A tragic death in Tanzania

I never met Susan Wells. The news that this 41 year old Canadian aid worker had been killed in late November shortly after arriving in Tanzania to do charitable work struck home, however.

I imagined her arriving at the Kilimanjaro airport, tired from the long flight from Canada but invigourated and very excited to be back where she felt she belonged in some way. She would have been eager once more to meet loving children who would swarm her and welcome her in a heartwarming way that is hard to describe.

But she never made it. Her body was found in a field near Arusha. What exactly happened is still not certain but the bottom line is that her mission to East Africa ended in tragedy.

The message conveyed to others by this horrendous assault might be that East Africans are cruel and heartless. It is actually quite the opposite. I’m sure that the people living in the community where Susan Wells worked are grieving with a deep despair. I know that she would have had loving associations with many. Why else would she continue to return?

There are bad people everywhere. We don’t want all Canadians judged by the likes of Luka Magnotta, Russell Williams or Paul Bernardo. All of America can not be measured by the actions of the young man who murdered children at a Connecticut school this week. Tanzania has the same population as all of Canada. A tourism sector report in 2010 reported close to 1,000,000 tourist visits per year. Foreign visits  – both by tourists and by community aid workers – are  an important contributor to the local economy. Violence of this nature towards foreigners is rare.

Travel anywhere has its risks. Visitors to East Africa are aware that crime rates there are much higher than at home. Foreigners are perceived (and rightly so) as having more money than the locals. It must be tempting if you see a visitor using an iPhone that costs as much as you live on for a year, to want to relieve them of it. Pickpocketing and theft is rampant. Even the locals are cognizant of security risks and the potential for them to be victims of crime. Caution is always required. I’m sure that Susan Wells knew that and in all likelihood she thought she was being safe. Most of the people you meet are friendly and helpful. It is hard to imagine that you may be the victim of of such a violent crime – whether at home or abroad.

It is very sad that a young woman who had dedicated herself to sharing with people less fortunate in Africa has been brutally murdered. I suspect, however, that she would not want this crime to taint the reputation of the East Africans who had provided many other loving moments that she must have experienced while living and working there.

Visitors to East Africa are much more likely to be greeted with welcoming affection than negativity.

Visitors to East Africa are much more likely to be greeted with welcoming affection than negativity.

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