immigration so far -- arriving before 6am to make sure I am early enough in the queue to be served before lunchtime. The immigration computer system is appalling -- on a good day, they usually can input one person's paperwork every 30 minutes. This is just one example of a bureaucratic battle we have been fighting since coming here.

I just read the 2014 Gates Annual Letter, which is Bill and Melinda Gates' update on the state of international development. It reminded me of what an incredible country I live in, in spite of these frustrations. 50 years ago, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world. Now, things have changed dramatically. Here are quotes from the annual letter which directly address Botswana:
"Here is a quick list of former major recipients that have grown so much that they receive hardly any aid today: Botswana, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Thailand, Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia." 
"In 1960, almost all of the global economy was in the West. Per capita income in the United States was about $15,000 a year. (That’s income per person, so $60,000 a year for a family of four.) Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, incomes per person were far lower. Brazil: $1,982. China: $928. Botswana: $383. And so on." 
"Since 1960, China’s real income per person has gone up eightfold. India’s has quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population." 
"Of course, these regional averages obscure big differences among countries. In Ethiopia, income is only $800 a year per person. In Botswana it’s nearly $12,000."
Kagi's grandmother, who is about the same age as my grandmother, didn't finish primary education. She was never taught to read (I'll have to tell you her amazing story of how she can read now someday). She gave birth to six children, and only three of them are still living. She is lovely -- quick-witted, very intelligent, and a strong leader in her community. Even though she doesn't speak English and I still don't speak Setswana she is one of my favorite people to be around here in Bots. The Botswana she was born in, with its expectations and opportunities, was nothing like the one we live in today.

In contrast, Kagi's mom is a qualified nurse and midwife, and he is a pharmacist. The same government with which I have so often been frustrated was organized and disciplined enough to pay to make that a possibility. Healthcare is freely available to all citizens. Public education is free, and most (if not all) children go to school. Those with the ability and drive go to university, and the most apt among them are sent abroad for professional degrees (usually medical or engineering-related).

As a result of this and other factors, there are stories like this:

In contrast to the previously abysmal child mortality rate, my mother-in-law told me about a baby born in her hospital at around 24 weeks gestation who is now healthy and home with her family. This outcome may not be as common as it would be in the States, but that is pretty great any time it happens, and I doubt it is very possible without the services and equipment found in a hospital.

Botswana still has one of the highest AIDS rates in the world (according to Wikipedia it's about 23.4%). Kagi has been working in the dedicated HIV/AIDS units of the hospital for the last two months. In Botswana, because antiretroviral drugs are free, there is no reason someone with HIV can't live a virtually normal life -- including average life expectancy, the ability to have HIV negative children, and pretty much normal health. The goal is for the next generation to be HIV-free, and they are serious and making progress toward that goal.

Thinking back to the completely undeveloped Botswana of 1960, this is really amazing.

I am very proud of Botswana. In my frustration about bad systems and inefficiencies, I forget that these are growing pains. What an amazing opportunity and privilege it will be if God allows us to be a part of the continued growth and development of this beautiful country.

Kagi with two of his best friends from childhood. Victor is on his way to the UK for his medical residency, and Lesh is a police officer.

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