Actual international humanitarian support is largely unknown. The supposition that small financial aid helps make a real difference in developing societies has become a motive of praise for those who “help” as social recognition is granted when social media rewards countless ‘likes’ to the rich who pose with the beneficiaries.
In reality, although these actors’ good will is not to be questioned, these relatively minimal donations only help sustain the inegalitarian social status for one more day. Ultimately, they end up in the same hands, their coverage strengthens divisive stereotypes (that tend to simplify the complex) and singular morsels are digested by only a few. This cycle cliche the stereotype of a North-South dependency as all African countries are fitted into one single generalization; that of poverty and lack of development.
This generalization and overall lack of discernment is the first step to conducting help that is incompatible with its subject. The entire socio-economic situation of a continent is summarized always with the same terms and a lack of case studies refrains most from understanding of specific communities.
Many populations suffer from life-threatening circumstances with high rates of famine, violence and inequality. It is only for these places that an initial injection of financial help will help alleviate such a critical situation. However, once a population no longer is in urgent necessity for life saving aid and has thereby passed a threshold to the path of development; any destined aid must be planned carefully.
Bigger NGOs usually aim at more specific sectors and try to provide help to more extensive areas. However, unless free from any external interest (such as religions, diplomatic, marketing and so on…) their intentions ought to be questioned. Help is often provided just until the point that it contributes to the personal interest. Pure altruism is needed in order to reach the full potential of aid through a concrete model.
For example, take Light for the World, an NGO that helps fund and develop several institutions for visually impaired and blind people in Rwanda. A country that has already surpassed the threshold. Their institutions include a school and a clinic. Being well aware of the socio-economic situation of the country, the NGO aims to methodically and financially support Rwandan professionals. By adapting to their surroundings, the help does not have to impose itself over the society.
One of their institutions, an eye clinic in Kabgayi, treats over a hundred patients a day. Waiting rooms are full and silent. A young mother passes her examination. In the midst of her tests, she is obliged to breastfeed her baby while covering her own right eye; a requirement for the exercise. The centralized institution is able to fabricate personalized glasses in under five minutes and the prices are adjusted to clients’ income.
The surgery unit holds another waiting room; topped by a mosaic of the story of The Blind man of Bethsaida. A great grand-mother, waiting minutes before her turn; explains that she has waited for a year to pay her 20 000 Rwandan Franc (the equivalent of about 20 Euros) cataract surgery. Operations as such are performed in small rooms that resemble cubicle offices. Each cubicle holds about four beds. At the end of their dividing hall rest the last set of patients in the last set of beds. A little girl is receiving chemotherapy for an eye tumor on bed 51 while her peer sits on bed 49; moments after having her eye removed.
The situation is far from ideal, but grants the essentials nonetheless. The clinic –-with the help of Light for the World— is capable of providing its patients most crucial needs, such as transportation, medical attention and accommodation. This is due to its formative, logistical and financial resources.
It is this acknowledgement of the concrete differences in functioning between European and developing countries that allows to plan an ambitious long-term program that works for the society in question in contrast to working within it. Helping eradicate problems and push development rather than simply providing temporal ‘bandages’.
Compromised individuals, NGOs and other forms of foreign aid must execute such programs collectively, thereby giving up on excessive recognition and praise. Which is obtained from media portrayal that often creates harmful misconceptions that, ironically, then go against the cause as misinformation is the first pillar of substandard aid.
A well planned program will help eradicate local structural issues and hence have a positive long-term impact. Understanding the socio-economic reality in a particular area and subsequent adaptation instead of imposing one’s own culture. The occidental culture cannot be introduced in developing countries as numerous crucial factors such as ressources and demographics are too dissimilar. Also, no characteristic proves a superiority in culture (other than its current status which is the outcome of a continuous exploitation of other populations throughout history) therefore not promoting its theoretical imposition.
It should serve as the point of origin for a project of development in which the locals take the most important roles within the created institutions and organizations. Formation for these roles must be also granted. Moreover, any aid must work together with them through careful adaptation to the existing conditions in order to ensure an ambitious future. Otherwise —with the presence of external motives— no aid will be able to meet its full potential.
The story of the two girls on bed 51 and bed 49 is filled with these aspects. Although their delicate situation is far from ideal and their circumstances possess a wide margin for development; the clinic excels at providing them with the essential necessities while promising a general, long lasting project. The girls will be able to study at HVP Gatagara, a school for the visually impaired in a nearby district; also financed by Light for the World.
Important and impactful help does not always translate to gargantuan projects, represented by equivalent infrastructure. Any program that guarantees long-term help for those in a specific need and is able to set its roots into a community will form the ideal model of aid.