In Rwanda, a country still recovering from the genocide of the Tutsi ethnic group in 1994, two Southern Californians aim to help the Rwandan people through dentistry. Dr. Tom Lee and Lita Lee hope to not only provide dental care to Rwandans, but to train dentists that will be able to help the country in the future. The Lees have been visiting Rwanda every year for the past several years and have decided to move to Rwanda long-term sometime in the near future. This decision is primarily based around the establishment of the Christian non-profit organization “His Hands on Africa” (HHOA).
In 2013, Dr. Tom and Lita Lee were planning their 25th anniversary trip. However, things changed after they heard the testimony of Jean-Claude, a genocide survivor. Jean-Claude shared his story on a Sunday at the local church they attend in suburban Los Angeles. He was a teenager during the genocide and witnessed the murders of his father and sister at the hands of his neighbors. He told of his struggles to survive after the genocide and despite the destruction of the life he knew, he spoke of forgiveness towards those who had killed his family. His experiences led him to start an organization called Best Family Rwanda along with his friends who also survived the genocide. He describes his reconciliation with the son of the man who murdered his father and how he accepted him into the organization without hesitation. After hearing Jean Claude’s story, Dr. Tom and Lita Lee were inspired to change their plans and instead go to Rwanda “to serve the orphans, widows and the poor.” Their friendship with Jean Claude has grown over the years and he now refers to Dr. Tom and Lita as “Papa” and “Mama.”
Dr. Tom and Lita Lee made their first trip to Rwanda on a missions team sent by their local church in the summer of 2013. Despite the poverty that they witnessed, the truly memorable aspect of their trip was the warmth of the people they met. Dr. Tom Lee recalls his first experience in Rwanda:
The poverty I saw was beyond anything I have seen. Most roads are unpaved, people are literally surviving from day to day. They have nothing. Yet, they are so happy. You look into the eyes of the children and they are much happier that most of the children I see here in America. The Rwandan people are very kind and warm. They greeted you and welcome you with a gentle and warm smile. The country is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and there is a sense of hope in the people I meet.
The Lees, along with other people on the team, treated as many patients as they could during their short trip to Rwanda. Dr. Tom Lee talks about one of the patients that particularly stood out:
One of the most memorable stories is when I was able to treat a young mom and save her life. We were in a village near the border of Congo, five hours away from the capital city of Kigali. Five hundred people were waiting to be treated by our medical and dental team. I saw a young mom who had a dental infection, unable to eat for three days. She had fever and was shivering, which are signs that the infection was spreading over her body. I was able to remove two infected teeth and give her antibiotics and treat her. As I completed the treatment, I knew that if she was not treated that day, she could have died from the infection. There were no dentists within hours of where she was. Even though it was obvious she was suffering from a dental infection, she had no access to dental care. Knowing that simple things that we take for granted can help these people so much, even save one’s life left an indelible impression which moved my heart to dedicate the remaining years of my life to serve the people of Rwanda.
Oral diseases cause nearly 15% of morbidity cases in Rwanda and most of these diseases are easily preventable. Rwanda has a population of 11 million people, yet there are less than 40 dentists in the whole country. To combat the lack of access to dental care, Rwanda established its very first dental school in 2014. By implementing a higher education system, the Ministry of Health aims to establish more dental providers and improve dental health overall for the country. The dental school aims to implement entrepreneurship and management in their curriculum. U.S. Institutions have also played an important role in participating in the development of the Rwandan health care education, showcasing the benefit of foreign collaboration.
Rwanda has actually seen incredible health care improvements over the years. Nearly all of Rwandans are technically insured for health care and their health care system is often seen as a promising model for other African nations to follow. However, it is still difficult for many of these people to access this care if they live in isolated villages and oral pain remains one of the top reasons for clinical visits.
In the U.S., a dentist appointment may seem like a pebble in our shoe or a small inconvenience that we must get out of the way every six months or so. In Rwanda, hundreds of people line up for the hope of receiving dental care that they might not ever have access to again.
