One of the areas that’s been just as much of a mess here as the military effort (see the book Little America if you haven’t already, then find a way to move out of that cave you call home) has been that of foreign aid.
I touched on this a little while ago with “3 Cups of Pointless,” which given the fact that Mortenesen’s little empire has been seen as a sham from the start is actually pretty ironic. See, because his book is now a metaphor for the very thing he was trying to combat, and that’s the chaos that is the overall aid effort, so you know, good on him.
Just filling in the blanks for the Marines in the audience.
Yeah, It’s Kind of Like This
One of the recent trends in aid (at least here in Afghanistan) has been a particular obnoxious variant of Sophie’s Choice, where aid agencies get people to do stuff by offering them other stuff. And by “stuff” I mean things like education, lighting, and food.
What follows are three examples of what I like to call “Extortion Aid,” or “Sophie’s Such a Great Name…What’s Her Choice?
So Film Annex has a great idea: raise money for internet classrooms by advertising. Also, setting girls up for Awkward Family Photos, Afghanistan Edition.
Contrast that with a photo of girls of approximately the same age from Skateistan.
Yes, there’s Skateistan branding everywhere, but the folks at Film Annex have turned these girls into walking advertisements for their products. I mean, sure, it’s a hip t-shirt with some neato graphics, but it’s still just a variety of the sandwich board, or homeless folks as WiFi hotspots: it’s exploitative, evidently uncomfortable for these girls, but hey, do you like computers and school, girls?
Then, smile, ‘cuz the donors are watching. Of course, Film Annex has this tricky sustainability thing licked.
How can Film Annex build one INTERNET classroom per month in Afghanistan? Simple: We send money to our office there to get the job done. (emphasis theirs)
See how easy it is to get things done in Afghanistan? Get some t-shirts, get girls to wear ‘em, take pictures, and then send money.
This one gets a little worse, since it’s raising membership in the Wildlife Conversation Society.
As part of these conservation efforts, WCS has created a local wildlife conservation association. USAID recently joined forces with WCS in providing an incentive for local villagers to join the conservation society. As part of their membership package, they are provided with a solar-powered LED lantern. WCS distributed 1,620 solar lanterns in June 2011 to the same number of Wakhi and Kyrgyz households.
Villagers apparently needed some incentive to join the WCS, which is understandable: if I’m illiterate and can barely feed my family, then maybe the survival of the snow leopard or whatever isn’t terribly high on my list of things to be worried about.
The atmosphere at the lantern distribution was festive, and the response from those receiving lanterns was overwhelmingly positive.
Murad Mohamad, one of the beneficiaries, said, “Till now I’ve been using kerosene lanterns. Sometimes we could find fuel, but some-times we couldn’t. When we ran out of kerosene, I’d travel long distances to find some. While I was away, my children were unable to study because there’s no power in this area. This is really a good thing, and it shows that the government is paying attention to us.”
Of course Mr. Murad is going to join the WCS and get all kinds of happy about saving those poor endangered animals — it’s going to make it easier for his family to see at night.
Save your eyes, save the leopard.
This is where the Sophie’s Choice reference comes into play.
The biscuits are an incentive for low-income Afghan families to send their children to school rather than out to work. School teachers say that the daily packet of cookies has boosted enrolment.
So if your kid goes to school, they get fed.
Versus staying at home, working on the family subsistence farm (or some other job that might help supplement what is likely a meager income), families send their kids to school.
So they do get the benefit of not having to feed that kid at least for those meals, but they lose the possible income/effort from that kid on the family farmstead.
Great choices, huh?
This isn’t aid, it’s extortion. It’s forcing people to make decisions that are not in their best interest just to get a piece of whatever handout is the flavor of the month. What happens when Film Annex loses interest, the biscuit factory gets shut down, and the lantern gets broken?
Not a damn thing. No more internet classroom, no more kids queuing up for cookies at the school, and a family sitting in the dark. Because no one thought about what happens next.
Or am I just reading way too much into t-shirts, lanterns, and cookies?
- Skateistan – The Tale of Skateboarding in Afghanistan’ Book (sixand5.com)
- Scientists Find Cubs of Rare Snow Leopard (prweb.com)
- WIN A Snow Leopard Spirit Hood From Mimi Noor (raindropsofsapphire.com)
- No-battery lantern uses water and salt for light (phys.org)