With the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, as well as the continuing economic and Human Rights crises in countries across the globe, charity and service seems to be on (almost) everybody’s mind. Some of us are able to travel abroad to the source and donate our time, but most students are not able to make that commitment. For those who aren’t able to help at the source of the crisis, donating to an organization can be a good way to contribute to the solution. Unfortunately, finding the right organization can be difficult, and sometimes the organizations we hope will be part of the solution are actually a part of the problem.
The “aid industry” as it is now called has become just that: an industry. Organizations like the Hunger Project lead the public to believe that our donations go straight from our pockets to those who are in need. While this may be true for select organizations, for many, this isn’t so. Instead, huge amounts of donations are spent on salaries, luxurious traveling expenses, and outrageous marketing campaigns.
It is true that most organizations spend a certain amount of donations giving aid, but the aid process is unorganized and poorly thought out. It seems obvious that multiple organizations bombarding a country when motives are not clear and employees are not held accountable is counterproductive. However, this strategy has failed and been repeated for years. Rather than sending uninformed aid workers to these countries as soon as a crisis “strikes,” we should instead have a dialogue with those who know most about the crisis: the civilians who are living through it.
What most people don’t understand is that a high percentage of aid builds dependency. The neo-colonialist mentality of saving a country (Save Darfur is an organization clearly stuck in this mindset) is not working. In her 2009 book, Dead Aid, economist Dambisa Moyo explains that African countries with highest economic growth rate are those who have weaned off of aid. Instead of offering relentless dependence-building aid, shouldn’t we work with those on the ground to educate them to help themselves? It seems simple, but it is a concept that most aid organizations haven’t been able to comprehend.
Most of the hidden agendas of aid organizations remain unknown to the general public. What we must take into account more often is where our money is going, and who is handling it. I ask each of you to do just this. When donating your time and money, research the organization first. Get to know an organization and their history. Look for organizations that are working with locals, rather than an organization that is exclusively supplying direct material aid.
For more information on how you can help Haiti, attend the campus-wide Teach-in on April 19. Experts on Haiti, including some USF professors, will hold a dialogue that not only asks for help, but also aims to educate attendees on the history of the country, and why it is currently in a state of emergency.
For many, it is unrealistic to drop everything—work, school, relationships—and head to the source of disaster to give aid, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help. Finding an aid organization that effectively works towards a long-term solution to humanitarian crises is difficult. However, with an adequate amount of research it is definitely possible to make a difference.