Saturday, October 11, 2008

Issues Affecting African Children #6: Aid Issues in Africa

Jane, Felicia, Sara, and a friend.

The first time I met Sara, she did an uncharacteristic thing-- shetried to keep me from being cheated. I was buying bofroot, a fried ball of dough, from her mother.

"Thousand cedis," Jane declared. I raised an eyebrow, but before I could open my mouth to say I knew it was half that, Sara leaped up from the stoop where she'd been sitting.

"No, no!" she exclaimed. "She is trying to cheat you! It is 500!"

Jane laughed, and I paid the 500. It was actually the start of a wonderful friendship with her and her daughters Sara and little Felicia.

The difference in price, for me, was about five cents. I could have just bought it at the higher price and dealt with it, but I refused to be knowingly cheated simply because I was an obruni. Jane was a good woman, and had nothing personal against me, but because I was white, she supposed two things: 1) I had more than enough money to spare, and 2) I probably didn't know the right price anyway.

Such is the attitude of many Ghanaians toward foreigners and their money. In a way, it's our own fault. For decades, the Western idea of aid was to walk in to a country and fling about cash like confetti. Here, we cried, feed your children, build your homes, go to school! And sometimes it worked that way. Much of the time, governments whisked it off into the anonymity of off-shore bank accounts. When it did reach the people, some began to develop the idea that foreigners equal money-- and they just love giving it away! That idea has become ingrained in many psyche's across the nation.

I had a friend email me a few weeks back. He had been asked to leave school because he couldn't pay his tuition. He begged me to send money so he could return to school. A conundrum was born. It was his education-- possibly the most important investment of his entire life, one that would save him from abject poverty. And yet, I myself am poor by American standards. My husband's own tuition was due, and there was barely enough to pay that. In addition, was I helping or hurting by simply handing out money whenever I was asked? Eventually, I had to tell him I couldn't send the money, but I suggested he try to find a temporary job to help him earn his tuition. This was a novel idea for him, and he thanked me almost as much for it as he would have for the money. It's strange that this idea had not occured to him; but really, was it all that strange considering the ideas he grew up with? White people = money, and he knew a white person! His problems would be solved.
Of course, there are some who do not have this attitude. Sara, with her determination that I not be cheated. My friend Dawood, who my husband and I are voluntarily helping through university. The only thing he ever asked for was for help buying a computer; not for us to buy it for him, but for him to send us the money he had earned so we could purchase it in the U.S. where used computers are cheaper.
Africans are a strong people, and their culture and society did fabulously well for centuries. They don't need us continuing to rule over them with aid as we did with colonialism. Of course, that area of the world is in desperate need of help. We should help others if we are able, if only because we all belong to the race of mankind. Many organizations are formed to give people an opportunity for just that. For one fabulous example in Africa, take a look at Care for Life. They focus on strengthening families and communities, helping people learn to rely on themselves and their community. And that is what aid should really be about.
**Disclaimer: This is not a slam against anyone or any organization that sends money to impoverished areas! There are some areas of the world that are simply too ravaged by poverty, war and disease to be able to become self-sufficient at the moment, and direct monetary aid is often, in those cases, the best and only course of action.


Samuel (and Parents) said...

What an adorable story about Sara.

The saying does go "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish andfeed him for a life time." I have found the attitude that Americans are made of money to be quite prevalant in many countries. It is quite sad. I agree we should help them get to a point of self-sufficiency.

The Evangelist said...

Hey there!

I am so happy to see someone writing about this issue. I think that the obruni have perpetuated this mentality by handing the children who are chasing after them pens and other items just to get them to go away and stop following them.

I believe that the obruni are largely responsible for this perception that they are showing up to give, give, give. We encounter people who have so much less than we do and we feel guilty somehow for being privileged.

We need to work through the guilt of privilege BEFORE arriving in places where people are barely scraping by. If we haven't addressed those issues then we add to the "obruni problem".

I will arrive in Accra in seven weeks and I am extremely excited!

Keep writing! Thank you for your candor!