Monday, March 10, 2014


Anti-malaria training program in western Africa
by STeP UP Sao Tome, the in-country NGO.
We know that help is most successful when it is no longer needed. The greatest assistance the United States can give to developing nations is the achievement of self-sufficiency and sustainability.
~U.S. Agency for International Development

The same applies to our individual efforts to help others.

There are always immediate needs, of course.  Getting through this day or this year is impossible for some.  A war, a drought or disease, a regional upheaval; such things cause displacement and suffering that call for help just to survive.

Beyond lending a hand with today's immediate needs, what helps a family or a country make their way forward to a sustainable life of their own?

The successes and failures of recent decades answer the question.  Investments in education, technology, government, health, all can make a difference.  The key element needed for success, however, is a clearly defined goal coupled with the long-term commitment to get there.

A one-time gift to feed a family is deeply appreciated.  It makes surviving the day or the month possible.  A long-term investment may be what's needed to make a difference in the days and years to come.

For a family in Kenya living at the survival level, helping them keep their kids in school is at least part of the way forward for them.  Sponsoring the oldest son's advanced education is culturally appropriate as he will step in alongside the father to provide for the family.  Helping them start and operate a small business is culturally appropriate as that's the viable option for rising above poverty in their economy.  Chickens, agriculture, a small motorcycle to be used as a taxi service, shoes and tools for basic life labors, all are possible options. The key element remains necessary; a clearly defined goal coupled with the long-term commitment to get there.  It's something a friend can do; small-scale, focused, attentively refined to keep on track.  It's much more difficult for a government program to accomplish.

The best options available to westerners who want to be effective are both small and large.

World Vision is perhaps the most effective organization available to us.  While they offer child sponsorship, the actual work on the ground is community based.  Their workers will spend a couple of decades in a community, helping them get on their feet and on a path sustainably forward.  The sponsored kids are served well, but the assistance extends to include their family.  Schools, roads, wells, agriculture improvements, basic business education, and more are offered within the cultural context in usable forms as the members of the community are equipped and resourced to tackle the issues.
Kids get mosquito nets for their homes in the battle
against malaria.  One among many  STeP UP
projects that really help.

In-country NGOs like STeP UP are precisely on target and accountable, recommend by knowledgeable folks at the U.S. Embassy.  They're good folks whom we know personally and coordinate with through every month.

Churches in the U.S. often have direct connections to foreign organizations that provide direct, accountable, and effective assistance.

Best first option, perhaps; go see for yourself.  You can learn more in a week abroad than in years of study and speculation.