Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hand up not hand-outs

When we ponder the issues of sustainability, disaster response and international aid, one cannot help but wonder if bigger organizations with their economies of scale or the small NGOs (espousing the 'small is beautiful' principle) with their local knowledge are better placed to serve the needs of those who need the help most.

It is blatantly clear now that giving money does not help. Billions of pounds of aid have been given to/through corrupt governments and the evidence of improvement on the ground is zilch.

My cousin and her husband work 'at the coal face' so to speak in supporting victims of major disasters. Raising the money is not a problem. It's getting the permission from corrupt governments to rebuild (eg after the tsunami) that so frustrates.

Government departments, cronies of rulers, bureaucracy all stand in the way of people with the ability to help.

I go for the holistic approach. Joined-up thinking you might choose to call it.

It's not good giving farmers land if they cannot get seed. It's no use giving them seed if they have to buy seed again the following year (as in GM agriculture). It's no use producing crops if there are no buyers. It's not good having buyers if there are no roads to take crops to the buyers.

When we look at the TV pictures of the tsunami, the one thing that struck me was: why do these people live so close to the sea? Maybe they are fishermen. But I suspect that answer is not all spot-on.

Poor people build shacks and whatever accommodation possible by the sea because it is easy to do so. What did Jesus say about the man who build his house upon the sand? The rains came down and floods came up and the house was no more.

Why did these people not build their houses on foundations of rock?

Because they did not have a choice. So when a disaster strikes, earthquakes, floods or tsunamis, the poor people are the first to be hit.

Why can't these people build their houses on rock?

You only have to see the obvious and wide class divides in some of the cities in the countries affected by the tsunami to understand.

The rich are very, very rich. The poor would do any thing for a living.

So I was really pleased to receive a newsletter from the The Leprosy Mission. In it were stories of how leprosy sufferers (we don't like the word 'lepers') have found life, hope and dignity through what this Mission is doing.

In many countries where leprosy is still prevalent, sufferers are deemed to have sinned or their families cursed. As such they are almost always stigmatized and ostracized. The attitude of people to lepers in Jesus' s time still exists today.

The Leprosy Mission not only provides medical aid where possible and necessary, they also provide means through which sufferers could become independent by teaching them skills and generally giving them a hand up.

I particularly like this story of a Thai sufferer who turned to organic farming

Here's an excerpt:

'Jamnian heard McKean Rehabilitation Centre was starting a new farm for leprosy patients, situated between the river and the main road. He applied and became one of the first settlers at Canaan.

'But the work was hard and the land needed irrigation. The chemical fertilizers and pesticides affected his health. The more chemicals he used, the more pests there seemed to be. Many patients gave up but Jamnian held onto Joshua 1:9: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you."

'He dug artesian wells and began to learn about the properties of various plants, attending organic farming seminars and trying out eco-friendly methods.

'Today Jamnian has 8,800m² of orchards,gardens and fish ponds. Beehives placed under the fruit trees produce flavoured honey. Instead of struggling to sell his produce at low prices, buyers now beat a path to his door and the quality of his organic fruit is acclaimed. He has encouraged local producers to form a co-operative.

'The Agricultural Bank invites him to teach at government seminars and professors of agriculture at Chiang Mai and Mae Jo universities bring Thai and international students to study Jamnian’s model farm.'

Here is an embodiment of an aid model that works. In healing the body, nourishing the soul, and providing the practical means initially, the Mission has succeeded in turning a victim who has been marginalized by society to provide for himself, his family, educate his daughters to degree level, and make a mark in organic agriculture.

Readers are probably familiar with 'Confucius said: Teach a man to fish and he would be hungry tomorrow ....'

Sustainability is also a question of teaching people to fish. Aid should be a hand up, not a hand-out.

Do note that you could contribute towards the work of The Leprosy Mission by purchasing from their trading arm TLM Trading.

Back to Organic-Ally.

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