“Where is the cow?”
The teenaged girl turned her face away and did not answer the question.
“The cow that was given to your mother, where is it?”
The conversation continued in the local language. We moved out of the compound and around the back of the house.
Tethered to a post, the cow stood knee deep in mud and manure. The development worker’s anger was visible. He shook his head. “This is not good. This is not good. Her mother has gone somewhere for the day and she says she was told to tie the cow here”.
“These cows are given to help them when they are poor; usually they look after them well. But look at this cow, it should not be tied like this. Her mother knows that this should not be – this is why she did not want to tell where the cow was”.
The conversation between them continued. The worker turned with a look of profound weariness. “Sometimes development is so difficult”.
The project is an excellent one, and if one cow standing in mud when it should not be was the worst that happens, then it is hugely successful. His frustration was not with the cow in the mud, it was with the failure of the woman to take responsibility; it was annoyance at her going away for the day knowing herself that she had failed the trust that had been placed in her. Even her own daughter knew that this was not the way things should be.
Walking back to the old jeep, he was despondent.
“Do you know, Ireland has been one of the richest countries in the world. We give people who have no work and their families more money than people in this village can imagine. We try to provide opportunities for everyone. In 2004, we had so many jobs that tens of thousands of people came in from eastern Europe to do the work. Yet we still have problems; we still have people who simply do not cope”.
The conversation in that African village came to mind yesterday.
Deirdre arrived on Monday evening. There was no money for food or gas and one of the children needed clothes. It might have been anticipated. She keeps herself and her children on the children’s allowance, which is paid on the first Tuesday of the month. September 1st had been a Tuesday, which meant it would be five weeks before the next payment on 0ctober 6th; her money had run out.
Deirdre’s husband receives the weekly social welfare payments and goes out every day to the bookmakers and the bar. This he regards as his right.
No Government programme has broken into the culture of dependency or the cycles of poverty into which many people have sunk. No-one dare question the administration of a system that, far from helping the poor, can enslave women and trap their children.
Whatever problems there are along the way, African programmes that allow women a chance to have an income and independence are better than Irish regulations that unquestioningly place a man’s name on the rent book and the social welfare card.