Answers to some St. Louis questions

Hi there. So Steve and I flew back to Johannesburg (where I live) this weekend, and then Steve went back to DC. I think we are finally feeling clean. We are still working on the story though, and are happy to continue chatting online. Also, if anyone has a question for someone at the park, we can try to get answers for you.

Here are some questions from St. Louis:

I'd be very interested to know how the natives of Mozambique have reacted to the work Greg Carr has been doing to restore the Gorongosa National Park. Also, how have they reacted to your reporting there?

We answered a similar question in the Georgetown part of this blog, but I think it's worth talking about again – this really is the key of the whole project. And the answer is a big "I don't know."

In terms of how people are reacting to the Carr Foundation's work – I think it really varies. In this one village across the river, people are psyched that the park is building them a new health clinic and new school. Elsewhere, some people (especially those now living in critical ecosystem areas around the park) are worried that maybe the park is going to ask them to leave their land.

We chatted with Greg Carr in Johannesburg the other day, and he made the point that he knows the project is not going to make every single person around the park happy – some people are going to get jobs in Gorongosa, some people aren't. Some communities are going to get schools, some won't (at least not for a few years).

Managing these expectations, and continuing to win hearts and minds even when the project hits roadblocks, is going to be a big challenge.

How do the people who live in the region feel about foreign presence in the area? Do they appreciate the help that we are giving them? Do they see the results from what people are doing? How will the restoration of the park affect the lives of the people in the area? Is there any resentment toward the people who are trying to help restore the park? How do they plan to get the animals back into the park?

Wow, lots of questions in that one! I'll start with this one: Do people appreciate what we're doing? Hard to tell. The issue of Americans or Europeans "helping" Africa is a bit wrought. The landscape here is littered with (usually) good intentions that have gone quite wrong. You know, aid groups building roads that locals have no way to maintain; distributing mosquito nets to prevent malaria, only to have hungry villagers turn them into fishing nets; adding water pumps to villages, not realizing that this might take away women's jobs and value in the society; etc.

See, a lot of times the aid workers and NGOs here have very little concept of local language, culture or tradition. And a lot of times the people working here will only be around for two or three years – just enough time to get the early glimpses of what's actually going on.

The Carr Foundation project is different in that it has given a 30 year commitment to the area – that's just unheard of in the aid world. But it's hard to blame local people for looking at any project here with a good bit of skepticism. Or at least a wait-and-see attitude.

That said, many of the people we spoke to were quite happy about the project. Already it's giving a lot of jobs in a place where jobs were almost non-existent.