Vera at Africa on the Blog:
If each one of us can take it upon themselves to try and offer long-term solutions to the problems we are presented with then I believe we will be well on our way to changing this attitude of entitlement to cash hand-outs. If someone has no income, suggest income generating activities. If someone needs school-fees to be paid, then pay the fees directly to the school rather than giving cash. For problems which should involve the community, then seek the support of other community members rather than agree to shoulder the burden alone. I believe this will ensure that we move away from hand-outs to development.
One of the hardest things to get used to as a member of the African Diaspora is when your community looks at you as Mr. Moneybags. It used to be that every time that I went home, I always dreaded visiting relatives. After the ceremonial tea and chicken slaughter, the sob stories would come out about the kid’s school fees; the house that needs finishing; the land for sales; the medical costs.
There’s an understandable disconnect between those who’ve never left the continent and those of us that live, study and work off the continent. If increased connectivity in Africa does one thing and one thing only, I hope it is that it closes the perception gap about the hardships we as Africans face on both shores. There’s a Diaspora mysticism unfairly applied to us, especially when it comes to financial welfare.
For a long time, I couldn’t figure out a way to tell people convincingly that just because I live in America doesn’t mean I have money. That false perception of financial windfall our family members have is hard to break in some people (often leading to you being bad-mouthed behind your back), especially when you’ve just afforded a round trip flight to come home.
The best thing I ever did was scrounge and pay for my mother to come visit me when I didn’t have a cent to my name. She got to see me working nearly 12 hours a day while she was stuck home and I was struggling to buy food, pay rent, or keep the lights on. It was a rude awakening that I actually didn’t live in the land of milk and honey. Once she was back home, I rarely heard a sob story of relatives wanting money.
The good life in the Diaspora isn’t automatic. All manner of possibilities (of course) are availed to you once you are in the Diaspora, but you have to work extremely hard for a number of years to get to anywhere near prosperity.
I agree with Vera in one regard, if you want to make a difference back home (assuming you are able to), invest in creating opportunities. Why not create jobs instead of perpetual hand outs. Invest in the learning process of others so that people may be productive their whole lives. The most effective way to give back and not feel overwhelmed is to pay for someone’s education. I was able to silence a lot of requests for money by declaring that I would pay for one persons education at a time. I found this was the best way to not seem stingy but also be able to do good within my means. Three of my siblings got their degrees, are self-sufficient and are making a difference in the community.
This also brings me back to the discussion on the newly hot topic of cash handouts as the new development model. Writing this post just made me realize that handing out cash is yet another dependency model. When you hand out cash –– however it ends up being used –– it will run out. What then?
If we took all of this cash that GiveDirectly, et al are handing out and actually invested in creating sustainable jobs, wouldn’t that be a better use of the money? Or is the aim to keep the poor as receptacles of academic experimentation and “feel goodism” instead of actually empowering them to earn their keep?