Hope Covington, a senior in the Honors Guild, wrote recently on a presentation provided by the Poverty Cure organization on Nov. 5th.
On Monday night, November 5, I went to a presentation on world poverty and development by an organization called Poverty Cure. This organization aims to ask difficult questions about traditional concepts of aid and charity, such as, is the traditional method of giving money helpful? Why have we seen such little progress in developing countries after decades of pouring money into their economies? How do governments and local people feel about foreign aid? How does foreign aid impact local businesses?
Members of this organization travelled around the world, interviewing government officials, business owners, and local people to find the answers to these questions. What they found was surprising. Local people around the world complained that foreign aid had hurt their country. One woman in Kenya told how, when she was a child and she needed new clothes, her mother would take her to the store and buy her a beautiful shirt made from Kenyan cotton. Now the stores are full of second-hand clothes shipped from European countries, because those can be sold much more cheaply than handmade clothing made from locally grown cotton. This woman said that it is impossible now to find quality clothing made in Kenya from Kenyan materials. The sight of a cotton field in Kenya is now a rare thing.
Another man told a heartbreaking story of how, after an earthquake in his area, a church overseas decided they wanted to send eggs to the people affected by the earthquake, so that they would have nourishing food. Problem was, this man had been working years to build a small business raising chickens and selling the eggs. When the church sent an abundance of free eggs, no one needed to buy eggs from this man, and he eventually went out of business.
When the earthquake happened in Haiti, foreign aid responded immediately by sending food to the people affected. Problem was, none of the farms were affected in Haiti. So the farmers packed up their food and took it into the city to sell to people. But the aid organizations had already gotten there. People had their hands full of free food, and no one needed to buy food from the farmers. The farmers’ produce rotted in their carts.
Most foreign aid stems from good intentions. We want to help people. We see need, and we respond with a desire to help. The problem is that we don’t think about it enough. We don’t think about the unintended consequences that might result from our help. Sometimes aid stems from not so good intentions. Sometimes we want to be the heroes of the story. We want to people around the world to recognize us and thank us for our help. So we send money overseas and we end up making people dependent on us.
So often, the question we ask is, what can I give you? We need to turn that question around and ask, what is your vision for your country, and what can I do to facilitate that? How can I enable you to fulfill your dreams? Rather than seeing ourselves as the benefactors and them as the recipients, we need to recognize the human dignity in each person. We need to honor and respect them, and ask, what can we do to enable you to live the life that you want to live?
November 8, 2012