Wednesday, August 16, 2006


My wife and I were watching the news yesterday when yet another announcement was made about a celebrity or dignitary donating money to some popular cause, probably aids or literacy or world hunger, or something along those lines. I can't remember, frankly, because I find these programs largely ineffective, and people who donate to them somewhat silly. One has to wonder how people smart enough to have accumulated enough money to give away could act as stupidly as they do sometimes. Oh yeah, publicity. If it looks good, it doesn't matter if it works, right?

What do I have against trying to prevent aids, illiteracy and world hunger? Absolutely nothing. I just think that donating money to any organization that funnels whatever percentage of its collected funds are left after overhead and expenses to any government or quasi-governmental agency is ineffective, useless, even stupid.

How much of the money sent to foreign countries and channelled through government agencies there do you suppose actually gets to the people it is supposed to help? Not much, I'm sure. Where does most of it go? Swiss bank accounts. Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche. European and American hookers. Palaces, vacations, guns, grenades, rockets, land mines, machetes and more guns. And, let's not forget prisons.

Cynical? I don't think so.

I'm not suggesting that organizations that try to help the poor and actually have staff on hand to make sure the money is used properly are all ineffective. We support several children through Foster Parents Plan and I sure hope that they and other similar agencies actually do some good. We see pictures of the girls we support and I can only hope that our modest contributions do help in some way. I am thinking more along the lines of money that has to be funnelled through the Ministry of Wonderful Things in Bungledesh or someplace to 'guarantee' that it gets to where it is needed. The money then makes a detour or two along the way and the needy are left needy, the donors are out their money and nothing has changed. Well, actually that isn't necessarily true. The donor feels better because she has 'done' something. But the intended recipient feels worse because where he had hope before, he now has only the despair that accompanies hopelessness.

That's the way it works.

The best way to ensure that things get better, if you absolutely must donate money, is to give it directly to someone, a needy individual or family, and let them determine how to use it. If you don't trust them to use the money effectively, if you suspect that they will buy cigarettes and beer instead of groceries and mittens for the children, don't give them anything. Don't use a middleman if you can avoid it. That's easier said than done, I know. But what is better, helping someone down the street feed his kids or sending money to some thug who will use it to buy newer and bigger guns for his cohorts?

The real problem with 'helping' people is that often the intended help isn't helpful at all. Even when the funds or grain or medicine do make it to the intended recipients, if they are not taught (and then allowed) to help themselves, all that is accomplished is to create yet another culture of dependency. The poorest countries on our globe are run by tyrants who need to keep the people subjugated and helpless in order to ensure compliancy.

What to do? It is a complex problem, but any solution has to start with fixing the problems that cause property in the first place. I recently read a blog post which discussed in easy to understand language, Hernando De Soto's theories on how to deal with third world poverty . It's worth a read.


  1. It was Bill Gates, and he was giving $2 billion to fight AIDS.
    I had some rather developed opinions about this vanity.
    What would you wagure sodomites controlling their minds and not indiscriminately "stemming the rose" all over would do a lot more to fight AIDS than Gates's two-billion clams?

  2. Well, I guess Bill Gates has a lot of money and he has the right to spend it as he pleases. My wife was musing about how the money might have been better spent buying books for kids, giving them music lessons or (gasp) teaching them to behave responsibly and ethically. How many schools do you suppose teach how to behave properly, how to think critically, and how to shoulder responsibility for their own actions: All, some, or none?

  3. About schools; I constantly work on teaching responsibility. ("My mother didn't put my ____ in my backpack." Oh, is your mother enrolled in this class?) But, I have to start with teaching them to say Thank You when I give them something. As much as I would like to, I can't teach responsibility alone. It seems that with some families, what I teach is undone by parental ignorance at home.

    I am so touched that you support the foster children. This is always a very tender spot for me because they are truly innocent.

    How to break the co-dependency circle is perhaps an unsolvable question. One group, out of the best intentions, helps another group stay dependent. It not only happens with countries, it happens within families.

    What are we to do with those who do not have the initiative, or perhaps skills, to help themselves? My biggest problem is with those 'victims' who are unwilling to work. I'll always help those who are truly unable.

  4. My wife is a teacher. Many of the friends I grew up with became teachers. Good people, all. They, like you, try to provide the kids with the teaching too few get at home: distinguishing between right and wrong, proper manners, considerate behaviour, etc.

    Most of the problems with kids stem from the fact that their parents can't or won't try to instill good values in their progeny. TV shows and video games teach the children instead.

    Teaching is often a thankless and very frustrating job. That is why, of all my friends who taught, not one is still teaching today. As soon as they hit the magic number so that they could retire with a full pension (at an average age of 53-54,) all of them did so. My wife still teaches, but she is younger and started teaching after working in the corporate world for a number of years.

    One rule I have with our foster children is that we always specify that we want to support girls. My reasoning is that in third world countries, females are second class citizens or worse and that they need the help more than boys. Since the funds are typically directed towards the community and the family rather than specifically to one child, this is probably a delusional exercise on my part, but it makes me feel good to think that maybe some little girl will have a better future than she might otherwise have had.

  5. Great post on a topic I've often wondered about and great comments, too.

  6. I've never looked at supporting girls that way before. I think you're giving them opportunities that would otherwise escape them.

    I wonder if I'll still be teaching when I'm 54...