Eddie and Sue Arthur

The Challenge of Dependency

It is so easy for Westerners to think that the problems in the developing world can be answered by pouring money into it. This is true in the political sphere but also in the mission world. It is reletively easy to give money to projects and such like, but the results are not always as positive as we might hope.

The BBC has a fascinating piece today (and a TV programme tonight) on this issue.

While I was filming in Uganda, local newspaper editor Andrew Mwenda took me and my crew to his home village near the town of Port Loco in the west of the country. There he introduced us to two men, one in his sixties and one aged 26.

“This man represents the tragedy of aid,” he said pointing to the older of the two. “While this man represents the potential of aid,” he said indicating the younger man.

Mr Mwenda explained that the sexagenarian was the chairman of the local parish council who had spent most of his life living off aid money, supervising projects meant to benefit the community.

Today he is an alcoholic who still lives with his mother.

Dysfunctional lifestyle

The younger man started selling potatoes in the village square at the age of 17.

Less than 10 years later he owns the largest and busiest store in the village. He has not received one penny from aid, yet he has bought himself land and has built a house.

“So you see,” Mr Mwenda said. “If aid were to offer this young man support in the form of low interest credit he could not only expand his business offering employment opportunities and a valuable service to his community, he could also eventually pay the money back.”

But instead of funding innovation and creativity, aid has funded the chairman’s dysfunctional lifestyle. (read more).

If we want to make a difference in the developing world, outside funds need to be given with sensitivity in such a way that they encourage local initiative and don’t squash local ownership. Outside giving needs to respect the dignity of the recipients and must never be applied out of a feeling of guilt or superiority by the donors. Aid and outside funding can be extremely helpful, but it is a two edged blade and must be used carefully and wisely.

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3 Comments on “The Challenge of Dependency

  1. The key phrase is your last: “it is a two edged blade and must be used carefully and wisely.”

    I think few westerners realize how much work (and money!) it takes to effectively administer that aid.

  2. It’s an absolute minefield. In Paraguay, it is such an enormous issue and I cannot see what the solution might be:

    Here’s a real-life example of a non-dependency model of giving, which in the end failed because the recipient herself would rather be dependent than take the opportunity to improve her own life:

    Maria lives in a wooden shack, built for her by members of her church (before that, her house consisted of odd planks of wood, bits of cardboard and black plastic to keep out the worst of the rain). She was earning £40 a month, working 8 hours a day (housekeeping for the church pastor, by the way), when the minimum wage here is £150 a month. She and her three children often didn’t have enough to eat. One of the better-off (Paraguayan) families at church took her and her family under their wing and helped out with food, clothes every now and again and financial advice. Paraguayan friends of mine encouraged her to apply for a job in a hospital, where she would earn minimum wage, and they gave her good references. She got the job and started working there. A few months later, she was fired because she was not turning up on time for shifts or keeping to the hospital standards of personal hygiene. She said she was happy to go because, “There’s a family that takes care of me.” Everybody involved feels so disappointed. And the family that was helping her has cut their ties with her, so she’s more alone than ever now.

    And then there’s an overseas-funded church denomination in Paraguay, whose Paraguayan pastors get paid a wage, so they don’t have to earn a living like the majority of Paraguayan pastors from other denominations do. Their congregations are typically pretty small, so there is not an enormous amount of shepherding to do. Becoming a pastor is therefore seen as a chance to have a comfortable life, rather than a calling with heavy responsibility before God. Because of the financial crisis, this denomination is in real financial difficulties right now, but cannot consider changing the way it operates, because so many people are dependent on it!

    I would love to have seen this programme.

  3. Thank you for this posting.

    Recently I was privileged to meet Steve Saint at an indigenous-church-driven mission conference in Brazil. Steve is spearheading a ministry focused on building interdependence (vs either independence or dependence), using appropriate training strategies to equip indigenous people to use the tools of modern technology in appropriate ways – all for the sake of further preparing them to take the Gospel to their neighbors.

    Check out this website: http://www.itecusa.org/

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