By Cheri-Leigh Erasmus
Over the last few weeks the water crisis unfolding in Flint, Michigan, has weighed very heavily on my mind. Needless to say the thought of citizens, and especially children, being exposed to lead and possibly other toxins and diseases would make most people deeply concerned. But the main reason for my huge disappointment is found in my foreign background.
As a South African expatriate residing in the USA, I have endured countless Americans ask me questions about the availability of the most basic amenities and services on the African continent as soon as they hear where I come from. Regardless of the fact that my upbringing differs only very slightly from that of the average middle class citizen here, I do not take offense to the assumption that living in the USA affords me opportunities I would have never had as some believe. For many years the only exposure some citizens of first world countries had to Africa centered on images of famine, drought and civil unrest. All of us have seen the pictures of women and children walking miles to fill a bucket of water in a river or out of a communal well, and over the years many nonprofit organizations and development agencies have invested heavily in creating the infrastructure necessary to ensure safe drinking water for millions of people in developing countries.
I am not discounting the water crises in many other countries, but I do find the crisis in Flint abhorrent, because this could and should have been prevented in one of the most developed countries on earth. It is hard to digest that elected officials created a situation that threatened the livelihood of their constituents, sat by and covered up what can be seen as gross negligence and misconduct. All of this happened in our backyard while large sums of money continue to go into this very cause outside the USA. How does a city in this developed country open their taps to water more toxic and dangerous than the water in those images of Africa?
At what stage does charity begin at home? I am not ungrateful for humanitarian aid, but at the same time it is hard to swallow the lead-filled pill which is Flint while so many Americans still see developing countries as needy and lacking in the most basic of services. Flint is the perfect example of how much need there is and how easily a blind eye is turned to disenfranchised citizens right here on US soil. As an outsider now on the inside, watching this unfold has left me speechless, utterly disappointed and even enraged. I just don’t know what to say about Flint, and quite frankly, I’m not sure how I’m going to respond the next time I get asked about the availability of the most basic necessities in my home country.
Cheri-Leigh Erasmus is a nonprofit professional in the leadership development sector. An avid traveler and lifelong learner, she cares deeply about access to education and human rights.