However, the road to being an established non-profit organization has certainly not been easy. Dr. Lee talks about the different roles that needed to be filled besides dental care. He explains that there was “a wide range of needs such as accounting, marketing, photo/video team, fundraising team, social media, prayer… etc,” but he continues to say, “it [has] been an exciting journey of sharing our vision with many people and seeing how God provides for these needs by moving the hearts of the people to volunteer and support our mission efforts.”
The ultimate goal for HHOA is to create a self-sustaining dental ministry. HHOA aims to essentially accomplish three objectives:
Establish a dental center to train Rwandan dentists who are graduating from the recently established dental school.
Establish a profit-making dental clinic which can provide the funds to establish several community clinics that will provide free dental care and serve the needs to those who have no access to dental services.
Send out trained dentists to other African nations.
His Hands on Africa recently held their inaugural fundraising gala in Los Angeles on November 4, 2017. The event featured a silent auction, musical performances and speeches given by the founders. The event effectively consolidated the evolution of their journey and displayed how the fruits of their efforts came together.
On May 18, PROSPECT writer Veronika Michels sat down with Provost Ivan Evansfor an open interview about his opinions on growing challenges of climate change and the current state of South Africa, his home country. Professor Evans is a sociologist and college provost at UCSD and has taught courses on change in modern South Africa, race and ethnicity, and environmental sociology.
Michels: In class when you speak of globalization, it seems as though you are quite skeptical and wary of the phenomenon. Are you in favor of it or do you think it has had an overarchingly negative impact on humans and the earth? What is your opinion on the matter?
Evans: I think it’s an unfair thing to ask oneself if one is in favor of globalization or not because it’s like asking are you in favor of oxygen in the air. It’s there, it’s happening. But in order to get oxygen you don’t need to take pollution, and that’s how I feel about globalization as well. I support globalization as a mechanism for distributing knowledge, lowering barriers, putting communities into contact and intercultural exchange. I think globalization is an amazingly effective mechanism for distributing goods and services on a planetary wide basis — who could be against that? It’s like being against mama! It’s absolutely great. The problem I think, and I’m old enough to appreciate how our perception of globalization has changed so dramatically in 20 years, is the following: Twenty years ago when the digital world was just becoming a common word, when computerization was entering our homes because of the smaller Mac and the smaller PCs, we looked at globalization and that’s what we saw in it, that’s how we spoke about it. I remember being part of a panel here in the library about twenty years ago talking about the impact of the coming digital age, and the entire panel was so positive. “We are going to be sharing”, etc.– we saw the world coming together on the basis of rising knowledge, improving technology that was going to improve living standards. It was all gung-ho.
Now, look at it today. What was absent in that initial conception of globalization was any discussion of profit and money, because globalization was not viewed as a mechanism for making money. It was viewed as a mechanism for improving the world. Now of course, we think about globalization and we look at it in terms of money, trade, profit, which country is wealthy, which is poor, which country has power. Sure, we all want oxygen, but it doesn’t have to come with all the bad things; that is the part of globalization that I oppose. If you look at income inequality among countries, it’s not an accident that the ratio of the richest to the poorest countries has increased by a factor of thirty in exactly the period that globalization took off. Those two things are connected. I think there is an immense treasure that all countries have that can be distributed and shared. I think all that it requires is will– and vision– to reconceive globalization. We are told that globalization is irreversible, it is inevitable, and there’s nothing you can do about it. We are told that globalization is happening naturally. We are told it is a natural extension of capitalism. These things just aren’t true.
It is engineered by people, by laws, by institutions, and by countries to be a certain way and so it can be reengineered by people to be a different thing. I look at it as something that has amazing potential in the right hands, and right now I think it’s controlled by institutions, corporations, and governments that are far more interested in power and profit than they are in transforming the world. I fervently hope that your generation will conceive of the world in a very different way, as a place that has to be saved on the basis of shared community, and not as a giant marketplace. Right now globalization is transforming everything into a commodity, and I think that is corrosive.
