I've complained for years (including in these pages) about the overwhelming amounts of foreign aid sent to Africa by governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO's), most of which appears to be wasted. If it's not misused, it's siphoned off by corrupt bureaucrats, officials and politicians (which is how the late President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire managed to die with a personal fortune of more than $5 billion, much of which has never been traced).
Miss D. sent me a link to this article in the Walla Walla University Collegian, which gives a pretty insightful overview of one aspect of the issue - so-called 'voluntourism'.
I discovered the director in the back of the room, smiling wide.
“How many volunteer groups do you get here?” I shouted over the din.
“Sometimes two a month,” he beamed proudly. “The volunteers cover almost all our staff.”
“You aren’t providing jobs for any local workers?” I repeated.
“Well, no.” He paused a moment, sensing the need to make it sound better. “We have so very many children here at Grace House. They need food and a home. They need help. Here, they get help.”
“Where do they come from before here?” I encouraged, reaching for my notepad.
“Terrible families. No food. So poor, you know.”
“Wait, they have families?”
“Half of them have families.” I was frozen for a moment, but the sad truth is such numbers are typical in African countries. After the wave of volunteers to orphanages in Ghana began to show signs of an abusive business enterprise, the Social Welfare Department organized a survey revealing that 90% of Ghanaian orphans have one or more living parent. The presence of volunteers visiting so many orphanages created “jobs” for children from families that could benefit from a few less mouths to feed.
“Some of these children have lost their parents and are emotionally susceptible at this stage,” I gently said. “Isn’t it damaging to further their never-ending cycle of abandonment from a revolving door of volunteers?”
“This is just the way it is.” The director crossed his arms. “We do this to make a difference the best we can, and you need to remember, this is for the volunteer, too. This experience is life-changing.”
I glanced at the group of college students, taking selfies with the animated children. No doubt this will be a series of profile pictures. For a moment, I wondered if the unidentified, romping, homeless children seemed reduced to the same status of elephants and zebras on the veld.
. . .
This is the classic White Savior Complex, the worship of the land of the White Man. Somehow, despite hearing that Jesus loves him, the message of material goodness has swept him further in devotion, and he will worship the white saviors for the spectacular contributions to his development rather than the ostensible Jesus fellow. Will Hassan wake up tomorrow thinking about his grandpa, selling shoes in determination to provide and sustain, or the next group of regaling volunteers?
There's more at the link.
This is a HUGE problem in many parts of Africa. I've seen it myself over the course of almost two decades wandering around that continent. From the Sahara Desert to the Limpopo, an 'industry' has grown up whereby volunteers from overseas are brought in, given a beguiling (and all too short) glimpse of the 'needs' that their contributions are 'helping to meet', and then sent back to their homelands to raise more funds - just in time to make room for the next voluntourists to arrive. You can bet your boots that vastly more than half of all funds and supplies donated through such organizations never reach those who really need them. (My personal estimate is that less than one dollar in ten serves its intended purpose.) All the rest is 'misused' or 'diverted', to use euphemisms (it would be more accurate to say it's stolen, even though that reality is cloaked in multiple layers of charitable bureaucracy and obfuscation).
I became very selective indeed during those years about who I'd support with my hard-earned money. To this day, very few organizations are on my "give without a second thought" list. Two that I highly recommend are the Salvation Army and Doctors Without Borders. They're super-efficient at what they do, and take great care to ensure that as much as possible of what's donated is spent 'at the coalface' where it's most needed. Most other well-known agencies - e.g. Oxfam, UNICEF, the International Red Cross - let's just say that I wouldn't touch any of them with a ten-foot disinfected bargepole. Even organizations such as the Peace Corps cause more problems than they solve, IMHO. YMMV, of course . . .