it’s a beautiful palm sunday morning here in austin, texas and i am a content episcopal priest taking a break from the life of the church. just resting this morning rather than the usual hustle and bustle of getting prepared for the christian churches tradition of entering holy week this morning by the celebration of palms.
to rest i’ve decided to bring a recent article from the wall street journal given to me from my friend david simpson. the article is titled ‘why foreign aid is hurting africa’ by dambisa moyo. i know not much of a restful read, but this is the first time i’ve been able to sit down and read in a while.
i’m not shocked by what the article says, but it most certainly ignites a familiar flame of anger. a few excerpts from this superbly written article…
‘over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to africa. yet real per-captia income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population – over 350 million people – live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades.’
‘even what may appear as a benign intervention on the surface can have damning consequences. say there is a mosquito-net maker in small-town africa. say he employs 10 people who together manufacture 500 nets a week. typically, these 10 employees support upward of 15 relatives each. a western government-inspired program generously supplies the affected region with 100,000 free mosquito nets. this promptly puts the mosquito net manufacturer out of business, and now his 10 employees can no longer support their 150 dependents. in a couple years, most of the donated nets will be torn and useless, but now there is no mosquito net maker to go to. they’ll have to get more aid. and african governments once again get to abdicate their responsibilities.’
now even though this quote ends by holding the african governments responsible, i can’t let it fall solely to them. we here in america fall short on this as well. and believe me…i’m not only pointing fingers at others, but at myself. i look at the work of our organization, comfort the children, has done and realize we too have often fallen into the deceptive pit of quick western ‘fixes’ to african problems leaving us ‘white folk’ standing around patting ourselves on the backs with friends congratulating us and write ups in newspaper articles while the people we set out to help in africa are left with a quick bite to eat and right back into their poverty.
we’ve got to raise more awareness about the ill effects of good intentions and become more invested in this endeavor to ‘eradicate poverty’ for the long haul. mind you i’m preaching to myself as i write this. we have to realize that even the best of us, jesus, gandhi and mother teresa of calcutta…these rare individuals who lived amongst the poor never sought to eradicate poverty, but to live amongst the poor and to walk with them. and yet here we westerners have the audacity to say that we’re going to eradicate a condition of humanity that has plagued us since the beginning.
how about instead of being the superheroes flying into a desperate situation shouting that we’re going to eradicate poverty we take off our blue tights and red capes for a moment, put our business suits back on and get down to real commitment. let’s slow down our eagerness to ‘fix things’ and speed up our our desire to understand. let’s stop talking so damn much and start listening more.
i know during my work in kenya these past 9 years i have listened much and learned a great deal. at times it’s almost overwhelmed me to the point of complacency, but then i get back to what brought me here in the first place…relationships. i stay committed as do most of us here at ctc because of the love that binds us with the people in kenya. it isn’t the bottom line of eradicating poverty that motivates ctc after being taken advantage of the 199th time by a kenyan in need or after being told the 343rd time by a well intentioned westerner, “man…i love what you guys are doing and i’m going to do all that i can to help” with no follow up. it’s the mother, grandmother, sister and friend i have in mama hannah who loved me and ctc with a tenderness i have never known. it is her love and the love of so many that continue to stoke the simmering coals every time they threaten to burn out.
it is love…love that desires greater understanding. a loving heart that fuels the mind to learn how to live in this unique time of globalization and mass information that gives us the ability to discern how to move and when. how to reach out and to whom. when to say yes and the thousands of times you must say no in order to remain true to your initial yes.
love’s got to come together and become the active voice creating a true sustainability made up of mutual understanding, friendship and yes a more efficient governance system, fair trade and stable economies. but first we must learn how to love. love will activate our capacity to walk together into a better way to live.