I love getting mail! Nowadays, though, a full email and/or Facebook inbox is the equivalent of real mail. Lately there has been a common subject among my messages: what are my thoughts about international development?
Some of the past EWB Junior Fellows are now back in school and trying to put their experiences in context with what they’re learning.
[A side story: some of them also say that it’s been difficult to reintegrate into Canadian society because they find it superficial and they’re having a hard time reconnecting with friends. I don’t share these concerns because, straight up honest, I’m superficial and shallow. While other people have deep wells of emotion and experience, it doesn’t bother me to be about 2” deep. Even here in Tamale, development workers say things like “Saving the world…blah blah… development jargon… blah blah… buzz words” and I think “Actually, I don’t care about the differences between micro-finance and micro-loans. Let’s laugh about who’s kissing who instead.” Because if you put together a bunch of 20-somethings and mix in alcohol, there are always new snogging stories. Don’t read this blog if you’re looking for brilliant insights.]
People often ask me, “What are your thoughts about international development?” so I guess I need to string together an opinion. What I really need is concise 20 second elevator pitch that makes me appear thoughtful and intelligent. Instead, here’s my honest answer:
International development is largely a money making industry that funds projects that would never work in the developed world, but people want to feel good about themselves so they test new ideas in an environment where you can propose anything as long as you bring along money. Having white skin helps too. In the “aid versus trade” debate, I don’t agree with either side – although that’s probably because I’m not an economist and don’t understand the details. That being said, there are still extremely worthwhile projects overseas. For instance, Amplify Governance’s GIFTS project. If you really want to make a difference, I don’t suggest donating money to charities.* Instead, here’s my list of “Ways to Help from Home.”
Ways to Help from Home
- Support overseas education
- Protest war
- Support access to cheap medical drugs
- Don’t support infrastructure projects
- Buy less
- Fight patriarchy
- Acknowledge and fight racism
- Fight homophobia
- Listen to all sides of the story, even if you think someone is ignorant or hateful
- Be compassionate
Over the next 10 days, I’ll expand upon each point.
*If you really want to donate money, then give it to Engineers Without Borders Canada or PeaceGeeks. I fully support both those organizations in their approach to international development.