Reflections on South Africa: Sense of Entitlement

Today’s post is going to touch on one of those unpleasant topics. I feel like a jerk writing it. But, it’s a large part of my life and affects me on a regular basis. It is also a source of stress for me and almost every other SA PCV.

One of the first things schools, organizations, and people ask when they find out I’m an American is whether I can get them something: money, food, computers, money, pictures, tools, a car, money, books, money-anything new or improved from what they have. Sometimes, it’s justifiable. My school really does need books, tools, computers, and more money. My principal really ought to have a car because it will save the school a lot on transport costs. The people in my village really do need more food.

But the thing is, when they ask me for something, they aren’t hoping for it. They are expecting I give it to them, right now. And when I tell them I don’t have it, they laugh. If I offer to help them get it for themselves, they leave. Many South Africans don’t want my help to improve themselves or their schools, they want me to give them something without having to work.

Tswana people have a strong sense of entitlement. Many truly believe that the nice things I have should be given to them, because they can’t afford it (or don’t want to buy it) and think I can afford to get another.

I feel like the Grinch. I have candy and toys in my room for my host brother and sister, but I rarely ever give them anything. When I do, they will walk into my room later in the day and ask for other things, pick things up and hint that I should give it to them, or babble in Setswana about asking for more. More more more! It’s really frustrating.

And it’s not just the kids. After my trip to America, I brought some salt water taffy to school to share because it’s an American sweet. I brought enough, and only enough, for each educator to have 2. I misjudged. My principal saw the bag, and said “I want one of every colour” and took a handful. I told her I brought enough for her to have two. The next teacher did the same, as did the following teacher. I finally realized I needed to just hand each teacher two pieces and not let them pick.

Some people say the government contributes to the sense of entitlement because it provides so many different types of social grants and pensions (think welfare). They provide free houses and toilets, health care, education…They even provide the coloured pencils, crayons, sharpeners, notebooks, pens, erasers, calculators, and pencils for the school children. While it is a struggle to live on a social grant or pension, and poverty is still widespread, the government does provide many things to combat this. Yet people complain. They complain that the houses are too small, the pensions are too small, or the assistance is too small. They feel as if they are entitled to more, and that the government must provide them with what they want.

I hate when an educator, from my school or another, comes up and expects me to do their work for them, or give them things. I struggle because I could provide things to my host family and school, but once I start, I will begin sliding down a slippery path. If someone is willing to sit down with me and apply for a grant for their school themselves, I am more than happy to help. But that is rarely the case.

I know when I leave my village, people will ask me for all sorts of things. I’ll leave most personal things to my host family, and school stuff to the school. How many times will I be asked for my computer, my phone, my camera, or other valuable things, things which I cannot afford to replace? How many more times will I have to disappoint people because I can’t make free money and resources appear out of thin air? How many more times will I feel horrible that I just told someone I can’t give them what they want?

I can’t work in a village effectively if I hand out free stuff or just do things for people. What happens at the end of two years if I do that? I want to make a lasting, sustainable impact, not just make things pretty on the surface. Sometimes that involves saying no, and the fallout that comes with it.
-Jen

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About Jen Lamos

Christ follower. Writer. Permaculturist. RPCV. Photographer. Gardener. Keeper of Chickens. Daughter of God.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on South Africa: Sense of Entitlement

  1. Jen, you just need to think if it in the same manner as you would a child. If you have a child, you do things/give them things/teach them things to enable them to become self sufficient, self reliant adults. As a young lady, you have had to strive to reach and accomplish goals on your own. You have been given a certain amount of help/sport along the way, but you are the reason you have acheived/reached the maturity that you have. Remember to alwaymeanss support/enable but don’t just give the “silver platter”. Everything attained means so much more when worked at.

  2. “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” Ann Landers

  3. I am a PCV in Ghana. I confront this same situation on a daily basis. Kids, adults, elders they all ask me for something I can’t possibly give them. I was at a farmer meeting the other day and they said: “we would have productive farms if you would just give us free weedicide and sprayers and chainsaws.” This is what always frustrates me about NGOs, often they come in and give out free things. Then the farmers expect me to do it as well. I think this is a universal problem in developing countries. Hell, you even see evidence of this in America too. Everyone wants an easy way out.

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