Wednesday, July 06, 2005

African Aid -- A Response to One Viewpoint

EclecticBlogs expressed a fairly typical Canadian attitude (judging by other comments I've heard and letters to the editors) about African aid. He had some valid concerns, which I'll address later, but he hit a nerve in me, and I spewed forth the following comments:

"I could be wrong, but I'm guessing you've never lived in the third world. Comparing poverty here to poverty there is like apples and oranges (and I am aware of the poverty on native reserves which is the worst here). There's a reason why I believe immigrants make the most patriotic Canadians: they know this country is paradise. This country is free. This country is safe. One Bangladeshi cabbie said to me 99% of people here are good; back home they're bad. I'm not sure I agree with the 99% and I'm not from Bangladesh, but I know what he means. Coming here, I no longer had to worry about being kidnapped, I no longer had to worry about becoming road fodder just for the hell of it, I no longer had to ensure I drank only boiled water or check the sugar for bugs or eat every crumb because there was barely enough food for proper nourishment, I no longer had to plug my nose every time I stepped outside the door (the stench of urine on the streets could knock you over -- homelessness pales beside what it is over there), I could play outside in safety (the abductions and sexual assaults in Toronto are dreadful but still nowhere near the level in the Third World), and women aren't seen as chattel. That's just for starters. And I came from a middle-income family.

Here in Canada we don't die of disgusting water-borne diseases (Walkerton excepted, but the very outcry demonstrates how long it's been since we've had to worry about safe drinking water and that was contamination not a disease). We don't see starvation and vitamin deficiencies. We see fat poor people. Why are they fat? You can't starve and be fat at the same time. But you can be subclinically malnourished because of poor choice of foods. The ones who are emaciated are usually drug addicts or anorexic, both of which are ultimately within the person's control to deal with. Famines happen in Africa cyclically, and although corruption increases the problem, there are areas where the plants just won't grow and the locusts eat the few that do. These are not within the control of the average African who lives at a subsistence level to solve in the short term. Monsanto seeds makes things worse -- that's a Western-initiated problem. Our education is free up to the college or university level. But elementary school is not free in parts of the Third World, and you're carping about the cost of post-secondary education? As for health care, forget about it in Africa or other parts of the Third World. Just one example: women there, because of ignorance and lack of medical expertise, suffer birthing injuries that women here just do not. These injuries result in them no longer controlling urine flow and as a result they are ostracized. They have to walk MILES and DAYS because buses won't let them on, in order to get to a hospital that will fix the fistula. That hospital runs on aid dollars. Our health care is a mess, but when was the last time you had to walk days on end and be ostracized because of a preventable health problem?

We will never have our house in order -- such perfection is unachievable by humans -- and there are certainly issues in how our aid is used that need to be resolved, but neither merits denying compassion to our fellow human beings. Hmmm...I didn't know I felt so strongly. I guess you hit a nerve!"

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