Monday, February 6, 2012

Fixing the World

Tim Poppen is a Siouxland icon. He created a local kids' TV show in the 70s that was a centerpiece in the lives of most anyone from my generation who grew up around here. He also goes to my church. And he also has a serious passion for Haiti.

Hubby and I were talking to him yesterday upon his return from his latest mission trip to the island. He's been doing this for eleven years now, and he has an interesting perspective on addressing poverty in these desperate nations. Our hospital there, he said, pays nurses $10 a day, which is a good wage in Haiti. But then these relatively short-term mission groups come in and offer them $25 -- pittance for the mission group coming in, but a fortune to the locals. So of course, the nurses leave the hospital to get that wage. Then when the mission group leaves, those nurses are dissatisfied to go back to their $10 a day job at the hospital. The local long-term stable hospital loses its good nurses, "market wages" for the industry are thrown out of whack, and everything is messed up.

I read a book a while back called When Helping Hurts, excellent book addressing this exact subject -- how rich folk go in to try to help the poor folk and, because they don't understand poverty, end up making everything worse. Tim said so many countries in the world don't like America and don't like seeing Americans come in trying to help them and for good reason: we screw everything up.

In Port au Prince, Tim says, before the earthquake, people lived in shabby homes and barely had enough food to survive. Now, they're living in shabby tents and have plenty of food, thanks to relief efforts. We feel so frustrated that there's no progress in restoring the country. They're in no hurry to be "restored" -- they're better off now.

I commented on this in an earlier blog when the subject of fair trade foods came up. I'm not terribly informed on this subject, but I have read that the whole fair trade market was really screwing up the economies in those countries, because the inflated prices were attracting more people to the industries than the market could support, particularly when those industries (coffee, chocolate, etc.) tended to be those that decline during bad economic times like the west is having now.

Americans are kind-hearted but myopic. We want to help, but we don't have the insight, knowledge or perspective on the problem to fix it. We have a warped view of what is the good life -- even of what is the acceptable life. We are modern-day compassionate Marie Antoinettes, sharing our cake with the poor huddled masses and feeling so good about ourselves because we are re-creating the world in our spoiled, stressed, unhealthy image.

Yay us.

No comments: