Category Archives: foreign aid

Looking Back on South Africa

By Jake Amatruda

MINNEAPOLIS – The popular image of sub-Saharan Africa is usually a hungry child standing in a dust- and dirt-floored hut.

During my time in South Africa over recent months, I witnessed something different. In the bustling cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, life did not conform to that picture of want and poverty that so often comes to mind. Life on the whole, of the entire population, was not so dire – or it was at least played out in a different context.

More luxury Mercedes and BMW cars passed us on the freeway near Joburg than would on a given day driving down the I-95 to New York City – and this was despite the prohibitive import tax that would have made those cars even more expensive – evidence of the riches that some South Africans clearly possessed.

South Africa has the most developed infrastructure of any of its sub-Saharan neighbors, even more so now because of the expansion and refurbishing that took place in preparation for the World Cup. Being more developed, the country has a particular brand of urban poverty, rather than the rural variety that many Americans associate with the area.

Places like Kliptown and the squatter camps outside of Joburg are full of people chasing the mirage of urban opportunity, an illusion that evaporates only to reveal rampant unemployment, scarcity of unskilled jobs, and thousands of others just like them pursuing the same dream.

“The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer.” It’s a familiar, age-old saying – overused, maybe, but the reason for its endurance is that there is some truth to it. The gap in wealth, resources, and quality of life is astounding in South Africa.

Near Mtubatuba, my place of residence during a one month+ stint of employment, the view of Africa as epitome of desolation and pinnacle of poverty was contradicted simply by the landscape. I was surrounded by lush vegetation, much of it part of the industrial farms that produced gum trees and sugar cane for the local paper and sugar mills.

Poverty in South Africa was not worse than I expected. Near cities, in tightly packed rows of ramshackle housing, life seemed more desperate than it was in the countryside – perhaps the idyllic setting of rural areas tricked me into an unrealistically rosy perception, or the fact that misery was never as concentrated there as it was in highly populated urban townships.

The “township tours,” which show off poverty in order to make a profit, are popular attractions for foreign tourists. They make me uncomfortable, in spite of the fact that some of the money goes to people in need who might have no other source of income. I feel that I should avert my gaze, rather than risk offending or shaming them, but I wonder how much of this sentiment comes from a sense of impropriety, and how much from a desire to push the bad/struggling parts of the world aside so that I can continue living my comfortable life and attending Yale University.

Does merely raising awareness of conditions of need, whether it’s in South Africa or somewhere closer to home, lead to improvements? There must be more.

The other day, I heard a man say that the problem with direct service is that there will always be more to do, another person to help. Maybe the best way for me to help, at least for now, is to get involved in groups that can have a long-term impact on situations like those in Kliptown, South Africa.

Or maybe that’s just the easy way out.


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Filed under Africa, foreign aid, Globalist, Overseas Bureau

Media and Aid

by Diana Saverin

When the urge to donate money to charity strikes, images of global poverty, famine, and health issues often arise. This is a justified phenomenon; these issues are as tangible as the computer screen you are looking at, but how can you put your dollar to the most work? UNICEF does a fantastic job of dissipating donor concerns over where their money is going on their “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” boxes by putting statistics such as “$45 provides school supplies for 20 kids, $112 provides emergency blankets for 37 kids, $200 immunizes 104 kids against measles.” These numbers reassure the donor that he or she is truly helping, but what about the causes that don’t lend that warm feeling?

Enter a crucial element of the infrastructure of any organization: media. It may not directly save lives, but it allows organizations to raise money and awareness. Organizations aiming to help women have especially struggled in this area, and need to improve the public relations of their organizations more than ever with the changing tides of technology. Media and PR receive around 2% of the money donated to infrastructure, which is only 1.8% of the total amount donated to women annually. If these organizations had the resources to tap into mainstream media to publish articles about their projects, the effects on donations could make a true difference. The National Council for Research on Women has published several groundbreaking reports, with little to no media attention. Two sisters discovered their wealth when they saw their names listed as the 500 richest Americans, and went on to create “Women Moving Millions,” which has over $150 million pledged to give back to women, but most haven’t heard of it. Right now, for every development dollar spent, girls receive less than 2 cents. Media is a crucial component for an organization to survive. It may not immunize a child, it may not be inspiring, and it may not evoke the same emotions as a picture, but it mobilizes the public’s interest in these topics and educates them on the issues at hand.

The recent tragedy in Haiti highlights the efficacy of a successful media campaign. Within two days of the earthquake, over $5 million were raised through texting. The donations have continued to multiply, and are in large part due to the strong technology and media resources employed by the American Red Cross. If women’s organizations could capitalize on the efficiency of media and technology to affect change, using a strong and accessible model like the American Red Cross so successfully did, the implications for women around the world would make history.

The infrastructure of an organization matters almost as much as the services they provide, and for a donor to make a difference, she has to look to see beyond the statistics to what is truly needed.

Diana Saverin is a freshman in Berkeley College.

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Filed under activism, disaster relief, foreign aid, Latin America, media