OK. I’ve been back for a few days now. Time to write down my reflections on our visit. I’ve already written much about the detail but I also wanted to reflect on the purpose and what is achieved by what we did and what we do by funding RUSH.
There is a huge debate going on about aid to the poorer parts of the world. Recently the UK announced that it was stopping aid to 16 countries (including Russia and China!). There are some very important contributions to the debate being made by people like Ian Birrell who wrote recently in the Evening Standard about Aid saying how it can hold countries and their development back.
One of the keys to his argument is that it can let governments off the hook and let them spend money on other things that don’t benefit their citizens directly:
A report from Harvard Medical School found that when health-related aid was given to governments in sub-Saharan Africa they often reduced spending on health. Politicians let aid pay for schools and hospitals, allowing them to steal money or spend it on security. Then they win elections using bribery or violence rather than by providing decent public services and being accountable to voters.
I think that it is good to reflect on whether our aid is part of a solution or it ends up being part of a much larger problem. One of the things that Birrell attacks the west for is its paternalism – the we know best attitude. We know what is best for their community and people.
Going to Kenya has begun to show me how complex the issues are. For example, we built them a nursery so that they could bring the school all together with nursery and junior school together. But when we arrived 2 out of the 3 classrooms were being used as boarding houses for the children in years 7 and 8.
In “western” terms this would be unacceptable. We paid for something its now something else. But Andrew and Lucy are juggling competing issues that we might never have realised. For example, the children going home to work would need kerosene lamps (which costs money that many don’t have). Daylight is from about 7am to 7pm. For many that is their day. Light from a fire or a candle may be all that they can afford.
The school currently depends on western funding from RUSH UK to keep going. To enable them to be more self-sufficient requires them to ensure that their school is a good school. This takes up front time and effort. They are already top of their district in the year 7 exams. If this continues this year for the formal year 8 exams then a lot more people are likely to want to send their children there. These year 8 exams are their first exams. The school started with nursery level and has been the top class through the years.
The boarding house therefore allows them to get them ready for the exams (starting at 5am and finishing at 9pm!) and will help ensure the future of the school.
Many Kenyans see education as the way out of poverty. We met people who were living in small shacks who were doing all they could to have their children have a good education. Education is expensive when you are living on 80-100/- a day (less than a pound) and school fees can be anything up to £200 per term per child. It means that many find getting education hard. There are state schools in Kenya but not enough and many have 100 in a class if you can get your child in.
Kenya does suffer from endemic corruption. If you are stopped by the police and there is something wrong then they will often take a bribe rather than fining you. We heard of a grant of 300,000/- offered for RUSH for Aids victims but the sting was that the official wanted a 100,000/- cut. We met a local wealthy businessman who admitted that he would change numbers (his defence was that he would change a 1 to a 2 but wouldn’t add a zero!). A country that wants to improve the lot of its people needs better governance.
The UK government has come up with a new report to look at how it better targets aid. How it ensures it does what is needed. Charles Reed on his blog has a post on this. But that really does little to help us as a local church know whether what we do is worthwhile or adds to the problems.
So let me give you my take on the things that are important. Now we are a church and we do have a variety of opinions and a PCC which has to make decisions about giving and this is just my opinion – to be shaped and formed through others opinions and ideas. This is just where I am having coming back from Kenya and reflected a little.
a) Openness and good governance. Just as aid works best in countries where corruption is low and people on the ground have a say in how the aid is spent, so too for aid that we provide. To give to organisations that have an openness and good governance is vital. On this basis RUSH does well. Not only is there an oversight from the RUSH trustees but their refusal to pay bribes for aid, the fact that they are living in the community in which they serve and that there is a continuous dialogue about what works and what doesn’t.
b) A focus on getting people to be independent and on their own two feet. There is a huge debate in this country and elsewhere about handouts. How do we ensure that we don’t end up with a dependency culture. This can happen with overseas aid. Some think that you should just give them something – understandable with so much poverty. But a sticking plaster is all it is. To see people standing on their own two feet and employed or running their own business is far more profitable to them. Again the aim of RUSH is not just to give handouts (although it does some) but to enable people to stand on their own two feet through longer terms ways such as education and through training in skills such as tailoring, carpentry and IT.
c) An involvement by local people for local people. It is very easy to second guess what is needed most for others. We believe that we can see all the different issues and then we just do it. However, it is always more complicated than that. There is always a juggling act going on with different needs being balanced – many of which we may not even be aware of. With a) and b) above then local solutions by local people will be the best. It will mean scruffy edges (like the classrooms) but in a partnership these things are not the vital thing. The vital thing that we are involved with is changing peoples lives for the better and that peoples standard of life rises.
So, do I think that the aid that we spend on RUSH is worth it?
To see people helped out of poverty. To see Andrew and Lucy juggling half a dozen impossible things before breakfast. To see the sick cared for. To see people trained in a craft. To see the orphans and Aids victims given an education. All these things, although not everyone benefits, are great things to be involved in.
I can’t change the government of Kenya. I can help a person in need.