07 August 2010

A Response Post to A Response Post

Jina Moore takes me to task in response to my thoughts on the Washington Post article about Pets for Pedals.  She brings up a lot of points that I want to address and expand on.  So, I will go in order with her post and add some of my thoughts (please read Jina’s entire post as I have severely edited it so that I can provide a frame of reference to my comments):

[The Hughses] stopped at a local school and learned the kinds of things the rest of us yawn about knowing: that there's no power; that the kids walk forever and a day, barefoot, to get to school; that they have to fetch water on top of that...  Etc.  For this the Hughses, though, that's new knowledge.  And I think we're allowed to be patient about that.

I would change ‘allowed’ to the word ‘should,’ but that is agreeing.  It is easy to forget that not everybody knows and has a full understanding until confronted with poverty/hardship.

So over in the cave, the critique basically goes, "WTF?  This article is terrible, missing all kinds of follow up question sin Tanzania, and this bs should not continue to pass through editorial gates."  A friend and fellow expat-in-Africa journalist had sent me the same article and said, "WTF?  I can't believe this stuff gets printed."

I hope I was not that crude!

It's a piece in the "local living" Sunday features section, written from Loudon, Virginia. . . editors like profiles of locals, especially ones doing nice things, and especially for the Sunday paper.  There's a journalism structure at work here.  So is it an article that fails to do all kinds of important development aid stuff?  Yeah.  But that's not the kind of article it tries to be, and I don't think it's fair to trash it for that.

Point taken and something I had not considered.  It is not the fault of the writer that the piece is what the audience is look for.  However, it is troubling that these kind of feel good stories are encouraged and easily accepted.  Scale matters, as Jina points out, and it is different when a nationally syndicated writer like Nick Kristof writes articles like this or when a small town reporter does.  So, to Miss Gibson, the writer, I am sorry for being too critical.  However, I do hope that you might have come across this discussion and will learn more about the international aid and development for future stories.

[W]hat can get lost in the typical aid critique, like the typical media critique, is the meaning of the kind of thing the Hughes' tried to do. They've bought 45 bikes to help kids get to school.  Karatu has 700 kids.  Obviously there's an imbalance here, and there are all kinds of questions to ask about that.  But does the fact that that's all they can do mean they should do nothing?

This is far too simple of an answer, but if it is sustainable, needed, wanted, beneficial to local economy and people, and so on; the answer is absolutely yes.  How to know that for sure is the tricky part.

My experience with communities in extreme need is that they share the remedy someone offers them, even if that remedy is limited.  Not always, and not always without problems, but that's what I've seen.

Agreed and it is what I attempted to say as well (apparently that did not come across well and that is on me).  My point being that the kids themselves would likely not be the sole users of the bikes.  I agree with the benefits and acknowledged that I went with worst case scenario, but the organization says it is donating bikes so kids will get to school more easily.  I pointed out that there is a good chance the bikes will not be used for that purpose.

And I think that people who are determined enough to be part of a solution to anything, from the crises in Darfur and Congo and beyond to getting bikes to kids in Tanzania -- deserve to be taken seriously.  How do the rest of us help leverage what those with good intentions want to, and clearly simply will, do?

Beautifully said and right on.  It is precisely what I am hoping to learn as well.  To go further a bit, we need to ask, “how do we lift up and encourage these people to be smart about how they get involved in aid and development?”  More people are having experiences like the Hugues, so how can their new passions can be put to a positive use?  I would love to spend more time discussing this topic and invite you to share what you think as either a guest post or as future post on your blog.

These are decisions that are fundamentally about human relationships.


But I'm also for acknowledging that there is meaning and importance is the small-scale human endeavor.  It may not be perfect, but I think it's based on exactly the kind of human connection we're all hoping might the basis for change.

I am in lock-step with you here.  I do not at all want to discourage small scale or individual efforts (in many ways I would be discouraging myself if I did since I have been building up my blog alone).  I see people like Geoffrey Canada as a perfect example of the power of an individual with a great idea, energy, and a deep connection and devotion to a community.


I want to thank Jina for her comments and post.  I really love it when people jump in and tell me where I have made mistakes.  I have stated many times that my goal is to use this as a tool that educates both myself and whatever small audience I have.  Conversation is necessary and encouraged.  Positive comments feed the ego, but negative/constructive ones are the kind I value most as they force me to re-evaluate what I had previously thought.  So thanks and keep the comments coming.