"Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it."
John D. Rockefeller
Here lies the suffocating weed that wraps itself around the throat of Charitable giving. In order to help in the short-term we must give- time, money, things. In order to help in the long-term, we must stop giving. Surely this is a contradiction; how can one outcome, inextricably linked with the next, hold the basis of the others failure? It may seem cliche, and perhaps that is why is overlooked, but it comes down to it you give a man a fish he eats for a day, you teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.
Simple right? To help others we must help them to help themselves. Do not misunderstand me, to allow this to happen very often there needs to be sustained engagement. You cannot throw a fishing rod at a man and expect him to feed his family from the get-go. Chances are he will need some rice and bread whilst he works out his hook from his bait! But the point is, if this man knows there is a constant influx of grain, why does he feel the need to go down to the river?
I have seen it many times on my travels in Africa. On visiting Liberia we came across a newly built, but destitute, school. Some Americans had come and visited the village and seen the lack of educational facilities. In all their good will a school was erected. However once they had left a lack of funding for teachers, equipment and general running costs had left the building an empty shell, haunted by what could have been. From another viewpoint, In Kenya I see boys run away from Centres that offer them education, food and shelter because volunteers would not give them what they wanted- most often items that are not a necessity, shoes, cd's and such. This is because they know that they can- and will- get such items from a Westerner soon enough. Instant and transient items come before a route that could lead them to a place where they could provide such things for themselves.
These may be small scale examples but they encompass the two jagged sides to this conundrum. The West's perceived notions of their helping and the sluggish indolence consistent-dependent charity has spawned. You
see giving, in so many cases, can be compared to scaffolding. Scaffolding enables and
facilitates things to be erected and to grow by holding it together. However, if
you take away this scaffolding before the correct bones and foundation has been established, it tumbles to the
ground. It cannot stand alone. However, If scaffolding is used correctly,
it becomes an outer skeleton that helps mold and create a structure that has the capability to hold it's own weight once the outer shell is removed. So on two sides we cannot assume the structure is sturdy if we have not put in place the proper brickwork; in the same way a structure cannot constantly rely on the support of the scaffolding. One day it has to come down.
This problem is not overlooked. Large scale NGO's are turning their overseas endeavors to indigenous leaders and working on projects that not only give but do so in a way that they can begin an eventual withdrawal. It is not the point that we should neglect projects or people if their is longevity in their need. Instead we should constantly be looking for the next step, one that enables, empowers and eventually strips away the scaffolding that has been put in place. Charity, in essence, needs to make itself obsolete.
There is value in grass-roots projects and tangible helping. Teaching from the ground up how to support oneself without a consistent stream of financial giving. How can money be spent to enable someone to then generate their own income? So they no longer need money from other sources.
I am aware I often jump head first into these posts and reappear somewhere in the shallow end. I do not aim to present these problems and give you answers, as I simply do not have them. What I want to do is stir inside of you thoughts, questions and opinions that had perhaps not been there before. Maybe you completely disagree or had never given it a second thought. That is fine, in fact, it is perfect. We may, over time, reach some answers together. All i know is that I am currently traveling a path that I want to invite you to dip in and out of, in the hope it may make you think a little about your role in the world. Even in that thought is fleeting.
To bring myself into accountability here, this is what I see for my long term goals with Dossi. Yes, as of the foreseeable future I am supporting him, and in essence that comes down in the simplest sense to me givinga nd without this he goes back to where he was before me. I am his scaffolding. However once he completes education I will be able to remove myself financially as schooling will have given him the tools to be able to support himself. The longevity of this then stretches past Dossi to his family. It breaks the cycle of poverty by moving him out of the slums and in essence into a different "class", for want of a better word. You see, not only was Dossi destined to remain in the same place, so were his descendants. By allowing his path to change trajectory, it has evolved that of generations to come. Eliminating their need for help. So it may be one small boy, in one small village but for the Kiswo-Mlamba's charity shall not be the structure that holds them up.
This is the first August in four years that I haven't been in Kenya. It leaves some empty space in my heart and this tugging ache of guilt in my gut.
"But it is August, why do you not come Kenya?"
How can someone explain to a child that him being in School is the reason I cannot be with him? Dossi's fees have run me into the ground this year. Whilst moving him to boarding school was a necessity, the excitement and joy on both our parts shaded the real responsibility I was now carrying.
£1200 may not seem a lot of money over a year, especially when it is covering everything a child could possibly need. But with the expenses post-uni life bring and the lack of work in this economic climate, the bills add up. At 22 I never thought I would be picking between a child staying in school, and me buying food.
So June passed, July ran away with itself and soon August had crept upon me and I was waiting with baited breath knowing Dossi would be calling with his school list. Never had I fully understood the weight on a Parents shoulders to give a child everything they desire- but to not be able to give the basics? I felt like a complete failure. I was not with him and I do not have the funds for him, everyday the guilt grew but I had no idea how to amount the £300 I needed.
I am not a wholly religious person. I believe in a bigger presence and I talk to God, however I do not attend Church regularly and, I admit, I question faith at times. And then a few weeks ago something, I can call no less than a miracle, landed in my Inbox. A man I had met on my first trip in Kenya- almost five years ago now, a man I have had no current contact with- had somehow come across my ramblings and wanted to help. "£300 to keep him in school? Where can I send the money." His words were surreal and I sat mesmerized wondering what I had done to deserve this.
" I remember how much you cared about those kids in Kenya, and some of
the tough conditions on the streets...I'm happy to help, if it means
helping this kid stay on a good path."
It may seem strange to say I do not realize the enormity of this work, but to me it is my purpose. So to have someone, who only saw me at the beginning of my journey, see the enormity of the problem and grace me and my work with such faith was incredibly humbling. Not to mention helped stoke the fire I have within me to continue and evolve it.
So this Month has been emotionally very tiring, I have not coped so well with the physical distance between me and Dossi, it is the longest we have ever been apart. It is easy to push to the back of your mind, till friends return and send photos. How did this little boy- who sobbed in my car on his first day of school- turn into the young man I see in this image? How can I be missing this? I just have to remind myself- proven only more to me by the huge generosity I have seen this month- that his education and life must come first. He has only one chance at that, but me and him? We have a lifetime to make memories.