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Let's Talk Human Rights

UD HRC Fellow Reflections on Global Solidarity

By Miranda Melone '20

As I walk over to the small brick house with a thatched roof, a woman I have known for the past four years props up a small wooden bench under a tree. She greets me by name. The rest of her family gathers around; children I have watched grow up from small boys and girls to young men and women. I sit down with my good friend who will be acting as my translator. We sit together as the woman tells us about her experiences in this village. 

I am here to listen to her story and the stories of others in Lubwe, which lies in the Chifunabuli District of the Luapula Province in Zambia. I have worked with this community for four years, and with the help of the Human Rights Center, I am here to assess the Cultural Immersion Program and how the University of Dayton can strengthen our relationship with this community. My journey in Zambia has stretched me, pushed me, challenged me, and rewarded me in ways I could never have imagined. Not only has this journey changed what I know about Zambia, but more importantly, it has changed what I know about myself and my role in a global society. 

I first traveled to Zambia with the University of Dayton Cultural Immersion Program through Campus Ministry’s Center for Social Concern in the summer of 2016, the summer before my senior year at UD. 

My initial perceptions of Zambia were shaped heavily by the media, Hollywood, and images of poverty and destitution perpetuated by international development agencies and Christian mission groups. I came to the country with my own background - my middle-class upbringing, my whiteness, and my Catholic Christian religion, all of which I had never considered from a specific African perspective. Nothing I learned in a classroom could have prepared me for how it would feel to begin deconstructing all of my preconceived notions about Zambia.

I will never forget the time when we were sitting down at dinner at the Marianist Formation house, Faustino house, and I was talking to my friend Willie who lives with the Marianist brothers in Lusaka. He said something that truly stayed with me. “Zambia is not a country that needs to be saved, it is a country that needs to be known.” At the time, I emphatically nodded my head in agreement. I was trying to be friends with this new person and take in everything he was saying. But as I sat in reflection on this statement, I truly came to understand both the simplicity and the complexity of it. Of course he wanted his country to be known. That is not hard to understand. But why did he have to say that to us? Why was his country a country that he knew was portrayed to the rest of the world as a country needing to be helped? Why was it necessary for him to say that he just wanted his country to be known? 

The longer I remained in Zambia, the more I reflected on the bigger and more complicated questions regarding our trip. This trip started pushing me to ask: Why? Why did certain situations make me uncomfortable? Why does the United States have resources that Zambia does not? Why am I all of a sudden feeling guilty about who I am and where I come from? Why do I know of so many groups of Western students who travel to countries like Zambia, and why do I not know of any students from Zambia who journey in groups to Western countries? What is the point of going abroad to “make an impact” when there is so much need in my own neighborhood? Why do I feel like I need to “make an impact” anyway? Why is the Zambian currency worth 1/17 of the value of ours? What has created such an unequal world? What am I doing here?

With all of those questions swirling around in my head, I moved forward and focused on getting to know Zambia as much as I could. When I did, I wholeheartedly fell in love. Acquaintances quickly became friends - people who I truly care about. Falling in love and becoming friends with people in Zambia has driven me to advocate for this country and its people in the context of my own life. I'm slowly but surely learning how to use what I have been given to amplify the voices of those who become lost in the noise of international aid, travel bans, and mission trips - the practices and policies which perpetuate problematic narratives in which people are treated less like capable human beings and more like problems needing to be solved. 

I have returned to Zambia three different times since my first trip in 2016. I maintain close relationships with many people in that country, and I continue to have conversations with them daily. Through a friend, I recently joined a local NGO group called OPA - Organization for Poverty Aid. I have been communicating with the organization through Whatsapp, sharing ideas on how we can work together to help each other achieve our goals. I keep in contact with religious sisters and brothers I have gotten to know over the years. We chat about our lives as friends do and offer prayers for one another. I keep in touch with Mercy, an amazingly strong woman and friend who is currently working on her midwifery degree at the University of Zambia. I chat with Willie about school and life and his goals for the future. Zambians are the kindest, most welcoming people you will ever meet. Their joy radiates out of the most beautiful of smiles; welcome and accommodation are in their culture. They are friendly and loving people, and their priority is making everyone feel at home.

We live in a globalized world - a world filled with millions of images that we interact with every single day. I think it’s important now more than ever to search harder and look deeper for the true and whole story about a person and about a country. We have a responsibility to pay attention to the narratives being perpetuated by those in power. We have a responsibility as American citizens to understand how our politics affect the lives of people in other countries. We have a responsibility to search for truth and love and to respect those from other parts of the world as our brothers and sisters. While I do not know the answers to many of the questions I listed above, it is important that I am asking them. Asking and sitting with those questions is the ultimate value of these experiences. 

We also have a responsibility as a University to provide programming for students which works toward the common good and an equitable society. In May 2019, before my last visit to Zambia, I participated in the Midwest Institute organized by the University of Dayton in partnership with GLOBALSL, a network of institutions and organizations which, according to their website, “advances ethical, critical, and aspirationally de-colonial community-based learning and research for more just, inclusive, and sustainable communities.” Participating in this institute deepened my knowledge of “Fair Trade Learning” practices which argue that “project selection, implementation, evaluation, and decisions about recruitment, representation, and advocacy must develop through continuous consultation with community members.” Taking the time to hear the voices of those we interact with all over the world must continue to be a major part of our programming. 

The relationships I have with people in Zambia give me hope. They show me how able we are to love despite such vast differences, how capable we are of learning from each other, and how much our well-being as members of a global family is tied to those living thousands of miles away. How we choose to run our programs affects lives on the other side of the world. We must acknowledge the responsibility we have to protect vulnerable populations who feel the consequences of our actions. While it seems like we are separated now more than ever before, this pandemic reminds us of how we are united in our mission to defeat our common enemies and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Global cooperation is not an option, it is a must. As I navigate these uncertain times away from my coworkers and loved ones, my relationships with people in Zambia remind me that connection across distance is possible and worth pursuing. These relationships will continue to shape my life going forward. They inspire me to continue working for mutually beneficial programs that promote a more sustainable, equitable, and connected world for all.

Miranda Melone will graduate from the MPA and Nonprofit and Community Leadership Graduate Certificate programs in May 2020. She works as a Graduate Intern for the Center for Social Concern and a Graduate Assistant for the Political Science Department.

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