Should we help Africa at all?

Last updated 09:28 21/11/2012

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When I told people I was moving to East Africa, and that MH works in the development sector, I couldn't count the number of responses that began with "But why?"

"Leave Africa to sort itself out," they said.

"Why not do something about poverty here first? New Zealand has problems of its own," I heard more than once.

And on the more extreme end I got "Starvation in Africa is the world's way of naturally regulating population." Whoa.

Moving to Tanzania, and meeting a lot of people who have dedicated their lives to the aid/development/charity sectors, I thought I'd hear strong arguments for the reasons to help. But surprisingly, even some of the people who are working to ease poverty here are unsure of their own effectiveness. 

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There are many development experts who could give you an in-depth explanation on why progress is so slow here. Corruption in government, and tax and trade laws that enable foreign companies to pillage natural resources are two that I've heard spoken about often. 

I've certainly had my faith in aid work shaken since arriving here. Stories about groups handing out money that gets spent by the community to serve immediate needs but which does nothing for the long term. Authorities taking aid money and spending it on themselves, leaving the people who really need it wondering what happened but unable to do anything about it.

But I've also seen some fantastic examples of sustainable long-term change. I think what MH is doing is one example - helping to start a teachers training college to invest in the future students of Tanzania, so they can be properly educated and go on to become future leaders themselves. Social business groups who give out micro-loans to village companies enabling them to start up - under the proviso they pay back the loans (with interest) under an agreed time frame. Investment in long-term change, basically.

But I'm no expert.

And I completely agree that New Zealand has its own problems and challenges. People living below the poverty line, youth suicide rates, a pervasive drinking culture. 

I approach the whole subject as one of the millions of New Zealanders who see disturbing images of poverty in Africa and begin an internal dialogue: Should I help? Does it make a difference? 

In short, my answer would be yes. Aid works when it is a form of investment. And the best way to help is by spending some time researching the most effective way for you to invest personally. 

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I believe we're seeing a whole new wave of "Mum and Dad" donors who aren't content to give money away blindly hoping it'll do some good. Find out about the charity you're interested in, what are their policies, what does the money go to specifically?

I got speaking to the founder of a really inspirational charity over the weekend. Her vision is for her charity to help alleviate poverty in a way that is sustainable, and that puts the onus on the local community to work together with the expats to make that change. The community she says, must have an investment in the project they are doing, or it will fail.

What do you think? Should we be investing in Africa? Do you give to a charity? If so, why? 

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