Friday, February 8, 2013

Independence and Charity

Josh, Jenny, Heather, myself, and Erin at COS conference

From Ecuador looking north, I believe the United States has benefited immensely from what I’m going to call the frontier experience.  In many ways the US constitution including the bill of rights was written to enable pioneers living far away from the government to protect themselves and their property (necessities for a democratic capitalist society).  Culturally speaking, the experience of being completely responsible for the survival of oneself and one’s family has left an indelible mark on many US citizens.  They are more independent, more wary of government intervention, and more motivated to go their own way and ask for nothing from nobody.

In my community, San Francisco del Congo, on the other hand, I see the recent (last 50 years) influence of a patronizing government and an overabundance of na├»ve international development organizations with too much money and not enough brains.  From the community’s perspective, all of sudden success is redefined from being an assiduous and responsible farmer to finding these government ministries and NGOs and sweet talking them into gift giving.  My original counterpart or community member liaison was the President of the local farmers association.  After a year of attendance at association meetings I surmised that his full time job was going to and from Guayaquil, Quevedo, and El Empalme to ask for money or projects from government agencies and international development NGOs.  His pay comes in the form of fortnightly contributions from each member of the association.

This depresses me, but it is what it is and other communities should look to do likewise.  As far as I can tell, first-worlders aren’t going to run out of money or foolish ways to be charitable any time soon.

If you happen to be a first-worlder in a charitable mood, the only option I can personally recommend based on experience is the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP).  This program allows volunteers who have come to know their communities thoroughly ask for donations from the public (but mostly friends and family are all who hear).  Each proposal states a specific budget and how it will be used to empower community members to be more independent and self-reliant rather than dependent on outside funding.  These grants are often the only money Peace Corps volunteers will receive to help their community and thus are both intensely scrutinized and intensely necessary.  Furthermore, PCPP grants have no overhead; 100% of donations go to volunteer projects.  No other international development agency can compete with that, those other guys usually take a fat margin off the top for their own pockets.  Oh, and donations are tax deductible if you make enough to pay taxes.

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