In March, I was compelled to leave the U.S. less than halfway through my dream internship with USA TODAY in Washington D.C. to travel home to my family in Tanzania. My perspective on our current crisis changed immediately when I landed back home—my personal struggle to leave behind an internship became something trivial in the face of what many people in my home country are facing.
As I see everyone around me pleading others to socially distance themselves and work from home, I can’t help but think of the ability to work remotely as a privilege and a luxury. Our world is facing an unprecedented time and every institution built for the good of people is under pressure. At this moment, I am sitting in my air-conditioned room with good Wi-Fi and the comfortable ability to work remotely, with food on the table and toilet paper in the bathroom. But I know there are people around me, even in my very home, who don’t have this luxury.
Coming back home in this crisis has shown me how solutions for the developing world cannot be the same as those for developed countries. Social distancing is a luxury and not all governments can provide the safety nets implemented in western countries, especially in places where living under the poverty line is a daily reality for many people.
Early in my education, this sense of disparity would have seemed pretty normal to me. In Tanzania, where I grew up, I already knew at a young age that a perception of privilege came merely because of the color of my skin. Ironically, it wasn’t until I flew miles away to a boarding school in Kenya that I started to challenge this notion as a student in the IB Diploma Programme (DP). During my time at an IB World School, I saw how a diverse community can come together to find innovative solutions that make sense for people everywhere.
“IB values and ethics were lived and taught everyday through a student lifestyle that put the local perspective first.”
Where I grew up, an IB education was perceived to be Euro-centric and, I was told, wouldn’t offer opportunities to expose students to issues and topics that concerned the places they lived in. There is a reason behind this misconception. Often in the developing world, parents pay for their children to get a western education, so they are able to assimilate into foreign universities when the time comes. Early in my education, I would have agreed, my early schooling shared this goal and often lacked a relationship with the place I was living. The approach of the school where I completed the IB diploma was very different.
Perhaps the most unique thing about my IB World School was that a large number of my teachers were Kenyan and had been trained by the school to deliver the IB through their lens. In my English class, I read Chinua Anchebe and Francis Imbuga, revered African writers that I had never been exposed to before, although I had lived on the African continent my whole life. Their view on the concepts of colonialism, dictatorship and inequity changed my view of the world. I meaningfully examined and questioned imperialism, in its many forms, and human dignity. Similarly, creativity, activity, service (CAS) involved understanding the community around me and serving as allies, never as saviors.
There was also still diversity in the classroom among the students, including socio-economic diversity, thanks to the generous aid the school provided, and the staff created diversity in the curriculum through the texts we read. Our connection to the land the school called home was never compromised. This also translated into the residential life, where students were encouraged to explore the local community and the city of Mombasa through local trips, engaging in cultural activities and eating cuisine inspired by local food in the dining halls every day. During this time, I experienced so many other perspectives and had more angles of life to consider than ever before.
IB values and ethics were lived and taught every day through a student lifestyle that put the local perspective first. In this process, I created a home with people I never thought I’d live with or interact with. And in this, I understood that everyone is human after all. It was an experience that taught me to recognize my privilege and have empathy for those not so fortunate while understanding that everyone has the same right to civil life as me.
In the time of this pandemic, this realization has struck a new cord because the suffering every human is feeling is the same. And perhaps this is the time we learn to re-evaluate privilege and put our resources, time and knowledge to work, regardless of who we are or where we live, to fight a battle the modern world has never faced. This is the biggest test of empathy for our time and generation.
Inaara is a journalism, media, and integrated marketing communications undergraduate at Northwestern University, due to graduate in the spring of 2021. She is a third-generation Tanzanian of Indian origin and draws on her identity for inspiration in her work. She is interested in the global south, women’s issues, and is especially driven by research and ingenuity. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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