I have been part of the international relief and development community and discussion for about 13 years now. And for all of the right reasons, there has never been such a huge discussion and focus placed on not doing harm when we are trying to help the poor. All the buzz words right now have tipped the scales toward considering “best practice” to maximize our aid effectiveness.
You can find countless books, articles, and conferences all pontificating about sustainability, dependency, asset based development, local participatory considerations, aid effectiveness, not hurting when we help, not sending western volunteers and there are many good thoughts in all of this thinking. I advocate for many of the same considerations.
I think there is a huge however to all of this that I’m not hearing anyone say.
While we sit around and conference about how not to screw up our help, there were 24,000 children that died today because they didn’t have a bowl of rice, or a cup of clean water, or $5 for anti-malarial medications, or $10 for a hospital visit to stop an infection.
How stupid is it that we let this happen when we can so easily stop it? And what is even more embarrassing and condemning is that we are spending millions of dollars having discussions with each other about how not to help unless we can do it right? We've made such a big deal about not helping unless we can do it “right” that we have petrified people from doing anything. We in the “professional development” community have added a fear of doing it wrong to a general condition of apathy that exists.
As the world has become smaller, people in the West have gained a sense of passion and empowerment thinking that it’s actually within their reach to address extreme poverty somewhere far away. And we have dampened that momentum and generosity by telling people not to do anything unless their 100% sure they will do it properly and that they should stay home and leave it to the pros.
The financial reality is that the West could collectively and quickly end extreme poverty first and also talk about how to help the rest of the poor in the world; and do it well. It is ridiculously easy to ease the needless suffering of hundreds of millions of people. Comparatively, it takes nothing to bring relief to those who are so burdened by not having food, water, or shelter.
I don’t disagree with the value of the discussions. I am though sickened to continue have discussions inside the sanitized walls of our developed country, while I could have saved lives with what's currently in my wallet.
What's more, is that the group of people who should be “on this” and just taking the lead in getting it done are those who called themselves Christ’s - ones; because He did. And it's for these reasons that if I’m going to make a mistake I’d rather make the mistake of doing some things wrong than doing nothing. The fear of not dealing with extreme poverty should be far greater than the fear of hurting while we are trying to help.
If my 13 year old daughter was dying from hunger and a simple infection, I’d rather someone make a mistake and just show up with food and medicine.