Oh my. We had a pre-pre-test of our research questions today with two groups of local children. Upon meeting them, J freaked out. “They have nothing,” he said. He convinced [the group] to give them 2,000 shillings each (1.50 USD) as an allowance. Of course, [the group] hadn’t planned for this, but they were sort of bullied into it. Anyway, the children were told about the money before everyone was consulted, and so A had to pulled me aside and borrow money, because there wasn’t enough in petty-cash. Do the children now think we called them to come, not so that we could listen to their ideas, opinions, and experiences, but because we felt sorry for them and wanted to give them $1.50? What happens the next time these kids come to the NGO for counseling, or games, or another research team – and there’s no money?
When I first moved to Senegal, I would carry candies around to give to the child-beggars on the street. But I don’t do that anymore. I don’t want to add anymore to any power imbalance. Now I shake the hand of any child who comes up to me, and if s/he seems to need more attention I’ll give her a kiss on her hand or her head. I’ll practice my Acholi and let her practice her English. I’ll wipe her nose if it’s snotty. If I’m walking down the street and a child says “Buy me a candy!” I’ll stop and say, “No, no, you buy me a candy!” and then we’ll laugh, and shake hands, and move on. This is why, this is what I think: Laughter’s better than candy. I try to stop and talk to any child who stops to talk to me. Because I want children to think that they are worth talking to and listening to. So they grow up confident and strong. I don’t want to toss a few coins at them (degrading, dehumanizing) and pretend that that’s enough.
On Monday afternoon we’re going to an IDP camp.