Speaking of Faith: International Aid

August 30th

This week’s Speaking of Faith discussed one African’s view of foreign aid. Specifically, Binyavanga Wainaina is angry with the way Kenyans have been portrayed in international media and how Africans in general are thought of as poor, dying orphans. He said:

“We can save you from yourself. We can save ourselves from our terrible selves. Help us to Oxfam the whole black world, to make it a better place.

We want to empower you. No, your mother cannot do this. Your government cannot do this. Time cannot do this. Evolution, it seems, cannot do this. Education cannot do this. Your IQ cannot do this.

No one can empower you except us. And if you don’t listen to us, our bad people, those RepublicanToryChineseOilConcessioningIanSmithing racists will come to get you: your choice is our compassionate breast or their market forces.”

My travels and work experience in Africa have given me a chance to see the ugly and the beautiful of foreign aid. I’d say that as an American, I look back on some of my gawking behavior with embarrassment. I should have known better than to have taken that photo, at that time, full-well knowing the shock of the horrific situation was exactly what I was trying to capture. I’d say this podcast gave me time to think a bit more about how to help others without exploitation and how aid can be destructive.

Our conversation group this morning was lively. I enjoyed listening to another PC volunteer’s experience in an Asian country as an English teacher. Additionally, two others discussed how aid to the US under similar circumstances would leave them feeling incapable of caring for themselves.

I think foreign aid has great room for systematic improvement. Like anything else with political and religious implications, it can become a terrible mess and cause more problems than it solves. Without intense and committed involvement from the community at stake, nothing can be achieved long-term. The one side to this conversation I missed was spirituality. Faith and charity go hand in hand. What are faith-based-organizations doing well in Africa? What are they doing poorly? How do people with the best of faith-fueled intentions have to say about this topic?

SOF is continuing the conversation about aid in the developing world. It will be interesting to see who else speaks up.


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3 Responses

  1. Very interesting topic. I struggle with a lot of issues in this area. For example, aid groups – how much money actually helps people in sustaining, empowering ways and how much goes to organization overhead? Yet I feel responsible to share what has been given to me, as a citizen of a rich developed country, a person of privilege. Still, my values and my faith lead me to believe that people who are poor are my brothers and sisters, whether they live in my city or across the globe. It makes the most sense to me to find a cause or a group that I can build a relationship with over time, with shared interests (ie. health care). And pray that the resources will make a difference to someone.

  2. Interesting topic. I remember the sections from The Soul of Money relating to this subject.

  3. My cousin and her husband work in an area of a Kenyan city, facilitating a local leadership team. They are part of a faith-based organization and what they are doing seems to me a very good approach – settling in to live in a neighborhood and help the folks who live there to look around and get ideas for how to make their lives better right where they are. And the spiritual side comes in by example, as they live out their faith with their friends and neighbors.