|Written by Gila Garaway|
|Monday, 03 May 2010 08:24|
He’s leaving before they have to carry him out. Phil is 100% drained, physically, mentally, emotionally; he can’t take any more. 2 years as an aid worker in a central African nation is more than enough.
Yet another deeply wounded casualty in the west’s campaign to ‘end poverty’ in Africa, his wounds will take a long time to heal, if ever. The meaning of “poor” having far broader understandings now.
Meantime there are lines of replacements behind him, all waiting for the adventure of their lives, and all carrying the same unquestioned deeply seated assumption—that the best way to end poverty is to throw money and programs at it. Great western savvy and technology can surely bring the quick fix.
But welcome to the real world – the world that the international organizations know exists, but fail to reckon with or at least seek to understand. Their institutional survival needs define things, not realities on the ground.
As an engineer Phil worked hard—18 hour days 7 days a week. At first he thought he could change things. If you could just fix that bridge and repair that road then market routes would open up, the economy would flourish and things would take off on their own, all fixed up. Or repair that well and run that water line, and the health and sanitation index would soar.
But the problems weren’t what they first appeared to be. The bridge was bad because warring parties and power struggles had destroyed parts of it and local farmers had come and carried off the pieces that were left. His designs for the repairs ended in fifth rate quality work carried out with inferior materials, a function of both shortage of funds and irresponsible management.
As for the wells, pumps worked for a while but heavy use with little or no maintenance led quickly to broken parts with no replacements. As for markets, with ignorance and dishonesty rampant, it was hard to figure out exactly how and where to facilitate change.
Adequate project monies never seemed to be available. It’s the end of the funding year he’s told. Deeper investigation however revealed “thinned” coffers, a phenomenon known as “leakage” in relief and development terminology; a continuous struggle with national staff who have gone “sour.”
But it wasn’t the individual things that did him in. Ultimately it was the overall lie; the unending stream of lies from all sides, in every area of endeavor.
There’s a point, a choosing point. Your conscience.
The money is huge. If you can just shut down your conscience or at least override it with serious rationalization, you could do well out here. Nice 4 wheel drive, guarded house with staff to do your cooking and cleaning, all expenses paid, salary goes to your bank account back home. Everyone else is doing it, why not me? The feeding trough is full and the takers are everywhere. It’s no wonder the locals are trying to get as much as they can. That’s the name of the game. The larger the trough, the greater the feeding frenzy.
But why aren’t the guys who are handing out the money paying attention? Or are they and they just don’t care? Or maybe they don’t see any alternative, so let it ride as is. It’s all politics anyway. Or maybe ‘catalyzing change’ is too difficult in light of the lack of clarity about what would actually bring about positive change.
The takers, the international and national organizations and individuals on the feeding trough end, are only too ready to design the proposals and write the plans that meet the needs of the givers—the favored issue for the week or month or year—health care and polio, AIDS, gender-based violence, orphanages. No matter that that locale has no gender-based violence. The general region does and so who needs to know the real truth?
But what is the real truth? Are Africans “bad” people? Or are “bad people” running much of Africa? Or is it neither of these, rather sick systems and socio-cultural norms that have gone awry?
Truth, or lack of it. Where there is no truth, there is no trust. Where there is no trust, systems flounder. When systems flounder so do real time controls which keep us all in line, on the ‘up and up’; with little or no controls, we tend toward a ‘get it while you can’ mentality; survival. Survival is paramount, instinctive. And success has nothing to do with how much you know or what you have achieved but about how much power you have over people. It’s about obligations and ‘favors.’
In most of the underdeveloped world, ‘working’ systems exist. Social systems, political systems, economic systems, cultural systems, justice systems, etc. Many however are sick. Few function with a view toward the needs of the greater population. Bound by socio-cultural norms, fear, stagnation, limited view, they are floundering and oppression prevails.
Africa is full of failed or failing states; their leaders come and go but the scenario remains the same…weak or absent systems, corruption, apathy, lack of justice, lack of truth. Large donor aid money doesn’t fix it; it just supports it; supports it to stay the same, supporting the oppression on every level—social, political, economic, physical, mental.
We are one human being and there is one God and Father over all. We are called to look to the needs of others. And there are others out there who truly need a hand, a word, a look, a moment of your time.
Are we willing to give it by learning and then doing something to help forge the steps which will bring richness not poverty to us all?
Gila Garaway has lived in the Middle East for the past 27 years and has worked in Africa for the past 14. She generally spends at least one month a year also working in India. She has worked as a professional evaluator of development programs, a consultant in program planning, design and management, a national director of an international aid agency, an education research consultant, and a designer of trainings, training materials and workshops covering a wide variety of development topics. She holds a doctorate in Education. For more on helping Africa, see -
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 10:30|