The Ignorance of Distance

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We all know the heroic dream of saving the world by spreading awareness of a problem and by donating a small amount of money. The ignored part is the effect that our money has on its recipients. Are the donations invested in the right projects and do they reach those in need? As a result of our ignorance, many development projects turn into dilemmas. Failure and success are determined by the characteristics of a project such as its research and elaboration. The frequent problem of aid provided by our society is that most projects are born too far from the actual happening, which makes it hard to consider all the possible influences of the unknown terrain.

The distance between the third world and us makes it often impossible to determine the needs of those we want to help. One example of this misplaced aid is the Jason Sadler’s project ‘1 Million T-shirts’. The second-hand charity sends T-shirts we don’t need anymore to poorer countries in order to help those who can’t afford them. Despite the good intentions to provide children from Kenya and Uganda with clothes, the idea turned into a dilemma. There was no need for shirts in Africa and the transport expenses were higher than the T-shirts themselves. Furthermore, the problem with free second-hand products is that they stop the market activity. Who’s willing to buy products, which they can get for free? From one moment to another, local craftsmen lose their jobs. [1](Wadhams N., 2010)

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Wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing” (Wadhams N. 2010)

The charity without research nearly destroyed the structure of their shirt market in order to provide one million Africans with unnecessary shirts.

This lack of information is not only visible in questions of “what to provide” but also in the way “how to provide the aid”. The Humanitarian Daily Ration (HDR) project of the US government in 2001 ignored the circumstances of those they wanted to help. The project destined to support Afghanistan’s war against the terrorists soon turned into a problem. cluster1111

The HDR packages given to children in Afghanistan were easily confused with the BLC-97/B bomblets also dropped by American planes. Both were nearly the same size and colour which made it impossible for children, who had no knowledge of English, to differentiate them. The choice between a 2000-calorie meal and inevitable death was a matter of luck. [2](Stupart R., 2012) [3](CNN.com, 2001) Aid dilemmas can’t be excused by good intentions. It’s necessary to consider every possible implication because each unnoticed aspect could have horrifying outcomes, such as in this case the illiteracy level and simultaneous projects.

Another consequence of distance is the lack of responsibility that people have towards their projects. After Haiti’s earthquake in 2010, the Haitian hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean raised $16 million to help his homeland. But his charity ‘Yéle Haiti’ misused the donations for personal purposes and soon went out of business, leaving behind debts and broken promises. The announced and dismissed programs included the construction of temporary homes ($93 000), a medical center ($146 000) and the revitalisation of a public site ($230 000). In addition, he even broke more urgent promises such as food and shelter for displaced Haitians and orphans. “If I had depended on Yéle, these kids would all be dead by now,” said the leader of the orphanage Diaoly Estimé. The amount originally destined to the nutrition of orphans ($3000 monthly) was spontaneously invested in the unnecessary construction of a second orphanage. Abandoned, the starving children had to find help somewhere else. [4](Sontag D., 2012) [5](Morris M., 2013)

The true development dilemma is the blindness given by the ‘heroic’ idea of people helping strangers. Westerners ignore the distance and everything coming along with it, which can have fatal consequences. Surely this isn’t the case for all western aid projects, some have a lot of experience and manage to transform this into something good. Research and communication are important parts of development that can reduce the mental distance but as long as projects aren’t well elaborated, they are doomed to fail at some extend.

References:

[1]Wadhams Nick (2010) Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!) Time [Online] Available from: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1987628,00.html

[2]Stupart R. (2012) 7 Worst International Aid Ideas 7 Matador Network [Online] Available from :http://matadornetwork.com/change/7-worst-international-aid-ideas/

[3]Unknown author (2001) U.S. changes color of food aid, CNN.com/U.S. [Online] Available from : http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/11/01/ret.afghan.fooddrops/

[4]Sontag D. (2012) In Haiti, Little Can Be Found of a Hip-Hop Artist’s Charity, International New York Times [Online] Available from :http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/12/world/americas/quake-hit-haiti-gains-little-as-wyclef-jean-charity-spends-much.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&

[5]Morris M. (2013) 10 Attempts At Charity That Stupidly Made Things Worse, listverse.com [Online] Available from : http://listverse.com/2013/11/19/10-attempts-at-charity-that-stupidly-made-things-worse/

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