The Impulse to Do Good

This is a really long ProPublica piece, which you should surely read if you ever feel tempted to give money to organizations working in developing countries that are run by young white people from the U.S. whose main qualification is an impulse to do good.

Creating real, sustainable change in another country with a different culture and likely a welter of different languages is extremely hard. I’m thinking of my own Peace Corps service in Panama, and of my niece’s stint as a volunteer physician in Africa. Humility is called for. An ability to work with and through local resources is a must. Being on site to see what is actually happening rather than taking high profile fund-raising tours in the U.S. is essential. Keeping appropriate personal boundaries with on site staff goes without saying. Actually have some skills in the area you hope to influence — like running a school — matters.

A college classmate of mine, a Maryknoll nun, has been living and working in Arusha, Tanzania for decades. Mary runs a home where Masai girls come and live while they go to high school rather than being married off. Mary lives on site. She has the professional skill and educational background to tutor the girls in math and science. She controls who has access to the girls, and watches what happens with the adults who do. She supervises the local staff, who have taken on more and more of the responsibility of running the place as Mary gets older.

There’s a world of difference between that and what you see described in this article.

If you have good intentions, and the capacity to give, and an interest in developing countries, beware.

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