Llomello Village, Kahama,
We are frequently asked about the effectiveness of sending aid to an
African country: And before we set up the Society, the One Person co-founders
asked the same questions – after all, the West has poured around a trillion
dollars into the continent over the last 60 years (Dambisa Mayo - Dead Aid) yet
per-capita, income today is less than it was forty years ago, and over 350
million people (more than 50% of the population) live on less than a dollar a
Cash alone obviously doesn't work, and we in the wealthy countries are disillusioned, especially when much of the money appears to be filtered off by
corrupt governments and officials. But fortunately for us, humankind evolved
because of its ability to persist and find another way.
As explained earlier in the blog, Brenda Lowe took part in a Canadian
volunteer trip to begin to explore the problems and possible solutions in one community
in Tanzania. In addition she and others in the group read numerous books and
articles relating to the global fight against poverty, and strange as it may
sound, we took courage from William Easterly’s attack on the humanitarian aid
movement: The White Man's Burden: Why the
West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.
Easterly writes about most aid projects being carried out by “Planners”
who believe they know all the answers and provide what they think is needed. Successful projects, he
argues, are carried out by “Searchers” who seek information and plan
incrementally for the given situation, and are therefore able to adapt and act
on feedback. This is a simplistic summary of a complex book, which has as many
critics as supporters, but much of what he says fits in with our own ‘searcher’
beliefs and subsequent experiences.
Easterly gives the provision of mosquito nets as an example of the
inherent weakness in just ‘planning’: when mosquito nets are distributed in
developing countries they are often diverted to the black market or the nets
end up being used as wedding veils or fishing nets! In Zambia for example, 70%
of free net recipients didn’t use them.
The solution? Easterly cites clinics in rural Malawi that charge new mothers
50 cents for the insecticide-treated bed nets. In the bigger cities, the charge
is $5.00 per net – which subsidises the cost of the rural nets.
Charging an affordable fee works – the program increased the nationwide
average of children under 5 sleeping under nets from 8% percent in 2000 to 55%
in 2004. Often the recipients do not understand the link between mosquitos and
Malaria, but if you have been charged for a net you are more like to be
given/listen to the information, and to use it for its correct purpose.
We recently found ourselves guilty of well-meaning assumptions: the
Summerland Montessori School and members of the public had donated funds for us
to purchase goats for the Faraja Orphanage in Kahama. So because milk is good
for children, we ordered a herd of dairy goats – much to the horror of the
orphanage leaders. Dairy goats would create many more hours of unnecessary work
for the Faraja women; meat goats require less input and provide a better income
– we quickly switched our order!
As a small grass-roots organization we communicate with the villagers
and professionals in Kahama, and are developing a user-centred approach to help
strengthen education and healthcare in the region. We endeavour to provide
support for the present, which does not compromise the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs, but instead provides a tangible foundation
When the children we support become the future doctors, teachers and
leaders in their community, we will be able to answer questions of
effectiveness more accurately, but for now the knowledge that vulnerable
children and families are being given the means to change their lives for the
better, is enough to keep us searching!
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity;
is an act of justice.