This is the personal story of a British girl who worked for six months in India.
There was a man who sold bananas outside the office on Tadiwala Road.
Imagine this as a typical Indian city street, full of wandering animals obstructing traffic. Children in pristine school uniforms and large square backpacks tackle the crumbling pavements with ease in their flip-flops. Rickshaw drivers banter with each other and spit over the edge of their vehicles as they jerk expertly along and heartstoppingly close to other road users. Retailers include those of electrical goods, chai, food and unidentifiable necessities and the streets heave with life in that wonderfully chaotic and yet purposeful Indian way. I, a wide-eyed and disorientated westerner, attempt to look casual amongst the throng.
One day, as I stepped outside the cool office building into the sweaty matrix of Tadiwala Road, I asked a man with a bashed-up wooden cart if I could buy a banana. He didn’t scoff at my measly purchase, instead passing a banana to me holding one finger up. I delved into my bag, but to my embarrassment, had forgotten my purse. Immediately recognising the problem, he simply made that fluid hand signal, like a camp man stopping traffic. Translation: it’s ok, pay later. I can’t remember if we spoke, I just remember his calm manner and wide grin. So, I took the banana and made a mental note and made my merry way off up the road eating it.
Before I began working for The Global Poverty Project (GPP) I lived and worked in Pune, India, for six months for an NGO called Deep Griha Society (DGS). DGS is an urban and rural development charity with an outreach of over 60,000 people in the local slum communities where it runs health, awareness and education programmes. Deep Griha is Hindi for ‘lighthouse’ and its motto is ‘in giving you receive’.
I spent my months in Pune doing the usual Westerner-working-for-NGO type of activities. I taught English to staff and children, I visited orphanages and ashrams, I co-ran drama classes at the NGO’s youth centre, assisted with self-esteem classes for dalit women at a local Buddhist centre and helped organise HIV-related rallies and awareness sessions.
I also did lots of things that Westerners do in places like India but don’t mention in international development blogs, namely taking advantage of the exchange rate in bars. I went to Goa and other holiday destinations around the country equivalent to the Indian version of Malaga. My aptitude for being culturally insensitive at times generally meant that I got the impression that I didn’t always make a very good impression on Indian people. However, Indians are expertly gracious, bestowing garlands and gifts at every opportunity to please and honour their guests, be they in their house or in their country. Paradoxically, perhaps, giving, alongside poverty, is embedded in Indian society. This notion brings me back to my story about a man and a banana.
So, after several months of do-gooding had passed by, one horrible day, in one horrible moment, as I pulled away from Tadiwala Road in a rickshaw…I remembered. The man and his banana! I never paid! Full of self-righteousness and the desire to be hugely noble, I jumped from the moving rickshaw shouting to the driver and started frantically striding up and down Tadiwala Road. I searched high and low for a good two minutes and returned to the rickshaw feeling pretty satisfied with my own thorough attempt at accountability and social responsibility.
As we pulled away I glanced back inadvertently….and there he was. He was talking to a woman in the street, his cart unattended. I hopped out again, much to the driver’s increasing agitation and darted inexpertly amongst the traffic to the cart and having placed the money on the edge, dashed back again equally clumsily. I turned back to see the lady who the man had been speaking to pointing to the cart and then to me. The man walked over to it looking confused, saw the coin, picked it up, turned it over in his hand and looked up. As our eyes met I waved in recognition and I remember his face lighting up as he waved, just as vigorously, back. Seeing him happy, naturally made me happy, but more importantly, I felt I’d done the right thing.
For the rest of my time on Tadiwala Road there was a lot more waving between the man and I. We never spoke, but we didn’t need to. Whether I was walking past on the street or sitting on the pavement eating my lunch, if the man spotted me he would grab his latest customer or a random passer-by and regale them enthusiastically with gesticulations far above and beyond my comprehension, about the banana story. I would smile back and end up looking awkward in my attempt to look modest, because inside I was very pleased with myself. I think the significance for both of us was in the circumstances, not the money. In giving you really do receive.
