Date of Birth. Seems simple enough. Think of every governmental form, every job application, every utility contract – we give our birth dates out as a small piece of who we are. Our birthdate somehow seems to link us to a time and place where we began being intrinsically who we are. But what if you didn’t know when you were born.
I am leading an intern program for our planting season in which we will hire +85 young leaders to help our farmers apply the “myAgro planting method”. So as we sifted through over +900 applications I started to notice on many of the applications was that the Date of Birth box was incomplete at best. some people left it blank, other people put only the year, and many others put December 31st and the year.
The thing I learned was that a lot of people don’t know when they were born. They know the year but often don’t know the month or day. People do not live by the standard calendar year here. They live by the growing cycle and rainy season. People also are not inclined to work with the government, and lack of hospitals or health care mean that the majority of rural Malian babies are welcomed into the world in their homes without any official government recognition of the event.
Without a birth date though it means that accessing some public services can be difficult – it’s hard to get a visa if you can’t prove when you were born. It’s hard to vote if you can’t prove you are a citizen. DOB is such a small thing that I take for granted – but has some wide implications. There is a beauty in living outside of the common time constraints of days of the week and standard months, but there is also a harsher reality that makes things more complicated and can limit opportunities without this small but vital piece of information.
I have started celebrating people in the month of their choice as a recognition of both their work and their contribution to the world – it’s a small token of recognition that helps to celebrate people for who they are. It’s my way of saying thanks.