Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear Donators to Uganda,

"Be sure you give the poor the aid they need the most. There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve." --Thoreau

I know that your intent is admirable, and in some extremely rare and isolated cases, I believe that your money actually produces the results that you have intended to bring about. Without question, there is a lot of good things that money can do for this country, if it is done correctly. The other 95% of the time, however, your contribution's most significant impact on this country, and from all accounts, this continent, is the creation of a begging culture. Receiving foreign aid is no longer a blessing, but an expectation; no longer an increase of livelihood, but a necessity for life. By trying with an honest effort to relieve the hardship of others, we have created permanent conditions of disparity.

If I have ever thought about quitting service with Peace Corps and ET'ing (Early Terminating), it is because I fear continuing the mentality that has been laid down, hardened, and paved into the streets of this country. Perhaps in vain, I spend an average of 1-2 hours each day turning around and approaching the child or group of children that greet me with a "you get for me also a soda/chips/bike/money." No, kid, you are NOT going to receive a shilling from me. You have not earned it.

I hide away from projects that I may have spurred when recognition is given, fearful that my community will attribute all progress in my 2 years to my presence within it. It wouldn't be at all true, and it would be a shame. Every project that I have been apart of in Uganda has had people in it that are motivated, are capable, and have DONE the grunt work, details, and the logistics. It is not fear that they recognize my true amount of impact in this community, but rather that they unfairly augment it, and scratch out the work of many to a conclusion of it being a result of a visiting Imusugun. When I do fear that I'm getting too involved in the process, and too many people in the community are calling it "my" project, I back off. I stop work altogether, and see who steps up and picks up my slack. Then I give him/her the credit they deserve, and give them my expectation of having them lead the rest of the way.

Please, for the good of the country of which you think you are trying to help, make sure your money is going towards ending the need for your donations. The idea of foreign aid should always be to lessen the need for foreign aid down the road; not to set up permanent shop, giving handouts to those who don't deserve it and begin feeling entitled to it. If your donation simply creates another step from which to fall from, or another broken borehole which nobody has taken ownership of, or reinforces to a kid to believe that only through others will he/she be able to succeed in life...please. Keep your money.

I would be happy to give advice, if you would like to donate money to Uganda, on ways to ensure that it goes towards the goals you would like to see completed.

Paul Theroux, former Peace Corps Volunteer (he was kicked out, great story) and world traveler, wrote about his overland journey from Cairo to Capetown. He explains my feelings better and more thoroughly. Below is a quote from his book on this very adventure, called Dark Star Safari:

"The conceit among donors is that the poor or the sick or the hungry will take anything hey are given. But even the poor can be particular, and the sick have priorities, and the famine victim has a traditional diet. The Germans had built houses that did not resemble any others in Harar, did not allow for the safety of the animals, and had the wrong proportions. So they were rejected by the lepers, who chose to live more securely, with greater privacy, and--as they must have seen it-- more dignity in their mud huts by the road. The German buildings, more expensive and new by badly maintained, were the only real slum in Harar.

1 comment:

  1. Matt - I am reading Dark Star Safari right now - and agree with many of his conclusions. Looking forward to Joining you and the Uganda PC family in August 2011. Karla