What are we really spreading?

Anna Crombie


I’ve heard the idea before that charity and aid as a whole are often
not beneficial to third world places, especially Africa. But, I would always just
push it to the back of my mind. I was content with what I thought I could do to
help. During charity week I was particularly happy with myself, believing I
made a true difference buying a grilled cheese everyday for lunch. I felt
selfless, knowing I could indulge in a delicious lunch while saving a family in
Africa. With that in mind, it can be said justly that ignorance truly is bliss.
I was not aware of the major faults of charities such as Spread the Net.

I was originally going to write an article on the theme of charity week, about how much aid the world needed and how we take things for granted in the community we live in, but then I heard about a potentially controversial presentation by a grade 12 student on the topic. Olivia Cummings was not promoting aid, but criticizing it.

For an English project, she had read a book called Dead Aid, by
Dambiso Moyo, that takes a deep look into the harmful economic implications of
aid and how there is a better solution. I asked Olivia if we could get together
and discuss the topic because I had become very intrigued. Olivia told me about
the reaction of her classmates to Spread the Net being a not-so-admirable
charity. Almost everyone was initially shocked and offended. I was also taken
back, but felt enlightened from what she told me. I wanted to share this
knowledge. At first I was reluctant to write an article criticizing a charity
to which the school had just donated over 50 000 dollars, but I was also deeply
motivated by what I had recently learned.

The issue of charity aid is quite complex and has its roots in the
economy. There are also many related issues that I could address, such as
volunteer tourism and the similar harmful implications that accompany it. What
it all comes down to, however, is that in most of the cases aid does more harm
than good, and Spread the Net is a perfect example of this. Other than some of
the obvious problems with charities, such as the reliability of the charity,
the core issue is that the sort of aid Spread the Net is giving is not really
helping. The major problem with aid is that it is simply giving communities and
entire countries supplies and donations. It does not provide long-term
solutions, but causes the communities to regress economically. Communities are
unable to sustain themselves and, therefore, become reliant on aid. Their
economy is stopped from growing and development is hindered by donations.
Olivia presented a perfect illustration of the situation. “Now picture living
in Africa. You’re walking down the street and then stop at a booth at the side of the
road, they’re selling nets! Bed nets! You pick one up, have a nice chat with
the owner of the shack, and then go on your way back to your house. You have
just supported that family in buying one of their nets. Now picture having a
plane fly in, and deliver free nets that everyone is trying to grab. What
happens to that one family who had a steady income because of their bed net
booth? It’s killed, which ends up harming the economy of that community.”

Nevertheless, aid can be beneficial in certain situations, such as
emergency relief from natural disasters. However, all of Africa is not in the
midst of constant natural disaster. In first world outsider’s patronizing attempts
to help Africa, they are assuming Africans are completely helpless. The reality
is Africa is where the human race began and evolved. The continent is largely
diverse and has the ability to develop and sustain itself, being rich of
natural and human resources. But, with colonization, industrialized countries
have exploited the non-industrialized and have created an economic inequality.
The world is still quickly growing and developing which creates a larger gap
between the rich and poor, making it harder for African countries and communities
to escape poverty. If manufactured products are provided to them as a form of
charity, instead of resources and loans for them to create their own products
and jobs, then their economy cannot develop independently. One can argue that
charities and aid are simply trying to help, but how is it possible that, after
almost a century of sending aid to Africa and no significant change occurring, that a clear problem and possible solutions have not arisen. As a developed global community with resources and the knowledge to understand the situation and make a change, we continue to ignore it and carry on the damage.

The goal of this article was not to offend anyone but to raise
awareness. North Toronto holds great power in charity week and should apply it
wisely. In the past the school has chosen charities that are local but most
recently has chosen the sort of aid giving charities that are harmful. We may
believe that we are helping a better, greater cause by working with
international charities, but, in reality, our efforts as a school would be put
to better use locally. We cannot see the effect and impact we make on third
world countries. To most of us, they are alien places and we cannot fully understand
what we are doing for or to them. So why not put our efforts where we can
understand the impact and know we are making a positive difference?