catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 9 :: 2010.04.30 — 2010.05.13


Identity theft

I think we rob people when we take away their ability to give.  People are empowered as givers, which is why it is often hard to receive.  It’s humbling, it speaks to our poverty, our neediness, our insufficiencies.  There is a place for true spiritual poverty that acknowledges how poor we are when we come to God.  But God is a generous giver and as his people, there is a reflection of His grace in our generosity. 

So I think we need to ask ourselves: what does it do to a nation to be called the “poorest in the western hemisphere” over and over again like it’s some kind of title?  What happens when people begin to believe they are not capable of giving?  A 2007 article in the International Herald Tribune notes the negative impact of food aid on African agricultural policies.  And Dambisa Moyo, Zambian economist, wrote the book Dead Aid: Why Aid is not Working and Why There is a Better Way for Africa, to discuss the damage done by well-intentioned financial aid.  More recntly and more to the point, is this article on food aid to Haiti since the January 12 earthquake.

Haiti is a case study on the negative impact of aid and foreign intervention with opaque agendas.  It seems to me, from my time in Haiti so far, that the worst situation to be in is to begin to believe that you can do nothing for yourself, your family, or your community.  Maybe the single most important ability that a people possess is the ability to give, no matter how little they have.  Traditional Haitian culture valued giving, though aid, for some, has altered that identity.

To illustrate I will tell you the tale of two young men I have met.   They both live in camps, now that they have lost everything in the earthquake.  Both are educated, both had jobs and opportunities before the quake, but now they live under tarps in overcrowded, muddy camps. 

Kinston, noticing the children seemed so bewildered after the earthquake, started a temporary school in his camp.  He enlisted the help of an out-of-work band, who began to write music for the children to sing and practice their French and Spanish and English.  He walked the camp, calling the children by name, encouraging them to come to school.  He split the school into two locations within the camps with morning and afternoon sessions, rallied the older teens to act as teachers, and attended U.N. cluster meetings to stay informed as to when regular schools would begin again.  He participated in the council that administers the camp and helped encourage clean up and trash collection in the camp.  He rejoiced when toilets and water came to the camp, but before foreign aid workers delivered latrines, he had helped rally a group of young people to dig and create a row of temporary latrines.   He called me and said, “Come to our camp so the children can sing for you, it will make them so proud.”

On the other hand, there is Fritz.  I ran into him when I was out walking.  He was sitting on a log next to his camp.  He gestured for me to come over to him and his first words to me were, “Do you speak English?  We need help here.”  Like Kinston, his spoken concern was the children.  “They have nothing to do, see them, they are skinny, and they are getting malaria, our camp is muddy.  What can you give us?”  I explained that we help with reforestation up in the mountains, but that I had advocated for mosquito nets for the zone and was still waiting.   I said that I was happy to see they had some latrines from CARE.  He shook his head, “There is not enough, they said there would be more.”  Then he returned to the subject of the children.  “They are bored and need something to do.  Will you get someone to come and do something for them?”  I asked him what he was doing: had he approached any of the other young people in the camp?  Had they considered running a program for the kids?  He smiled, “I cannot do that, but at the camp down the road, they came and made a nice place. The workers, they play games and sing with the children.  We want that.” 

I started to share with him about Kinston, and then I stopped.  He was looking away, a half-smile on his face,  “No, no you don’t understand,” he said.  “We need someone to come and do this for us.”  I said, “Well, what I can do, I will do.” And in my heart I said a prayer for this young man who had been robbed blind by well-intentioned aid, for that was all I could do.

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