Monday, August 11, 2008

Humanitarian Aid in Africa--Countrproductive

As long as I have been alive ghastly images of emaciated and under-nourished African children with bloated bellies have illustrated story after story after story of the nightly news. The same images have accompanied infomercials for groups such as Compassion International since such groups were founded.

Why don't the images get a little less gruesome? With all the millions of dollars and truckloads of food being pumped into Africa, why don't we see any relief as we glance at the statistics of famine stricken Africa? These questions have always bugged me and inclined me to distrust philanthropic agencies working in "Cradle of Mankind" (Ethiopia) as I assume that much of the money donated may go towards administrative expenses.

TIME magazine recently published an article expressing my very concerns. They agree it is perplexing that a land that is believed to have been so enriched to birth mankind could foster such famine, especially when it's fields (this year) are bright green and ripe for cultivation. Consider Time's statistics-This year the U.S. will give:

  • $800 million to Ethiopia
  • $460 million for food, $350 million for HIV/AIDS treatment
  • $7 million for agricultural development
As mentioned in the TIME article, the age old proverb comes to mind: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” The implication, of course, is that we, the heroes from the west, have actually worsened the situation in Africa in dumbing down the recipients of our goodwill. The TIME article states:
Why bother with development when shortfalls are met by aid? Ethiopian farmers can't compete with free food, so they stop trying. Over time, there's a loss of key skills, and a country that can't. All too often, its rulers use resources elsewhere--Ethiopia has one of Africa's largest armies.

Why do we get aid so wrong? Because it feels so right. 'The American people," says U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto, 'are simply not going to sit tight while they see children dying.' Nor should they: a starving man needs to be saved first before he can be taught to fish--or farm.
The starving man is being saved, but he is hardly being taught sustainable living. I agree with TIME, which credits American benevolence but sites a flaw. I say, don't stop giving...give smarter! I can't help but see the problem mirrored in America's dysfunctional welfare system; but that's another post for another day.


Becky said...

Nate, I know you were just using it as an example, but I have to correct you about Compassion.

At Compassion we have made a firm commitment to portray children with dignity. We only take pictures that the children and their parents can be proud of. While we seek to portray the desperate need of the poor, we also want to show the hope they are finding through our program. We will never, ever practice what we call the "pornography of poverty." We do not want to "coerce" people into sponsoring through pity or guilt - we want someone to sponsor because God has called them to this ministry.

If you see a photo that exploits the poor (like the one you have included in your post) you can be SURE it's NOT Compassion.

Okay. I'm off my soapbox. I do get fired up when Compassion's credibility is called into question. However, I agree with most of what you've said. It's frustrating that nothing seems to change no matter how much

I'd encourage you to check out Charity Navigator's web site. ( It's an online watchdog group that gives details about tons of different charities and they might help allay some of your fears.

Becky said...

Oops! Sorry - I hit send too soon.

That sentence should have said ...

"It's frustrating that nothing seems to change no matter how much money we throw at it."

nate said...

Thanks for the comments Becky!

I really wasn't reacting negatively to Compassion...I actually salute their work! In my post I mentioned that American's hearts are in the right places, and as the article states, groups like compassion must do what they do BEFORE learning programs can begin.

I don't distrust Compassion at all. I actually spent the last three years working as Director of a non-profit!

I also do not find fault with certain groups that show images of worst-case-scenarios in Africa, so long as it is a call to action. If a particular media syndication throws the images up on a screen just for shock value and to lure viewers into their programming, that is blatant exploitation. But if the CEO of any number of charities showed the same picture to me strictly because he knew I had no clue what conditions were like and that seeing the image would spur me on to giving to change the lives of those associated with the picture, I would merit his actions.

All that to say, I don't have any beef with ANY organization that work with the poor of any nation...just as TIME pointed out, I think a majority of 501c3's could start shifting their resources towards development campaigns.

Aghhhh, that was a mouthful.

Thanks for your thoughts...they were far more informed than mine. And thanks for the helpful link!!!

Anonymous said...

We provided for a Compassion kid for nearly four years when we were first married. The pictures we received were respectable and precious . . .

I wonder how much of Africa's inability to provide for themselves comes from the fact(?) that they live under the thumb of some quite ruthless and uncaring people . . .

Worth pondering . . .

nate said...

I totally agree! That's even mentioned (partially) in the article. Certain governments would rather outsource than use their own resources.

America kind of does the same thing, except capitalism is to blame, not so much as the government. the gov. ends up subsidizing farmers because imported goods are cheaper.

Zimbabwe's a great example...Mugabe insists on Zimbabwe being a stand alone nation shunning all foreign criticism and support, EXCEPT humanitarian aid.

Great point!

James said...

This may be rather shallow and coarse, but why the hell are we sending all of our aid overseas when children on our own soil go to bed every night without food in their bellies? I lived in Haiti for five years, and I know that when people become dependent on "aid" from another country (America), they get lazy. It's not so much the farmer competing with free food, as you said in your post, it is more like, "why should I work so hard to eat, when I can get it for free".
I don't mean to sound incompassionate towards people that have "less" than we do in America, but it is the fact. I lived it first hand. Americans feel good about giving to the "poor", and that is taken advantage of. They may be "poor", but they are not stupid. I learned this very quickly. If you do not become calloused in some aspects, you will be sucked dry. In this, I agree with you that education is key. That way, the Africans, the Haitians, and others can learn to care for their own.
Our nation has two different categories of people that are dying...those dying of starvation, and those dying of obesity. Have we any right to try and "help" other nations when we can't get it right ourselves?
Good post, Nate. Keep 'em coming!

Becky said...

James, the thing that we have here in the U.S. that the poor in developing countries don't have is a system of safety nets. We have welfare and other government programs. We have soup kitchens and homeless shelters. There are options here for the poor that people in Haiti will never have.

And your comment about the poor being "lazy" is calloused (and ignorant) in my opinion. Most of those that I have encountered in Haiti, the Dominican, Ecuador, and Honduras work MUCH harder than anyone I know in this country - and earn MUCH less.

You obviously feel very strongly about helping the less fortunate here in the U.S. That's good. So what are you doing to help them?

James said...

Agreed, Becky, some people in the poorer countries do work harder than anyone I know here. I love and deeply respect your passion for those in genuine need, but my lazy comment, if you read back, was directed to those who do take advantage of aid. When you make your home in the middle of it all and attempt to help those who genuinely need it, you must become "calloused" to those that want to take advantage of it, as much as it wrenches your guts to do it. If not, food or clothing, or what have you, can be wasted and never make it to those who need it. I am sure in your position, and with your passion, it makes you furious to see something wasted.
As far as what I am doing to help those in need in this country...whatever I can. I have no official program, but I give what I can when I can from my talents (construction), my time, and my fincances.
I sense your frustrations, but please understand, we are all in this together. We each may approach it a little different, but that is the beauty of humanity. Thanks for taking the time to reply to me.
Nate, thanks for letting us use your blog. You can have it back now....

Becky said...

James, that was thoughtful and well-written response. I do understand your point and I apologize for calling you ignorant. You quite obviously aren't. :)

Nate, thanks for providing the forum for this discussion.