Michels: Could you also tell me a bit more about your research on water management in South Africa and the extreme drought the country is experiencing at the moment?
Evans: Well let me ask you a question first: would you say your generation, or the world in general, is aware of the water crisis?
Michels: No, not at all. I’ve almost never heard it discussed, at least not as a true threat or danger to our survival.
Evans: Well, what distinguishes our planet is the availability of adequate fresh water, without which we simply cannot survive. We can survive without food for forty days, you can’t survive without water for seven days. It is indispensable, yet it is one of the most imperiled resources on this planet. All the books that deal with water point to the tragedy that is looming and is already beginning to happen in different parts of the world: the shortage of water, the increasing unavailability of fresh water that can be consumed — so much is being polluted. As rivers and lakes dry up because of global warming, we find that water in the aquifers under the ground is so polluted with industrial chemicals that it cannot be consumed. We are in a real planetary danger, yet I don’t think it is receiving the enormous attention that it requires.
The United Nations said in 1998 that the conflict in the next century was going to be driven by fights over water, not over religion or whatever else. That raises the question… There is no alternative to water like there is an alternative to oil. So, when the human species is brought to the brink and has to fight to the death for a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce, what will it opt to do? Will countries fight to control water or will they say “Let’s make a plan, let’s collaborate, let’s come up with regional agreements for sharing water?” When you look at history, whenever water has been fought over, what has emerged after initial wars were regional water management plans among countries. In Africa you have nine different countries dependent on the Nile River, which is a very volatile matter because it means that the countries that control the source of the water control the fate of eight countries downstream. That is why Egypt says anybody who puts a dam on the Nile is committing an act of war against Egypt and they will not allow it. But wars have not yet broken out because sharing agreements have emerged. It sounds so boring but I actually think it’s the key for survival. There’s already a couple hundred million water refugees and the United Nation projects that number to increase by a factor of ten in the next 25 years. One billion people walking around the planet looking for water.
Michels: I think what happens a lot when we hear those statistics is we still think of it as a problem so far in the future that we are still safe for now. But then I picture myself in 25 years, at only 45 years old…
Evans: …with a bucket on your head digging under the ground for water … You know, there are only two terrestrial structures you can see from the moon: one is the Great Wall of China and the other is the water management project China is building right now to transfer water from the water rich South into the desert areas in the upper North of the country, with 450 million people facing the prospect of no water within 50 years. Zero. Not a drop. So China is anticipating this and is building this absolutely staggering water supply system. The logic of it is to build hundreds of dams, pool the water together, and pipe it uphill over mountains to supply the desert area. The structure has consumed thousands of miles of valleys and 3500 towns and villages have been removed. No environmental impact reports were produced. It’s changing the ecology, changing the environment of the country and is incredibly wasteful of energy. It’s almost self defeating, but nevertheless people depend on water and 150 million people who need water will not have water 50 years from now. There are local stories like this — much less dramatic — in Latin America, Peru, Argentina, and Africa. Cape Town at the moment is rationing water. It has been calculated that Cape Town already has 5% less water than what it actually requires. So they’re not doing something preemptive, they really are dealing with water that is already inadequate. And it is going to get worse because Southern Africa is going to experience the effects of climate change in the form of drought. In other parts of Africa there will be more water, but in the south there will be less, so things aren’t looking good there.
Michels: Yes, I read that they are pulling in most their water from different countries already.
Evans: Absolutely. Australia is facing the same situation, even Melbourne has been declared to be uninhabitable in about 20 or 30 years. There simply is not enough water. So you have to think about relocating populations. Melbourne was thinking of capturing icebergs and drawing them over to use for water … I really wish a lot more would be done about the water crisis.
