Empowering the world's poorest

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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".


Wilgus Friday, June 27, 2008 12:11:00 PM  

This is right on. Trusting the poor is so central to what World Relief has taught me. Simply dumping aid onto them and expecting them to run with it does not take their situation into account, and is actually disrespectful to them as it just sends a big check to clear the conscience and refuses to even spend time with them, befriend them, understand them and live with them. I hope to learn how to do that better during my time here, and hopefully in my future career.

Bennett Kankuzi Friday, June 27, 2008 2:26:00 PM  

From Wilgus (2):

Dear Mr. Kankuzi,

Thank you for your comment, it was very enlightening. I am glad to receive feedback from a Malawian and I would love to meet you sometime during my stay here. You are absolutely correct in calling my article "sensational". This blog is not at all a scholarly or informed set of discourses, and while they may be written like articles, they are for no official purposes. This is my outlet of what I'm feeling, thinking and experiencing while I'm here in Salima, and the information is likely not accurate, but it is my own perspective which is tainted by my own western assumptions that will hopefully begin to dissipate over my time here (another 5 months).

I think you misunderstand my article's intent, however. I am an inexperienced American in Malawi and this blog reflects what I'm thinking about and how I'm dealing with the challenges I'm facing here. For instance, the quotes: "Malawians are lazy" was told to me by a Malawian. I would not ever make such an assumption about a people that I am not a part of, and if you read the article more closely, am actually in the process of challenging that very assumption. I don't believe that Malawians are lazy at all, but that is what has been told to me (word for word) and I am in the process of understanding the sentiment behind such a statement. I am in fact developing a deep respect and love for your people, especially those in the villages. My post "Wild Wild East" elaborates further. I am out of place here, but I am learning to understand and respect Malawi for the beautiful nation of extraordinary people that it is.

The rest of the comments about education, specifically are paraphrased from conversations I have had with actual Malawians here in Salima about the state of education in their own country. I do not wish to generalize, so any seeming generalization is adapted from conversations I have had and what I have been told by the Malawian people. I have recorded these conversations on a digital recorder and would be happy to send them to you if you wish. (incidentally, I am both living and working with Malawians and only Malawians rather than whites, who I mostly don't even see but a few times a month let alone talk to, I have been to more than 'one' village and am not here doing 'charitable work', but am here as a student hoping to learn from the Malawian context and what is presented in this blog are merely my thoughts, not my beliefs).

I am guilty of being sensational, however. I am a sensational person and add often unwarranted flourish to my writing which I will work to correct in the future. In fact this blog is full of statements that should be corrected, informed and challenged and will hopefully lead to a better understanding of your country and its situation. Thank you for contributing to my process of learning and I hope to receive more perspective from you in the future. I know very little here, I am a humble learner and would appreciate any more wisdom that you have to offer.

  © Free Blogger Templates Columnus by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP