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USAID cans. Hundreds of them have ended up in small markets in southern Ethiopia.

Everyone knows that aid is out there. There are hundreds of rich Westerners living in North America, Europe, or Australia, that are just waiting to give their money to some poor person in Africa or South America or Asia. It makes them feel good about themselves, like they’ve done something to help from their cushy 5-bedroom home half a world away.

What they don’t realize is the culture it promotes in these poor, poor countries on which they take pity.

People see white skin, and they think, “Money. Aid.” They charge foreigners more because they know they can and will pay. They often have ulterior motives when befriending white people. But there’s much more to the aid culture than the personal effects it has.

Aid has created a dependence. On donors. On the West. For money. For food. For infrastructure. For technology. I’m not talking about disaster relief or emergency aid, here. I’m talking about every day projects.

People have stopped thinking of ways to help themselves and have started to rely on outside support for all of their needs. I have met with many community-based organizations here in Kenya, and their number one problem is often funding. But when they talk about funding, they don’t talk about making their own money but rather how to get money from an outside source. Hidden beneath these thoughts is always the question, “Can you help me? You have white skin, don’t you have some sort of in with large donors back in the US?”

My response is always the same. No. I can’t help you with funding, nor do I want to. If you want new machines, you should save up the funds yourselves. You should design your own machines instead of getting them shipped from abroad. Locally manufactured technologies are cheaper, more appropriate to the environment, and easier to maintain. If you depends on donated foreign technologies, what will happen when they break? Can you fix them? Can you afford replacement parts?

I don’t want to provide aid. Aid is unsustainable. I want to help people help themselves.

So what can I provide? I can provide knowledge, connections, skills. But I can’t force anyone to listen to me, because at the end of the day, that is their own choice. For all I know, they could think that what I’m saying is complete bullshit, and I’m ok with that. Because sometimes it is. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I should have asked more questions first. Sometimes, though, I do have skills that can help. It is up to them to use my skills. I can only provide options, not change. Change must come from within.

For more thoughts on this, check out a post by a friend (Colleen) of a friend (Brendan): The burden of charity