When I’m at home in the USA I receive unsolicited mail to aid a starving child some where in Africa. Near the winter holidays, World AIDS Day or the anniversary of a social movement-I’ll go into a store or flip through a magazine where famous people are wearing HIV bracelets, t-shirts, scarves or tackies (sneakers) asking me to buy this or that product in support of HIV/AIDS research or some other project in Africa. At the register, if I’m not interested in purchasing one of those items, perhaps I’ll add $1.00 to by tab for a paper Red Ribbon to be pasted to the store counter in my name or to help end world hunger. More recently, I’ve seen people canvassing for cash donations. I don’t give $.01.
It isn’t Always About the Money
It’s not always about the money.
This is my second time living in Southern Africa. Both times, I’ve learned through conversation, observation, briefings-both formal and informal, money is not the only solution. Let me be clear, financial donations can help to address inequities and provide much needed goods but what has become clearer to me is the need for training and services. In terms of HIV/AIDS I struggle with what is needed here, but I KNOW open dialogue is high on the list.
Attending weekly Rotary meetings I hear about lots of interest from international clubs to provide financial support of local projects. I’ve met a handful of Americans in country who donate money and resources to different schools and organizations here in South Africa.
In May, my club donated computers to a rural farm school. Early on a Saturday morning the entire body of students (in uniform) and staff came to school to receive the donation. We toured the school which was well kept and privileged to receive donations from an American university that equated to a library with books, puzzles, games and comfortable bean chairs. The library looked as though it had barely been touched. It hadn’t. We were told the puzzles, unopened, had been on the shelves for at least 3 months, the teachers didn’t know how to incorporate the library into their teaching and many of the kids had never seen puzzles and games such as those shelved in the library. Upon accepting the computers the principal, informed us he was delighted to learn the school would be gifted with the computers but he immediately begin worrying who’d be able to teach his staff and students how to use them. The Digital Divide is very real at home in urban communities and with no question, in African countries. Fortunately, being a resourceful and dedicated principal he managed to secure a varsity student who would offer weekly training to his staff. Over the US summer break (Winter in South Africa) students and faculty from the university who donated the library would visit again, offering professional development on how to use the library and enliven the teaching and learning experiences at this school for the teachers and the learners.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Plenty of goods are dropped off and checks are written for projects in under-resourced communities. Both are needed. But with out the accompanying skills progress is painstakingly slow and in some cases non existent; well meant donations collect dust or sit shiny and new, sometimes they become outdated.
During a weekly Rotary meeting, I shared my observation with my host club. Goods and finances are great, but as we move forward and invest in projects let’s also be mindful of the human resource. Local projects and community investment would probably be better sustained and strengthened if skills were taught and shared.
In theory urban communities are more likely to benefit from human, financial and service resources than rural communities where there is much less of everything. Practically, it doesn’t necessarily work out this way. I’m sure I’ll write about this phenomenon a bit more, but for now I’m, convinced it is not always about the money and when I return home later this year I still won’t part with $.01.