guest editorial by Mabel Carabali, Emerging Voice 2010 from Colombia

With the prospect of being included in the next generation of ‘change makers’ in the discussions at Forum 2012 and with the aim to create a long-standing global youth network, some Emerging Voices and members of Youth in Motion gathered in Cape Town, South Africa during the last week of April.

For me, personally, the motivation to participate in this adventure was “to make my voice heard.” To try to show the world what is happening in the South – in my case, Latin-America. However, as the Forum took place in Africa, the protagonist in Cape Town would obviously be the ‘Cinderella of all times’,  Africa. And by the way, due to my African ancestry, I was sure to  benefit from this African focus: I was going to learn about the South African health system, their current processes, and their culture. I wanted to become aware of their limitations and solutions, just as I would like them to know more about the Latin American ones. The Forum was an excellent opportunity to gather researchers, students and policy makers from all around the world and network with them. One of my key objectives, though, besides trying to make my voice heard, was to better understand the meaning of “aid” and therefore, what the Forum’s slogan “Beyond aid … Research and Innovation as key drivers for Health, Equity and Development” meant for us as participants of the event.

Once arrived in this beautiful city of an “almost developed” country (at least that was my first impression), I fully understood all the troubles I had faced when applying for a South African visa as a Colombian citizen. I was pleasantly surprised: the Africa I “knew” from the newspapers did not look at all like this city! My expectations had been totally wrong. In order to clear my mind and get acquainted with the environment, I went sightseeing. I strolled through the ‘Green market’, the place where the native Africans gather to sell their handicraft to tourists. A tourist trap, obviously. Then I walked along the nearby ‘Long street,’ which, as the name implies, is a long avenue in the downtown area with pubs, restaurants and all types of stores – a street which made me feel as if I was in Europe or in North America.  But no, I was not in the North, I was in Cape Town, an amazing, developed city that happens to be situated in the south of the African continent. Nevertheless, by the end of my walk, two words had popped up in my mind, two words that are often associated with Africa as well: aid and resources.

With the definition of aid as “a voluntary transfer of resources from one country/government to another, given at least partly with the objective of benefiting the recipient country”(Browne, 1990), and after observing the aid distribution during the last years, the notion of going “beyond aid” became more comprehensible to me. Yet, it also seemed more complicated to achieve. As a ‘change maker’, my goal had to be to exchange ideas on moving beyond aid, though. Luckily, the first satellite session I attended was called “Moving Beyond Aid with Global Health Initiatives – An Interactive Workshop” and it gave me an idea of what ‘aid’ and ‘beyond aid’ can mean or represent for others. It showed me how countries like Angola, Mozambique and of course South Africa fight against diseases and deal with aid. These Southern-African (and many other) countries manage disease treatment and health promotion partly according to the aid they receive. This aid is, in turn, handled either by the government, the donors or by both. In the workshop I also learnt how important aid is for some countries and how the fight for sustainability has arisen.

But one thing still lingered on my mind. Aid is linked to resources, one way or another. This was perhaps not explicitly mentioned during the event, but tacit knowledge nevertheless for all participants.  There is an unbreakable dependency between aid and resources. Why do you give aid? Why do you receive aid? The answer is always the same: because of the resources. A country might lack them, or it might consider it can afford to give some away. There are of course other structural reasons for aid, such as ‘the other’ needs it, ‘the other’ cannot produce it, ‘the other’ wants it, or, without any doubt the worst reason, ‘the other’ is accustomed to receiving it. My role was to go beyond the actual facts and try to find solutions to go ‘beyond aid’. But what does this actually mean? Does it mean that we should stop the aid? Or simply redistribute aid resources? Or use the aid to build capacity? Or develop our own resources and stop the aid? Knowing that in terms of aid dependency per capita, in 2005, Colombia was more or less where South Africa was in 2000, and the fact that now both countries are upper middle-income countries, I realized how similar these countries could be with different amounts of aid.

Before going beyond aid, my first challenge was thus to understand the meaning of it. Putting on my hat of ‘change maker’, then, I would argue that to facilitate change in my own country, the responsible use of aid and own resources should be encouraged, rather than just waiting for the ‘others’ to help.

There is an urgent need for debate around this topic and the obligation to produce something more than just words. However, the clock was ticking mercilessly in Cape Town, and the number of ideas decreasing, as more and more participants went home. Although the three days were enough to catch up with the Emerging Voices (or at least some of them) and other colleagues, and to start networking with the dynamic Youth in Motion around the fire, due to the short time there were no concluding proposals written, nor could I make my voice heard as much as I had wanted.

The day after the event, the South African Freedom day took place, under the theme “Working Together to Build Unity and Prosperity for All.” By then, my own motto had turned into this one: “let’s go beyond the facts and push for actions, to get meaningful change.” Back home, I immediately began to work towards achieving this goal.

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