The banana story highlights something at the heart of international development. That every encounter with another person has the potential for positive transformation and that as individuals we are responsible for this potential. We have limitless choices to make in our lives and although no person or organization is perfect, we must choose to do the right thing, and failing this, to right our wrongs as best we can. Whatever the currency, this value holds true.
When working from within an organization we can sometimes forget that it is only through others that we are able to make a difference at all. After all, no man is an island. I suppose the moral of my tale is that if the difference a person makes in this world is as small as meeting a man with a banana, as long as it affects positive change, it’s not bananas at all.
It’s wrong because the public, when they hear these facts and see personal stories of transformation, get on board. The huge sums raised by charities are increasingly driven by such positive stories of progress. Comic Relief raised more than ever in 2011, and the public’s response to the East Africa famine was unprecedented.
The cynics in the media say that the public want foreign aid from the government cut – but they always forget to finish the sentence. They want it cut from what they think it is, anywhere from 15 to 25% of government spending, to 5 or 10%. Aid spending in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada or New Zealand is around 1% of government spending – a fraction of what people think it is, and a fraction of what people want it to be.
The danger in all of this is that these myths, left unchallenged, will have a real impact on the lives of the world’s poor.
When the media misreport on aid – saying that it doesn’t work and people don’t want it, and the public start to believe it. Members of the public repeat what they read in the papers to MPs, who in turn start to think that the public wants less aid. The media report on MP concerns over aid based on their own reports, and put pressure on the government to spend less.
The government spends less – cutting funding to life-saving interventions like vaccines for some of the world’s poorest children, reducing money set aside to respond to emergencies like last year’s famine, and the world’s poorest suffer.
As a movement of people who care about fighting extreme poverty, we cannot accept the demand of some media editors to balance our budget on the back’s of the world’s poor.
It’s a demand that’s based on untruth and misinformation, and we have to stand up and do something about it.
We need to take the proof that aid works out to our communities, and we need to show our politicians and media the full story when it comes to aid and development.
We need to argue that aid can work wonders – when it’s spent well. We have to acknowledge that aid isn’t always spent well, that corruption is an issue, and that we need to ask tough questions about value for money and impact – and that these are issues we should debate, not excuses to avoid giving aid.
Take the facts and the stories out to people, suggest a course of action, and they can do the rest.
This year the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the income of the average UK household had fallen 1.6% since 2008. Coupled with a slow and fraught global economic recovery, this has led to public disquiet about poverty overseas and a fall in long-term charitable giving. So, we thought it would be interesting to have a look at different charities approached Christmas to appeal to the public.
A recent poll conducted by ComRes, a leading market research agency, found that 69% of the British public say most of the stories they hear regarding Africa are largely negative. However, 63% of them would feel more likely to donate to a charity if they are provided with positive news on the effects of aid in the region.
Over the years, many charity campaigns have featured some notoriously dismal images depicting weary eyed, severely undernourished children who are often close to death. This represents a very real reality for some communities across famine stricken parts of Africa. But, as we’ve blogged about before, long-term exposure to these images runs leaving people desensitised and disillusioned.
Someone who has been giving regularly over many years may begin to ask, ‘What has my money achieved if I am met by these same recurring images year after year?’ Appeals which aim to induce guilt, and draw one-off pity donations do little for creating a culture of long-term donors who are confident their money can secure and sustain development and change.
Save the Children’s Born to Shine campaign made its appearance early this year. It has proved a welcoming and refreshing contrast to some past visual campaigns used charities. The campaign’s televised advert is an endearing tribute to the vast, unlocked potential sitting dormant within every child living in extreme poverty. Save the Children prove there is more to highlight than just their living standards. This approach makes for a far more palatable appeal, while the concluding caption, ‘8 million children under five die needlessly every year’ still highlights the reality of challenges ahead.
