In 2017 I had the privilege to live and work as a freshly graduated hydrologist in the beautiful country of Mozambique. There, I was employed to manage a project for a Dutch company working in the water sector. Within this job I was also part of a Young Expert Programme of the ministry of foreign affairs, which linked me to a lot of other professionals around the world working in the water sector. We were all sent on a mission by different companies, but similar situations: at the beginning of our careers and ready to change the world. At least that’s what we thought.
During that first year I quickly learned, through my own experiences and others, about the expat world in different countries and all the “philanthropists” occupying jobs in big international NGOs. Earning a significant amount of money, and of course not paying taxes. A world within a world. And also a world where I did not feel comfortable in.
The project I had to lead was financed by several international agencies and there was a lot of money involved. Projects like these are part of international development work* and were set up to help partner countries in need. After decolonization international development work increased. The reality is, however, the “receiving” countries are not sustainably helped with hundreds of different projects starting every year on similar or different themes. In fact, I think it worsens their development towards proper independence. If you are serious about developing another country, why is not all money spent on education? And why is the majority of the money given to Dutch companies, and not to local companies?
Maybe because the intention is not there to really help, but to maintain control. Therefore, all funding I know of always contains a certain conditional presumption. We can lend you xxx money, if you return it in xxx years. Or we can help you with your education system, if you give us a little percentage of the oil reservoirs. There is always politics involved. A sincere trust in the capabilities of the other is not there. There is always this superior behaviour towards the receiver: the giver decides what happens to the money. While the giver does often have no clue on the circumstances of the receiver.
I think this superiority behaviour engrained in international development work is both a colonial relic as well as a political tool to maintain power. And even though I am still working in projects financed by international development work*, I feel strongly against it. I think we can only demolish inequality in this world if we decolonize our western behavior and sincerely give what we have left to our brothers and sisters in need. There is enough to share and if we want, nobody should die of hunger. This is not a joke, or an idealist talking, it is reality. The only way to get there is, to mutually and internationally believe in giving away what you do not need to others that are in need. Without conditions. With full trust in the other.
In 2017 I also met Milton, as he was my colleague throughout the project. He quickly felt more than a colleague, and a friend would be a better word. I have seldomly met such a hopeful and optimistic person. His mindset is impressive and really inspirational. Milton is very talented both as a technical agronomist as well as an actor and coach. After he graduated, Milton had a hard time finding a job. Unsurprising, as the unemployment rate in Mozambique is approximately 25 percent. Despite the circumstances, he does not give up on seeking opportunities. So in 2018 and 2019 I worked on a new project in Mozambique, where I had the opportunity to set up a job for him. But these kinds of jobs are not sustainable, and I wish him to have a job that does not depend on western companies coming in and out of the country.
Last year, when Milton and I were working in a sugarcane plantation we had a conversation about his opportunities. The project we were working together on would end at the end of the year and there were only a few months left. What did he have to do after the project ended? It worried us both. I could just go back to the Netherlands and live my comfortable life, while he would be thrown to unemployment again. But on a night in a bar in the middle of nowhere, we were philosophizing and came to the conclusion that it would be an idea to set up an experiment with a group of people. We would gather seven people from the Netherlands and seven people from Mozambique and act as an international community. Within this community we would share money, but also advice, and other things in need. We would really give each other what was left to give. True sharing. Without further conditions. The only issues were finding people and a virtual platform to share on.
After my last fieldwork in February 2020, right before COVID, I returned to the Netherlands again. Not knowing that that would be my last trip due to our current pandemic. I discussed the idea Milton and I had with family and several friends, but it is hard to get a group together out of nowhere and it costs energy.
Therefore, in our first Sangha meeting when Eva mentioned her idea about the DANA (voluntary contribution) I immediately started thinking about the conversation Milton and I had. It felt like a golden opportunity to share our thoughts! What if we could gather all the contributions from the Sangha and give it to Milton and people around him? Maybe we could start the international community within this Sangha! Milton and I both feel blessed that the idea was exactly in line with what Eva was looking for. I am very curious to see how things will evolve around this experiment. Hopefully, it can inspire others to do the same! So it will be important to document what will happen within our joint social experiment.
During fieldwork Milton and I visited a lot of beautiful places together. We saw whales jumping out of the ocean during a Master class we attended. We danced in the middle of a sugarcane plantation on “I want to break free” from Queen with six students from the Netherlands and six from Mozambique. We saw a rhinoceros two meters from our car that was ready to attack us. And sometimes we just exchanged smiles and then we just understood without further words needed. In all these moments we would look at each other and say: a natureza! Mesmerized about life and how things can come together. And exploring this new idea together definitely gives me a high “natureza” feeling. What do you think?
*sidenote: i’m talking about international development work, not relief aid.