Tomorrow I head off for Paris and Italy, but before I go I want to leave you with some thoughts I’ve been pondering as I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. (Side note: this is a fabulous book!) The book is also very long, around page 180 (only about 1/5 of the way through) the matron of the hospital says,
We have more English bibles than we do English-speaking people in the entire country. Polish Bibles, Czech Bibles…We need medicine and food. But we get Bibles. I always wondered if the good people who send us Bibles really think that hookworm and hunger are healed by scripture? Our patients are illiterate (188).
I found this interesting because so often when we try to make a difference in the world we don’t really pinpoint the needs, but rather give what we think will help. This doesn’t pertain only to religious things like Bibles but could also include the wrong medicines, buildings when really supplies are needed and so much more.
This is part of why I try to focus my fundraising on education because I think that is something that is always useful. Its something that provides skills rather than just a “quick fix” solution or something that is absolutely useless. I think education gives the foundation for these kids to make a future for themselves and their country, which helps lead them to a place where foreign aid isn’t needed. In the meantime how do you decide what is really useful? Well, I think the most important part is having a stream of communication with those you are trying to help so they can tell you what they need. But the important thing here is actually listening. They can tell you all day long, but if you don’t listen and believe that their input is worth something nothing will change. The communication needs to be a two way street and we, as donors, need to understand that what we want to provide might not be what is most desperately needed.
As someone helping to support and sustain a school, I try to be flexible and donations from my campaigns go to supporting orphaned kids education which includes food, housing, teacher salaries, supplies, uniforms, etc. This means that they money I donate is flexible – it is all helping educate a child, but the school can use it in the most needed way to support each particular child. I know its hard to sometimes accept that what you think is most important might not be in another country, but coming to accept differences and allow people on the ground to make decisions about the most important projects than nothing will truly be accomplished because before development can happen basic needs must be met.
So this passage just reminded me of the importance of listening rather than just assuming in the process of international development. Lets be honest, people in Kenya better understand the needs in their community than we do from the United States. As I continue my fundraising efforts I will most definitely keep this in mind and remind those who donate to my cause that we are empowering Kenyans to create change, not dictating how it should be done.