Poor, or patronised?
Poor, or patronised? I'm not sure what to make of this article about ‘charity presents'.
On the mismatch between the expectations of NGOs, and what the recipients of NGO help actually want:
The Ghanaians interviewed in WORLDwrite's film dream of living in concrete houses instead of mud huts; of owning washing machines instead of having to trek to a bore hole several times a day to fetch water. They want motor-powered fishing boats instead of wooden canoes, which have to be dragged to the shore by hand. They want university education, not lessons in how to use a condom; and they prefer having regular work in factories to the hand-to-mouth existence offered by NGOs' micro-credit schemes. They do not, as the charity Water Aid argues, think that extracting water by rope pumps from hand-dug wells constitutes ‘appropriate technology'.
It seems that those in the third world just want to be living like us:
In truth, the kind of things that the Ghanaians interviewed in Keeping Africa Small really want – houses, cars, 9-to-5 jobs – are entirely ‘unrelated' to anything that appears in the Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue: alpacas, condoms, dung.
It does seem pretty patronising:
Surely an organisation with such a big budget can come up with more inspiring and fun Christmas gifts than goats and dung? Or are the poor not allowed to have fun?
Or how about at least acknowledging that people in developing countries should have the right to get their hands on the kind of consumption goods we in the West enjoy and take for granted? Oxfam and others claim to be working towards ‘global equality' – but campaigns that offer only small-scale solutions to Third World problems, and which do not put the case for everyone's right to aspire to, and reach, the living standards we have in the West, are not championing anything like genuine equality. They are championing coping mechanisms, and an attitude of make-do-and-mend.
The bigger question raised, I think, is whether (as we claim) we do actually know what they need better than they do. It's also worth asking how much of it is vicarious; maybe we think that subsistence would be a better, more satisfying life, so we do our best to keep the third world away from what we see as pointless consumerism?
This, of course, raises other questions, especially if the things they desire are things we know are ultimately unsustainable and destructive – cars and consumerism and McD's and plenty of toys for everyone. How do we help the poor when the poor want things that will do even more damage to their environments? Do we (the rich west) have any right to try and stop them, considering our part in both their poverty and in the destruction already done to the planet?
UPDATE: See also the BBC with do goats make great gifts?