Whose story do you hear?

camel safariImagine you’re donating to a wonderful American-based Christian charity. This group of kindhearted, Godly professionals has entered the battle against human trafficking in Asia. They support local Christians to stop trafficking operations and provide safe rehabilitation services for young women in awful situations.

The support is both financial and logistical, with teams regularly going to support the local workers. In fact, this very week the organization is sending a team to perform on-site training. The organization’s expenditures are carefully accounted for and meet international charity standards. You’re happy to give lots of money and you trust them fully – what could be a better cause?

 

Imagine you’re an Asian Christian running a safe house for trafficked girls. You’re supported by a US-based organization, but that organization has withheld significant funding because you are unable to supply the necessary receipts. The problem being that receipts for vegetables bought at the local market and other such expenditures don’t even exist in your country. As a result, you’ve been paying for the girls’ food out of your own pocket for the last two months, and there is serious tension with the organization, who is now threatening to cut off funding altogether

This week, in the midst of that tension, eight Americans from the organization come to give a three-day training. Actually, only a few of the eight are from the organization and the others are “associated” or friends. The workload was light enough that two of the eight could have handled the training by themselves, and half the group is there for fun and didn’t even participate except to observe. All eight are staying in a four-star hotel, and though the training is only three days, they will spend an additional week touring the country and sightseeing. You’re seeing months of your safe home’s budget being spent on this short trip. At the end of the first day of training, during which they say nothing you haven’t heard before, they ask for feedback. And all you can say in response is, “We’re already doing everything you talked about.”

The trainers reply, “Okay, well, sometimes it’s good to hear it again.”

 

If you happened to be a Westerner funding such an organization, whose version of events would you have the opportunity to hear?

That American organization sent eight people (none of whom have any direct experience in our country or anything like it) to run a training without asking the people who run the safe house what they needed. As has been their habit, they set themselves up in one of the most expensive hotels in the city and tacked on extra days for travel and sightseeing, while the project they fund runs a bare-bones operation.

Peregrine was aghast as she sat through the ordeal. Afterwards she had to listen to the behind-the-scenes lament of our local friends. They don’t feel able to challenge their funders any more than they already have, because challenging their funders could result in the loss of the funding and the safe house shutting down. So while the local staff can barely afford food, the American staff are living large, and they aren’t even aware of half the uselessness of what they do because they don’t understand the situation, and don’t ask.

I wish I could say this was unusual. But this is par for the course. When you fund a Western charity doing work in a developing country, especially when your Western employees aren’t living alongside the local employees or the people they serve, this will likely be how much of your money will be spent.

This is not a call for Westerners to stop participating in development and charity work, as that will only exacerbate the divide. It is a call to participate in that work with a much greater awareness and regard for those who you are trying to serve and those who are in closest contact with them and understand them best.

It is also a call to reevaluate our “stewardship” of money. If you believe that that the incredible disparities in wealth that exist in the world are God’s intention, that God intended for you to be the arbitrator of goods, to decide who gets the funding they desperately need and who does not…then think very, very carefully about what you tell the poorer people you fund how they should be stewarding “your” money…and its relationship to how you actually steward that money yourself.

One thought on “Whose story do you hear?

  1. Disturbing.
    I grappled with some of this dynamic when I recently had a sum of money to give away. The same amount of money could employ 10 people in India (or other developing countries) or one person in Australia. Consequently I decided to give most of the money to organisations in the developing world. The only money I gave in Australia was to environmental organisations – since there’s no substitute for Westerners reducing their emissions.
    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

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