Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Often times, the gap between the rich and the poor in this world haunts my thoughts. A mere thought that someone is going on an empty stomach while others are throwing away food, leaves me with more questions than answers. The need for social justice for the world's poorest people sometimes overwhelms me. With the current global food crisis, it is the poorest of this world that are the most vulnerable.
In my free time, I normally like reading books from other fields other than science. Of late, I have been reading a book entitled "When Aid is No Help: How Projects Fail, and How They Could Succeed" by John Madeley and others, published by Intermediate Technology Publications in 1991. Although the book was published in 1991, it seems to be very applicable even now in 2008.
Basically, the book is about how aid from developed countries to developing countries often does not reach the intended poorest people in target countries. Often times, it is the poor who are better off that benefit leaving out the poorest. I hope you get this "paradox". I believe that most aid programmes are intended to lift the poorest of this world so that at least they should be uplifted from abject poverty. Normally, aid programmes are executed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as the governments in those target countries. In Malawi, my home country, there are many NGOs that are doing a commendable job in complementing government efforts in trying to alleviate poverty. The current government of Malawi under President Dr Bingu wa Mutharika and his visionary team in the likes of Dr Goodall Gondwe (the Finance Minister) and others, have managed to reach the poorest through a successful fertilizer subsidy program, that has seen Malawi registering surplus harvests since 2006. The goodness is that it is the peasant farmers themselves that are producing the food for their households instead of receiving food aid.
In the book I am reading, the authors list some guidelines which aid projects targeting the poor should follow in order not to miss out the poorest. The following guidelines caught my attention:
- Many projects do not reach the poorest because of failure to investigate and understand how they live their lives. Projects must genuinely correspond to local realities. In other words, consult with the people on what they want rather than imposing on them what you think they want. For example, it would not be right to force people into fish farming yet what they may need is bee-keeping, etc.
- Because the poorest are often unschooled and illiterate, this does not mean that they are unintelligent. Projects must trust the people. If the projects can also incorporate literacy in their work, the better. This is because literacy would help the poorest realize their potential.
- The poorest cannot afford complex and expensive technologies. And they are often not interested in nor bothered with grandiose technologies that seem irrelevant to their experiences. A case in point would be forcing computer technologies on them yet what they may need first are basic necessities of life like food and shelter!
Indeed, empowering the poorest is "about helping them empower themselves, discover or perhaps rediscover their power and giving them a glimpse of hope that they can also have improved lives". Moreover, the "worlds poorest are not an isolated and unreachable underclass" although the "task of reaching them is difficult yet it is not impossible".