"How Not to Help the Poor"
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
We’ve been talking about doing a program about the ethics of aid for a while now (Trent first wrote about it here in early June). I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was first discussed at one of our production meetings, and it’s looking like the production wheels will finally start turning relatively soon; next week Krista has interviews with Katherine Marshall and Binyavanga Wainaina.
Until then, take a peek at the above video. The angle is a bit different — we’re looking for a broader international view, this video is about U.S. domestic aid from a primarily Christian perspective — but it’s still based on the same general question: when do charity and aid help, and when are they counterproductive?
UPDATE: You can now to the program mentioned in this post, The Ethics of Aid: One Kenyan’s Perspecive.
The Ethics of Aid
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Every six weeks, we convene as a staff and talk about ideas for shows for the next two to three months. We’re never lacking in ideas, but finding knowledgeable voices that can carry an hour conversation takes some effort. One of the subjects near the top of our list is the ethics of global aid, particularly with Zimbabwe’s recent crackdown on CARE, a multi-national, non-profit organization fighting global poverty.
For me, the subject came to the forefront while reading Paul Theroux’s challenging, insightful travel account in Dark Star Safari. After serving in the Peace Corps in the 1960s, he revisits Africa and sees a starkly different and yet an eerily similar continent. He’s pretty hard on charitable aid organizations and missionaries, to be sure, and wonders — well, actually posits — whether good intentions have led to an industry that needs to sustain itself in order to carry on its business model:
"…this was the era of charity in Africa, where the business of philanthropy was paramount, studied as closely as the coffee harvest or a hydroelectric power project. Now a complex infrastructure was devoted to what had become ineradicable miseries: famine, displacement, poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, the ravages of war. Name an African problem and an agency or a charity existed to deal with it. But that did not mean a solution was produced. Charities and aid programs seemed to turn African problems into permanent conditions that were bigger and messier."
Theroux’s idea that aid and missionary organizations might actually undercut the stability and long-term efforts of people they are trying to help is challenging. The spot of “tough love” seems to be drenched in the hard-nosed, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that I often experienced growing up in North Dakota. I cringed initially. But, some germ made sense. Although I’m not in Africa, I face these tests while walking to work in downtown St. Paul when the same destitute man regularly asks me for five bucks. When do I become that microcosmic institution?
Where is that line and when do good intentions steal a struggling people’s identity, raid an individual’s sense of resourcefulness and pride? When do others who prosper have an obligation to intervene and help those who can’t help themselves because of forces beyond there control — political regimes, long-lasting droughts, diseases, etc.? Who are some of the wise voices you’re reading and hearing about that are immersed in this struggle that can speak personally about these situations?
The Language of Money
- Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
- toddler: (holding up a penny) Uh-dakah!
- father: (leaning in) Dollar?
- toddler: (thrusting penny in the air) Uh-dakah!
- father: No. That's a penny.
- toddler: Uh-dakah.
- father: That's money. Can you say mun-eeeee?
- toddler: Money! Dakah.
- father: You buy things with it.
- father: (looking quizzically at mother): What's he keep saying? I can't understand him.
- mother: I don't know. (turning to toddler) Penny.
- toddler: Dakah.
- mother: (to father) Maybe it's the Hebrew -- from school.
- father: I don't know the Hebrew word for money. Do you?
- mother: No.
- father: Google it.
- mother: (searching)
- father: I learned about this on the show. Isn't it zakat or something? No, wait. That applies to Muslims. Maybe zedekah... or something similar.
- mother: Here it is. Tzedakah. Charity.
- father: Hm.
- mother: Here he sees a penny and thinks of giving it away. And we see it and instantly thinking of buying things.
- father: I guess we just learned something from a two year old about money.
- mother: I think so.
- father: Man. We better sign up for some Hebrew lessons...