Thursday, January 14, 2010

How Should We Help? A Discussion on International Aid

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” ~ Chinese proverb

The past day and a half, communication mediums have been saturated with heartbreaking news of the powerful quakes which have rattled the tiny country of Haiti, a nation already ridden with extreme poverty and dire living conditions. The international community has grandiosely responded to the crisis – from foreign governments pledging aid, to celebrities nudging their fans to pitch in, and to supplies being promptly delivered, everyone is hoping the suffering of the people will be eased, if only a little.

A friend I was discussing the terrible event with, yesterday, suggested something which made a lot of sense. It would require a bit of effort to work out the logistics, but in the end, if the approach was seriously considered and implemented, it would better the Haitian conditions of living, and would boost the economy of other countries involved with international relief.

As most know all too well, the American economy is suffering; every day, more businesses – even some that have been successful and active for decades – are shutting down in our country. What if, my friend asked, our government and other foreign institutions could join efforts and provide a program to fund contractors willing to go and rebuild Haiti? If some of our failing businesses could be given an opportunity to keep their heads above the water by winning a contract abroad, some of their profits would filter back into our country, as opposed to just sending money into the black hole of relieving extreme hunger and poverty only temporarily.

If contractors were encouraged to go in and rebuild – or even unemployed police forces were offered the opportunity to go and sustain local public safety – there would be jobs available for Haitians who would no longer need a handout but would, instead, be able to be a part of the rebuilding process, soon able to take care of themselves. Currently, even without natural disasters, we feed people who, if given the right tools, could be feeding themselves. If the dilapidated shacks were replaced by acceptable housing, public safety was restored, and resorts built by investors interested in taking advantage of new opportunities, Haiti could become a prime spot for tourism.

Certainly, I am aware that such an accomplishment would require a lot of planning, but it is not impossible. This is an opportunity for Haiti to go through a second birth, and for some failing US businesses to be rescued from drowning into economic hardship our country is currently experiencing. Our world is changing, and our actions must shift with it. Handouts, no matter how generous or selfless, help things but don’t stimulate change. If we want to see true change, we need to get to a point where people aren’t just fed or clothed, but empowered with the self-confidence and the skills necessaries to make a difference for themselves.

It can be done. Everything can be done, if approached from the right angle and with an open mind. It is time we all come together to fix old problems using the suggestions of a new mindset. Only then we will be able to call ourselves an international community.

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