Save The Children’s Christmas Wishlist webpage has been well crafted for simple and easy gift giving. On offer for purchase are anything from midwife birthing kits, to chickens and water buffalo. Similarly, ActionAid’s wide ranging Christmas gifts section also proves simple and effective. Gifts that change lives immediately greets you with warm, bright faces - which works well during the festive season. From toys for Rwanda, to funding a programme planting 400 trees in Vietnam, a range of gifts from the sentimental to practical are available for giving. Short clips showing Your Money in Action accompany many of the alternative gifts featured, allowing the donor to engage with personal stories from communities eager to show how their funds are being used.
This was a common feature used by charities in their alternative giving sections. More than half of respondents for the 2010 DFID ‘public attitudes towards development’ survey, felt corruption in developing countries defeated the purpose of donating. These charities are recognizing a new type of donor, who requires a greater level of information on how and where their donations are being spent.
Oxfam’s 50% off sale on all second hand clothing and ethical fashion gifts shows the charity adapting at a time when post-Christmas prices are slashed all along the high-street, and consumers are on the hunt for the right bargain. Christian Aid’s Christmas appeal is another that has caught our attention. 2011’s Christmas campaign centred on awareness building using an inspiring story of 129 children who, in 2008, were successfully reunited with their families after they were separated when rebels attacked their villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Resources available for download ranged from church sermon notes, to children’s activity sheets based on the story for Sunday school session.
The Big Christmas sing – one voice against poverty is a unique annual event in which communities across the country can hold their very own singing event to raise money for their projects. Christian Aid have often recruited X factor finalists to launch the events. This serves to keep charitable fundraising current, contemporary and enjoyable. It also has the effect of widening appeal and increasing youth involvement.
Emphasising progress and positivity can have long-term benefits of changing attitudes and donating habits of the public. Continued use of the kind of campaigns led by a purely negative tone, may be damaging by feeding into public perceptions of developing countries – where foreign aid is achieving little. This is particularly unjust when we know of the success vaccination programmes have had in reducing child mortality rates over the past decade. Polio, a disease once rife and endemic in large parts of Asia and Africa, is now close to being eradicated. While we don’t wish to whitewash over the many challenges still facing the developing world, we hope charity appeals can do more to report on the progress that has already been made.
January 12th 2010 saw the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere devastated by natural disaster. In the two years that have passed since this horrific day, people from all corners of the world went to Haiti to aid in the disaster relief and recovery efforts. Each person has a story to tell and their own experience from their time there. This is the story of Kelly Smith, a young English woman.
If truth be told, before Haiti was struck by the devastating earthquake I had never heard of this beautiful Caribbean country. However with the ever-advancing technological world that we live in, when disaster strikes it is only a matter of minutes before the world can watch the terror unfold. We all remember watching these images, and I like many others felt a compelling need to help. But what is the best way to help?
‘Donors gave a huge £106m to help people recover from the disaster which affected three million people. About 1.5 million people lost their homes, 300 000 were injured and about 220 000 died.’
The weeks and months that followed saw Haiti become less of a fixture in our media, yet it was images like these that remained in my mind. In the summer of 2010 – six months after the quake - I was given the opportunity to go and work in one of the worst affected areas, Leogane, a seaside town that was at the epicentre of the earthquake.
As excited as I was for the challenge that lay ahead of me I was also extremely apprehensive. I couldn’t help but think what do I have to offer? I have no relevant skills, I cannot build, I am not particularly strong and I have no medical skills. All I did have was the determination and drive to help. But was this enough? Well, All Hands, the organisation I was going to work with certainly thought so.
I had been to developing countries before but never to a country that had so recently been crippled by disaster; my perception of what Haiti would be like was completely different to reality. I envisaged entire areas, villages and towns to have been flattened. It was very harrowing travelling through Port-au-Prince expecting to see the entire city wiped out when in fact many buildings survived with little or no damage then right next door would lie a pancaked building. I found this much more disturbing and upsetting than I could ever have imagined.
