This pithy question and answer article was published in the January 2009 issue of Save the Children s magazine World s Children Q. You were 23 when you first went to Sudan. What did you make of it? A. I didn t choose Sudan, the opportunity to teach there came my way and I had a sense of curiosity rather than a burning desire to go there. If you d told me then I d still be working in Africa 25 30 years later I d have called you crazy. In my book I ve tried to represent my naivety when I arrived. There are some fairly embarrassing moments. That naivety drives a lot of our attitudes to Africa. I wanted to track how my perceptions have changed. Making an effort to learn some words of the local language is very appreciated. It shows you re open to people and so they open up to you. The insight they then offer can change you. I encountered a kindness and hospitality I hadn t known before. Q. The news we hear from Africa tends to be bad famine, war, corruption. What s made you stay? A. We often talk about Africa as if it s one homogenous continent. But it s extremely diverse, complex and huge, with scores of languages spoken. We shouldn t generalise. Disasters, war, famine and corruption do happen in Africa, but it s also full with rich cultures and vibrant people. There are a lot of political problems, but you ve got to balance that with the positive people s resilience, courage and hope for the future. In Mozambique, where I live now, children s lives are hard. For example, it s really tough for migrant kids who have to leave their homes to look for work. But we must see them as participants in their own struggle, showing tremendous resilience, courage and ability to adapt as they struggle for a better future. We shouldn t see them as beneficiaries or people to pity. We need to work with them and be inspired by them. Q. What do you think are the challenges and opportunities facingAfrican countries in 2009? A. There are huge political, economic, environmental challenges, as with countries in other parts of the world. But Africa is vulnerable, because of where we re starting from. Children are at the forefront of potential solutions. As an organisation, we want to be redundant in 20 years, so we need to be empowering children now. Giving children the opportunity to participate in building their own future means, as adults, they and, in turn, their countries can stand on their own feet. --World's Children January 2009
WHEN Chris McIvor first started teaching English in a girls' school in Sudan, he encouraged topical discussion to improve their language skills. Enthused by the prospect, one girl asked: "The first thing we want to know is whether women drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes in Scotland. "And is it true they can choose their husbands for themselves, even without the agreement of their parents?" It was just one of the many cultural differences Chris would be confronted with as a 23-year-old from Wick, Caithness. Chris, 52, has now worked for nearly 30 years in emergency response and development in countries as diverse as Morocco, Algeria, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Zimbabwe. He is currently country director for Save the Children in Mozambique. It was his three-year stint as a teacher in Sudan that was to form the man he was to become - as he fell in love with a local girl, converted to Islam but, ultimately, decided not to marry. In a new book titled A Bend In The Nile, Chris is a naive, intelligent and curious young man who immerses himself in the local community. Chris said: "It is about tracing my internal journey as a Westerner, with a fair amount of misconceptions about the country, the people, the culture and religion. I grew to appreciate the people had culture and value systems as rich as my own, sometimes much richer." --Annie Brown in the Daily Record
Chris McIvor was originally commissioned in 2005 by Highland-based Sandstone Press to write a series of articles about his life in Africa but they evolved into the present book. McIvor now has plans to write a sequel which would concentrate on his experiences in Zimbabwe and how it changed from what he described as a positive and vibrant country in the 1980s to its sad plight today. McIvor, who has spent 28 years in emergency response and development in countries such as Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Zimbabwe, has penned a thought-provoking and well-written book and introduces us to a host of colourful characters. He transports us to many places we will only ever read about in the newspapers or see on the television. --Gordon Calder in the Caithness Courier
Chris McIvor OBE has worked for nearly thirty years in emergency response and development in countries as diverse as Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He is currently Advocacy and Programme Development Director for the charity Save the Children in Mozambique.