Michels: So in 2019 the next elections will be held in South Africa. I know you grew up in South Africa during the apartheid. The initial formation of the ANC — you experienced that. So what’s your opinion on how the ANC has changed since then?
Evans: Oh horrible, ghastly. I feel completely betrayed. I think that the leadership is a bunch of kleptomaniacs, corrupt to the core, and after that there is little more to say about the current administration. I think it has betrayed the enormous promises that were made and which I think were actually quite realizable and could have been achieved, but they have been derailed by greed and corruption. And so I am almost happy to say that I do not support the African National Congress. I think they have been inefficient. They have become racist. They use race in order to divide the opposition that is growing against the government. There is a cult of leadership that might have its roots in the Mandela phenomenon. But I think Mandela was so good about preventing a cult from emerging around him. He couldn’t help the whole world adoring him and his whole country adoring him but he absolutely did not play into it. It was something he was simply not interested in at all, by nature, not even as a tactic. He never used his charisma, his charm, or his stature as a political instrument. That was one of the most charming things about him. Nevertheless the country did venerate him almost like a deity. I think the current ANC government has capitalized on the willingness of the masses to support the ANC that was established during Mandela’s reign. I think they used this opportunity to become corrupt and to institutionalize corruption. So I am viscerally opposed to the the ANC.
Part of my dilemna is that I am not 100% sure about the alternative. At this point there are two alternatives. The EFF (Economic Freedom Front) tends to be youth driven, militant, speaks of nationalization, seizing property … These are things that make me extremely nervous. This strategy has not worked well just about anywhere. And it also has this undertone, the blackness identity to it, that excludes other ethnic groups in South Africa. I don’t feel welcome in it, and I’m also opposed to that ideology of anger, appropriations, and immediate seizure. The other alternative is almost the opposite. The Democratic Alliance represents old style liberalism as we are familiar with it: freedom of the press, individual rights, guaranteed property rights, freedom of association and all of that stuff. The problem with it is that its roots are in a white political party that was never a very liberal even in its day. So an element of conservatism still clings to it. But it is extremely good, I think, at emphasizing non-racialism, the argument that race is a social construction, it doesn’t exist as a natural fact. And I feel very comfortable with that. So I feel drawn to them but I would recognize them as a classical liberal or conservative party in Europe. I don’t think they have a strong enough program for addressing poverty directly. They talk about addressing poverty as a secondary consequence of first growing capitalism and markets. Once the economy is striving, poverty will disappear. Well, no! So for me a real alternative has yet to emerge, and that would be more of a social/democratic phenomenon, that talks about interaction and cooperation between markets and state actors.
I do think that in the next elections in 2019 we are going to see a seismic shift, if we get to 2019 without an emergency election — and that is quite possible because South Africa is currently seething with opposition to the government. There are weekly protests in every city, the movement is growing, it is multiracial. It is not only about blacks, or middle class, or whites. There is an incredible disillusionment with the government. So it is quite possible that they will force him [President Zuma] out of government. Either way the ANC is losing a lot of support, the only question is will they be able to hold on to power by one or two percentage points or will they in fact be pushed out of power completely. On the other hand this is what politics is about. It gives people the right to enter the political process and impact history. It’s sort of depressing that South Africa is facing this choice right now– choosing between parties that no one is really in favor of. Many really detest the government, but it’s politics. It is not being resolved with violence, not yet anyway. And I think we can probably avoid that route. But this has been the great danger in Africa. Political opponents become defined as enemies, firstly. And secondly, the ethnic factor that bedevils politics in Africa … Fortunately, so far, [the ethnic factor] South Africa is very much under control. There is not a sense of racial vengeance, and I think that is amazing for a country that was controlled and dominated on the basis of race for so long. It continues to be a miracle that attracts the attention of social scientists, you know: “wow, how did you manage to avoid a racial bloodbath?” South Africa is a dangerous country in terms of interpersonal violence, but not in the political environment.
