I was driving with my family to a friend’s house about 90 minutes away a couple of weeks ago. It had been a few weeks since my trip to Sierra Leone and our large group of LOLers were on their trip at the time. I had been reading non-stop since I had been home, this time about African aid in general and why everything that had been done in the last 40 years hasn’t really worked. My wife asked me a question and I began to answer, before I knew it we were there. I had just spent 90 minutes giving my wife a synapsis of my ever changing views on African aid. I’m not sure how long I would have talked for if my wife hadn’t cut me off to say that she was exhausted from listening to me.
It’s a complex issue to say the least, there are no easy answers. There is definitely no one way that is working that everyone can get behind (at least not on a large scale). Based on some estimates 3 Trillion dollars as been poured into Africa in the last 30 years with little change and often the people are worse than when the aid began. Where did it go? Who was responsible to make sure it was spent wisely? There is no shortage of books telling you why everyone else has it wrong but in the last chapter, where you expect the authors to finally tell you what needs to be done; you find very little solid ideas. In a word it’s maddening.
Is there one approach that will work? Maybe, but no one has found it yet, so for now we have to answer no. There ARE programs doing more harm than good though, programs that foster a cycle of dependency, that throw money at a problem until it either gets results or dies (in which case it is usually the Africans who are blamed for its failing). These are things we HAVE to learn from, HAVE to make sure are not repeated. The stakes are too high to continue down a path that is inefficient and does as much harm as good.
That’s why we choose water. Is it the only way? Of course not, is it the best way? Short answer, I don’t know, but what I DO know is what I can see. Villages literally healing before our eyes, the burden of something they themselves had no control over being lifted off and thrown away with just one action. We aren’t paving roads, clothing them, feeding them, handing out cash, building a factory to get them all employed. We are also certainly not changing their culture and way of life, which is something to be embraced. We are empowering, we are righting a wrong that needs to be undone. A wrong caused by pollution, senseless war and killing, sometimes a misunderstanding of health, and countless other things.
Water is a base on which a thriving community can be built and the Africans know how to build it. They have the desire, work ethic and drive to start building and never stop. Laziness is something that will make you an outcast and certainly not an option if you want your family to survive. What water gives them is that chance, that RIGHT, that ability. The Africans don’t view this as a handout; they view this as their one chance to finally, after generations of struggling, create something for their future. Villages are not asking for more (they never asked for the well either), they aren’t expecting anything else. In most cases they can’t believe anyone at all would ever care about their situation, they weren’t dependent on anyone before we got there and they aren’t dependent on anyone when we leave. They ARE farming more, building more, planning for the future more, and sick less. Staggeringly less, far less than most of us could have hoped or dreamed.
So what’s left for us? What’s our community here to do next?
First: Stand back and watch. Watch what hope, when given to a human being can do. Watch what empowering someone can do for their life. Let the Africans do what they do best; build a community based on hard work, respect and most importantly love.
Second: Learn, see what works and what doesn’t. We are not the first or the last to fund the drilling of water wells, far from it, but there is no blueprint. We must be willing to learn and humble enough to change.
Third: Spread that same hope here. We could all use a little hope right? We all want just a little of that joy and love you see when you look at the pictures of Africans rejoicing around a well. Show others that it still exists, that a new video game, filling a shopping cart at Walmart, or clawing up the corporate ladder is not where joy, love and hope hang out. Those things are part of the human spirit and anyone can have them and more importantly everyone SHOULD have them.
Thanks for reading,
-Andy at Let Them LOL