Development Dilemma

I try to follow the international development happenings as well as humanly possible. I subscribe to a number of briefing newsletters to keep posted on what’s happening in the developing world.  Due to the fact that there are so many developing countries, I typically focus on the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) area since that’s likely where I will end up focusing my efforts after graduate school. Quite frankly, there are just too many developing countries in Asia & Africa and if I try to keep up on EVERYTHING, I keep up on nothing because it all becomes a big pile of thoughts! In any case, I found an old issue of Time (April 10th, I think) tucked away in my car yesterday and started reading it when I got home. The issue was jam-packed with LAC happenings, specifically with ordeals in Mexico and Colombia.

One of the articles detailed the happenings in Juarez, Mexico due to crazy drug trafficking. In that city alone, 10 people a day were being murdered until a major cartel leader was captured, lowering the death toll to five per day in Juarez. In Colombia, there was a story about a child army. If you’ve seen Blood Diamond, you can effectively visualize what I’m referring to. It’s amazingly disturbing to think about 9 – 15 year old children brainwashed into being killing machines. In my naivete, I truly thought that that was nearly isolated to Africa. I really didn’t realize that this was happening in South America as well. Blame it on the drugs, maybe. That seems to be the primary reason for the ridiculous amount of warfare that has plagued the continent. Much of the money comes from cocaine, marijuana and arms. One of the men who made the  TIME 100 Most Influential People list is a cartel leader who reigns in billions of dollars working in this industry (if that’s an appropriate term) — he’s been on a number of lists aside from this: wealthiest billionaires and the government’s “got-to-bring-this-guy-down”/Most Wanted list (whatever the official name for that might be). Much like what was seen in Blood Diamond, some of these kids are abducted and brought into this army (kids as young as 9 have been noted), and some actually volunteer to join the “cause.” Many want revenge on the government after family members have been executed and they feel that joining this regime will allow them to fight back. A 17-year-old kid was quoted as saying that he had killed many people and ordered the killings of many people, including 13 politicians. He had since left the army and he’s being helped (along with a number of other kids, around 3000) by an Amnesty group interested in reintegrated these people back into society with a semi-normal life.

Now, I mention these things for a couple of reasons. One: I really didn’t realize how awful things were in this region. I think we often focus so much on African happenings and are so closed off to many parts of the world, people don’t get this kind of information. Maybe we don’t want it. Secondly, I felt the weirdest sense of nervousness and fear yesterday. I’ve wanted to work in the policy and development arena to make a difference with these people. My boyfriend discouraged working in Africa because, quite honestly, it was a scary thought. We hear about the warfare in Africa — killings, pirates, tribes — and my boyfriend, naturally, wanted me to be as far from there as possible. I have since been interested in Latin America because a) my grandmother hails from El Salvador and b) it has always come off as an underdeveloped, but slightly safer arena in which to work. The stories, however, seem to prove me wrong. I’m actually a little scared to work in some of these areas! I know that after schooling and taking classes on safety in development, my fears will be somewhat assuaged, but still… I’m afraid that reality will be a hard pill to swallow. The world is not as nice as we sometimes would like to believe.

Sorry for the heaviness — have a good weekend & a Happy Mother’s Day!


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