The primary focus of All Hands was the removal of rubble and debris which was commonly known amongst the volunteers as “rubbling”. Rubbling enabled families to use the cleared land to erect temporary shelter rather than living in “tent city” before rebuilding their home; these shelters are the overcrowded roadside communities we had all become accustomed to seeing on the 6 o’clock news. It was clear to me that rubbling was the number one priority in Leogane, especially with the impending hurricane season, but unfortunately it did not take priority among the 50+ NGO’s who were based in the seaside town. Instead, setting up orphanages and schools seemed to be the “help” of preference for many organisations. But is this what the Haitians wanted or needed to aid them in their recovery and did anybody even stop to ask?
My experience in Haiti was certainly an eye opener to the field of post disaster relief. I have always been aware of the lack of accountability for international NGO’s but in my naivety
I didn’t think this would be the case in disaster zones. This raises the question: is all aid good aid – and it’s one of the reasons I’ve become a supporter of the Global Poverty Project.
I saw some amazing aid in Haiti, but I also some bad aid. I saw NGO’s competing without listening to what locals wanted or needed, I saw groups giving out goods that had been donated that just didn’t seem like priorities.
Despite this, with the help of international aid Haiti is making some amazing progress. There are many projects that are really making a difference. Working with and not for local communities; helping them to rebuild their lives, become stronger and more resilient. With the upcoming anniversary of the quake all eyes will once again be on Haiti. I hope this landmark will be used in a positive light; an opportunity to move forward and reflect on the progress that has been made.
Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell MP speaks exclusively to Gary Nunn from the See Africa Differently team about myth-busting, business opportunities and the African country that will be aid independent by 2020. With permission we have republished the interview below, to read the original article click here.
Gary Nunn (GN): What would you identify as the most common myths and assumptions about Africa – and what’s the best way to challenge them?
Andrew Mitchell MP: Some of the most common – and damaging – myths and assumptions about Africa revolve around growth.
While there’s still crippling poverty in some parts of the continent, that’s not the complete picture. According to The Economist magazine, six of the world’s ten fastest growing countries over the past decade were African.
The UK is doing everything it can to show that Africa is open for business. We are clear in our development policy that aid is a means to an end but trade is what enables people to pull themselves out of poverty permanently.
As with all myths and incorrect assumptions the important thing is to produce evidence to the contrary, something both the UK Government and campaigns like See Africa Differently are hard at work doing. If we can show the UK public that areas ranging from business, trade and investment through to fashion, music and food are rapidly growing across the continent, led by strong and inspirational individuals then it will provide them with a far more accurate picture of the reality in many parts of Africa.
GN: Recent ComRes polling of 2,000 UK adults we commissioned found that less than a third (29%) of people agree that ‘Africa is an exciting business prospect’ and less than a quarter (22%) agree that ‘Africa is a future world economic player, comparable to emerging markets in Asia.’?But in a speech this year you described Africa as “a place of huge business opportunity.” Why isn’t this message getting through?
Andrew Mitchell MP: I think that it is understandable that people respond to what they see and hear about Africa. Most of what people in the UK see is through the news, and of course these are likely to be stories that focus on conflict or hunger.
But I think there’s a growing group of people – particularly business leaders – in the UK and across the world who are opening their eyes to the opportunities that come with investing in Africa.
On a recent visit to Sudan, one of my most memorable experiences was attending a meeting with a group of African, European and American entrepreneurs to discuss the business opportunities in South Sudan. I was impressed not only by the shared interest in strengthening trade and creating jobs in the world’s newest country but also by their sheer enthusiasm. It’s clear that a country full of hardworking entrepreneurs will not stay poor for long, and a place that provides good return on investment will not stay a secret for long.
Multinational companies have a huge part to play too. SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest drinks companies, has started working with small-holder farmers in South Sudan to use cassava in the production of beer. As well as this securing a healthy profit and accessing a whole new market, it has also provided employment, growth and consumer choice. Around 2,000 poor smallholding farmers are directly benefitting from SAB Miller’s decision to source ingredients locally.