Michels: A lot of people have drawn comparisons with Zuma and Trump and the political climate in both countries. So on the basis of racism and institutionalized racism in both countries, I’ve heard opinions that the difference is that South Africa has acknowledged it and the US still really hasn’t. What’s your opinion on the matter?
Evans: I think that’s a valid contrast. When South Africa ended apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s government called for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission –the TRC–which then did an exhaustive tour around the country. It was like a travelling court. They would go from city to towns and announce: “We will be coming to this town, and anybody who wants to come and tell us about their experiences, how they suffered under apartheid, etc, come and do so.” So there are a million pages of testimonies online, quite remarkable, a fantastic historical trove of memory for future scholars. Sounds good, all of that. Many South Africans, however, were very skeptical of the TRC for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons why some South African opposed the TRC was because the TRC, which by the way was not the only truth and reconciliation program … Other countries also had so-called “truth commissions” after a period of authoritarian rule. I think South Africa was the 9th truth commision. What distinguishes South Africa is the “R”. The “reconciliation” part. Under the influence of priests and religious figures who pulled together the TRC, in South Africa it was decided that the goal of the commission would not just be to uncover truth, but to “reconcile the nation”. And that’s where the debate hinges. Many people say that the TRC degenerated into a giant “Oprah Winfrey show”. “Tell me how you hurt, here is a handkerchief …” It was emotional and powerful, but did it really achieve justice? Or was it just a show that made us cry for a bit? Many feel that the reconciliation aspect became the most important part of the commission, in fact. In order to make people come together, you made them feel similarly regretful about the past.
Well it’s not the only way the TRC could have gone. Remember, apartheid was a vicious system. We knew who the perpetrators were. We knew their names, we knew their addresses, we knew what they did, we knew how they did it, and we had abundant evidence to demonstrate and prove that they were criminals. That means they could have been prosecuted for crimes against humanity. For genocide, or simply for political crimes on some inhuman scale. And they weren’t. So, many feel that the TRC may have brought us together as a nation, while others say, “Bullshit, it didn’t. It in fact allowed the perpetrators to get off”. Because the TRC made a deal with you. It said, “if you come up to us and confess, we’ll absolve you of all your sins and crimes”. So, you could come up and say–and they did, these Afrikaner killers who belonged to death squads–and say, “ah yes I killed them,” while chewing gum. “Your son? We threw him out of the helicopter above the ocean. Are we done, or do you want more?” But the perpetrator has confessed, so you couldn’t do anything more legally. It left a very bitter taste in people’s mouths. So, many feel that the TRC was “just a joke that did nothing for justice. In fact it just allowed killers to walk away freely”. Many also feel that it reflects one of the worst decisions Mandela made when apartheid ended. He could have demanded reparations in some form– free education, free housing, etc. But he did not. He just said, “let’s move on into the future and come together on the basis of, one person one vote”. The TRC could also have been a mechanism for repaying the women who lost their children. When you take an able-bodied child from its mother, you are not just taking a son, you are taking an income out of a dirt poor household. The economic fortunes of these women changed when their children or husbands were killed. And they got nothing out of the TRC. The state could have paid them something.
Michels: I think at the time, people just wanted to move past it. But here you are today and there is still so much poverty and class difference.
Evans: Yes, and that’s why EFF talk about blacks being angry against whites, that’s where they are coming from. It’s not that they necessarily hate whites, but what they object to is the fact that those whites who for centuries got rich on the back of blacks paid no reparations. And they still own the wine farms, they still own the gold mines, the corporations, the economy. 25 or 30 years after apartheid has ended, most of the wealth is still in their hands. That’s what drives the EFF to anger. They have an excellent point, but I think the way they go about it could lead to future trouble.
Michels: Absolutely, and it’s still very much the case in parts of the US today, as well.
