The Letter home: A possible Formula
In many nations across Africa, the institutions we in the West take for granted are entirely absent. The people of these places are not incompetent. They are the same as us. Without the rule of law, private property rights and an infrastructure for basic transportation, water, electricity and phones, we too would be a broken, diseased and starving people.
Africa’s horrors are not solved by sending aid. The word ‘aid’ sounds kindly, even generous. It is pernicious. It often props up the dodgy regimes. At best, aid breeds a dependency culture; at worst it funds barbarism, but never brings out the best in us.
For some time now I have been watching the progress of an extra ordinary man, Jean Béliveau.
On August 18th, 2000, at 9:00 am, he left Montreal, Canada. His goal is to walk around the planet to promote “Peace and non-violence to the profit of the children of the world”. He is travelling alone with a three wheeled stroller to carry a bit of food, his clothing, a First Aid kit, a small tent and a sleeping bag. Jean plans to walk across all the continents, from North America to South America, then across to South Africa, up to Europe, then the Middle East, South and Eastern Asia, Australia, New Zealand and finally back to Canada.
This journey will take 12 years to complete which is in accordance with the United Nations proclamation: 2001-2010 – International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.
I find the following piece very interesting especially in terms of my quest to discover how the people of the West of Ireland developed out of the direst poverty in the aftermath of the Famine and how the money in the letter home affected this development.
It comes from the Charity Intelligent Giving a small, not-for-profit company in London with backgrounds in journalism and research. They are independently financed and run, not linked to any charity or government TREKKER EXTRAORDINAIRE JEAN BELIVEAU is on the sixth year of his travels and, having just passed through London, he’s halfway round the world. He’s seen many things and spoken to many people on his travels through the Americas and Africa – and he has clear opinions about giving.
“I am often asked if I am doing the walk for charity and it annoys me,” he says. He’s clear about his status: “I am walking as a pilgrim walks, in my case to make the world aware of the UN’s International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for Children.”
“They are smart people and they don’t need foreigners to tell them what’s best.”
He explains: “The condition of children affects me a lot, and in difficult situations – natural disasters or human conflict – it is imperative that their basic needs are fulfilled. Which makes it very important to support the right charity.”
But he believes deeply that old-fashioned aid is bad news for the developing world. “We have encouraged a dependency culture in Africa that takes away peoples’ dignity,” he says. “From my many conversations with ordinary Africans, I believe that their countries would be better off if we stopped giving them handouts. They are smart people and they don’t need foreigners to tell them what’s best.”
He concedes that in these days of globalisation and climate change, it’s difficult to be pure about this concept, and in emergency situations, there may be no alternative. But, in general, “there has to be a better way,” he insists.
“The money is honestly earned and it is sent straight to where the need is.”
His suggestion is simple, but unusual. Instead of giving to charities, he wants you to give direct to people in need – through their relatives in Britain.
“In most cases these people work very hard and live very humbly so they can save up and send the money back home,” he says. “The money is honestly earned and it is sent straight to where the need is. It is spent with pride because it has more value: it is earned by a member of the family.”
He has witnessed the recipient effect in Africa. The money is used at village level. It helps pay for food, education, healthcare, job creation – just like money from international aid agencies.
He insists, “If you buy from workers from immigrant communities – believe me, you will make a difference. And it won’t be charity. It will be reward for jobs well done: an exchange between equals.”
He shrugs: “In a perfect humanity, there would be no need for charity… Dignity would be sufficient! Until then…”
I see this type of a hand up, outside the immediate family, as a possible way forward. At Wells for Zoe we are promoting this personal contact approach, where there is traceability and accountability for every euro, without any deductions. We are seeing this, small scale, hardly noticed, intrusion making a real difference, restoring dignity and promoting self sufficiency.