I would say this is a shining example of how seizing business opportunities in Africa can benefit everyone from shareholders to smallholders.
GN: This year has seen terrible famine in the horn of Africa. It provoked the Kenyans for Kenya fund – the biggest fundraising effort of its kind – raising over £4 million through an innovative mobile phone donation system. What does this tell us about African countries working towards aid independence? Are there any other countries who will be aid independent in the near future?
Andrew Mitchell MP: You’re right to say that the famine has been terrible. The British Government has been at the forefront of the international response, feeding 2.4 million people across the Horn, providing clean water and sanitation for 1.2 million people and vaccinating almost 2 million people against polio and measles.
We all want to see a world where aid is no longer necessary. I closed a number of DFID offices last year in countries which no longer need our support and, in the case of China, are able to become donors themselves. We will walk the final mile with countries like India where our aid is making a huge impact in the three poorest states and is dwarfed by India’s own social protection schemes. But I recognise that some countries will need more help over a longer period to reduce their reliance on foreign aid.
In terms of African countries that will be able to ‘graduate’ away from aid programmes in the shorter term, I think Ghana is an excellent example. The facts speak for themselves. Sustained economic growth and political stability have helped to put the country on target to halve poverty by 2015. UK aid has helped reduce the number of people in poverty by 1.1 million from 1996 to 2005. By 2015 we’re committed to helping create 144,000 jobs created, of which 55,000 are for women, as well as supporting 118,000 more boys and girls to receive basic education. Ghana is proof that development works, and we are doing all we can to support Ghana in being independent of aid by 2020.
GN: It has recently been reported in the media that we’ll cut aid to homophobic countries, and countries with a poor record on violence against women. Is aid conditionality the best way to encourage progressiveness in Africa when some argue that internally-generated change through education (rather than externally-imposed conditionalities) is more effective in changing attitudes?
Andrew Mitchell MP: Let’s be absolutely clear, we expect governments receiving British aid to share our commitments to reduce poverty; respect human rights; improve public financial management; fight corruption; and promote good governance and transparency. These commitments are made clear to developing country governments when we are agree to support them.
We make no apologies for applying these criteria where British taxpayers’ money is concerned.
Where we choose not to deliver aid through Governments because they do not share our commitments to the respect of human rights, we will find other ways of ensuring that British aid gets through. This includes funding other groups, such as those representing civil society, to deliver vital help including food and healthcare to the poorest people.
You’re right to say that internally-generated change is crucial to changing public attitudes but where governments are failing to meet our partnership principles we are prepared to act.
GN: How do we shore up support for ongoing aid programmes when some detractors are calling for it to be cut?
Andrew Mitchell MP: As your readers will know, the Coalition Government is committed to reaching the UN target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on overseas development assistance from 2013. But as we do this it is important that the British public knows how their money is being spent and what it is achieving.
Taxpayers rightly expect to know where we are spending their money, how much is being committed to each project and the impact we expect it to have. My first act as International Development Secretary was to order a root-and-branch review of all our aid programmes to ensure we are working in the places our money can have the greatest impact. The outcomes of the review can be found on the department’s website www.dfid.gov.uk/aidreviews along with our country operational plans which set out the results we expect to achieve in each country between now and 2015. I have also set up an independent aid watchdog to scrutinise our aid spending and I made sure DFID was one of the first departments to publish regularly all spending over £500.
We must also be prepared to highlight where British aid is making a difference. This year we made a commitment to GAVI that will see British money vaccinate a child from one of five potentially fatal diseases every two seconds; our Productive Safety Net scheme has helped to feed 1.6 million Ethiopians and mitigate the effects they felt during the Horn of Africa crisis; and we are helping 9 million children from developing countries into primary school and 2 million into secondary schools by 2015. ??
GN: What 3 words sum up a modern, progressive Africa to you???
Andrew Mitchell MP: Open for business.
Find out more about DFID’s ‘Changing Lives’ communications campaign: reporting on how people are lifting themselves out of poverty for good.