Evans: And of course as you said, there’s been a lot of comparisons made between Trump and Zuma, because both are autocratic, both thrive on secrecy, both are suspected of things that have not yet made their way to court but all the evidence suggests in both cases that they are concealing and hiding and not being transparent. So in that sense, absolutely, they deserve to be tarred with the same feather. They are both dangers to democracy.
I remember when I first read about Trump’s travel ban. I immediately wrote it off as yet another empty promise in politics. After all, a plan to restrict the entrance of thousands of citizens based on their nationalities alone seems like a preposterous idea.
As the months progressed, more and more news about the advancements of the travel ban surfaced. While the Trump administration claimed that the ban was created to protect the United States’ national security, the facts proved otherwise. Between the years of 1975 and 2015, there have been no terrorist attacks in the United States organized by those from any of the six banned countries; thus, the government has no real justification to implement such a policy. I saw its failures at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as an imminent end to an idea that was doomed from the start. There was no way a judge could ever allow such a ban to be legislated in the U.S. Not only was it unconstitutional, but it was simply immoral. The fact that these six “blacklisted” countries – Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Sudan – are all predominantly Muslim, is no coincidence. With Islamophobia acting as the frontrunner of Trump’s campaign, it is unknown to me how anyone could view such a ban as anything other than a religious attack.
Recently, Trump’s ban was pushed into effect. At a hearing with the Supreme Court, partial implementation of the ban was ordered. The Trump administration was given permission to issue a 90-day ban on the six countries listed above, given that they comply with certain clauses issued by the court itself. Before I could even process the news, I received an alert from my phone. It was an email from UCSD, aiming to relieve the tension which the ban would have raised among those affected.
The email stated that students of UCSD from the six countries would not be affected by the ban due to their affiliation with the institution. The email references the bona fide relationship clause of the ban, in which it is said that those who prove credible relationship to a person or entity in the U.S. will be allowed into the country. While the clause’s intention was to narrow the implementation of the ban, it failed to take away the destructive sentiments that the ban leaves on those around the world. A ban of this magnitude permits racism. It allows people to believe that we can label an entire country as violent and dangerous. Moreover, the impacts of the policy extend further from just the six banned countries. The ban feeds into the false stereotypes that have been placed onto so many Muslim majority countries; thus altering the very complexities that makes our world so unique to begin with. Middle Eastern and Muslim individuals around the world are now pigeonholed into the same category, forced to face undeserving and demeaning prejudices about their culture, their race and their identity.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that those affected by this ban aren’t as distant as the media makes them seem. Though we like to focus on the mysterious and minute cases, the truth is that its effects are right on our doorstep. It’s your friend sitting next to you in class, who has to show proof that they attend college in the U.S. before re-entering the country. It’s your lab partner, whose mom can’t visit them in college because of their citizenship. It’s your professor, who refrains from leaving the country, simply because they are unsure of whether they will be let back in or not.
As a student of UCSD, I have had the privilege to interact with individuals from around the world. We are a population of 35,000 students, of which nearly 20% are international. This immense international presence has shown me the beauty of diversity. I’ve realized that from each country emerges unique culture and thought which is necessary for the advancement of our society. Though we naturally oppose those who are different from ourselves, it is this very diversity which permits our growth. In the midst of this ban, and the stereotypes and misrepresentation that comes with it, we should focus on the truth.
Throughout the last few weeks of the spring quarter I sought to do just that. I contacted Hamoun Dolatshahi, an alum at UCSD, who was heavily involved in activism on campus. As the organizer of various projects and protests, including the “UCSD against the Muslim Ban” protest, he was kindly able to put me in contact with various students from Muslim majority countries such as, Syria, Iran, Pakistan and Ghana. Hamoun was working on his own documentary, “Diversity within Islam”, which aimed to be a platform in which individuals from Muslim countries could speak of their unique relationships with their religion. Together, Hamoun and I explored different angles on the issues of culture and religion. The answers we received provided an authentic view on these topics which are far too typecasted in today’s society.