Sunday, May 8, 2011

Toughest place to be a ...


I just finished watching the BBC show "Toughest place to be a ...", which, I guess was done as a special feature - only 3 episodes were made. The basic premise consists of taking a bunch of consummate professionals from the UK (bus driver, paramedic, midwife), and giving them an analogous work experience in a different part of the world, obviously minus a lot of amenities that they've grown accustomed to. (watch for the culture shock)

I believe the characters were well chosen because they espouse a certain humility and good work ethic (the BBC could very easily have ruined this experience by courting from among the roster of characters that plague various reality TV shows), and this brings out the humanity in all the situations that they go through - both humorous and heartbreaking.

It's very easy for a program like this to be misunderstood, because despite the real human dilemmas it tries to highlight, there's a chance that it could merely become a shock-fest of things from third world poverty. It reminds me of an experience during chapel-time at Messiah College. This student got up on stage to talk about his time spent doing mission work at the Kibera Slums in Kenya. He then proceeded to get emotional on stage and obviously alienate a whole contingent of international students who were in attendance that morning. I have nothing against the guy personally, this just requires a short accompanying factoid

  • Despite hosting a large number of people, the residence of former President Moi at Kabernet Gardens sits a few kilometers from Kibera
  • The student spent his entire summer break - 2 or so months - in the slum  
I actually know about Kibera, and I wouldn't be happy spending more time than I had to around there...and I'm not even talking about the slum portion of it. Everybody has that kind of part around where they live or at least somewhere in their country - it's what we like to call "The wrong side of the tracks". And c'mon, even if you see the worst-of-the-worst, it needs to be balanced with a view of what else exists out there, at least even at the middle class level, and maybe even get a taste of the opulent. You've got the massive Nairobi National Park close by (maybe just a few hundred yards away if you're in the right part of the slum!)....but I digress.

I'm not trying to defend my country blindly here, 'cause true to the matter, we have one heck of a record-breaking slum. But getting the full picture helps people understand that the disparity is sometimes based on policies that need to be changed. Josh West (the bus driver) highlighted this perfectly when he got to see the village area that his host Rogelio hailed from. The coastal town was truly beautiful and an obvious step up from the squalor that he faced in the city, but the search for employment drove him to the city.
This is a lesson that perhaps we shouldn't just concentrate on turning our cities into 'havens" of employment to the detriment of the countryside, but concentrate on investing in those same fringe areas, and at the same time decongesting the cities and returning them to a semblance of health.

Again, I thank BBC for a job well done. Rather than putting people on the offensive, it reminds us of things that sometimes we overlook, or never thought about. To cherish those gifts that we have, some of which we've worked for, and others which our parents toiled for. And I believe all those involved were affected positively.
There are no real happy endings here because a lot of the poverty that was seen is institutionalized, and needs the concerted effort of decent politicians working with the people to get things changed. But the friendships made and the shared experience are a step in the right direction. I hope that this is the kind of change I'll be able to bring when it's called upon on my part.

May God be with us all.


Benjamin Jancewicz said...

I remember that chapel.

This show sounds awesome! Is there anywhere I can catch it online?

Richardona said...

I was able to catch the one about the Bus driver on youtube. Seeing as you're in the right region, BBC might have some preferential agreement allowing you to watch the other 2 online.

...or you could get them off of [hey, I tried all the legal means first]