Labor Day…One man’s perspective on working for humanity and his God

02Sep13

well dug

Ryan Winter @ http://www.waterforallnations.org 

I was introduced to Ryan via LinkedIn through our mutual friend, Bethany Kiine, who works and resides here in Jacksonville.

Ryan has an interesting perspective on poverty…read on and you’ll see poverty from Ryan’s perspective that may have many readers looking inward…

My experiences in my professional career and life in general are diverse to say the least.

I admire people who make serving others a priority and this value has become one of my personal ambitions in all that I do.

 I have been blessed with opportunities to travel the world and experience many different cultures.

My drive to serve others and the many experiences that I have had outside of the United States have compelled me to start a non-profit organization that focuses on educating people about ways they can meet their most basic needs, especially people in Africa who struggle to get a clean glass of water every day.

As for now, I am pursuing my ultimate goal of starting a non-profit by gaining as much experience in the areas of communications, management, marketing and funds development as possible.

My goal right now is not to become rich, but to gain experience. I believe my experiences thus far have prepared me to do an excellent job in a wide variety of career fields.

It’s difficult to believe that most Africans live on less than one dollar per day when you’re staring at a group of jubilant, smiling Tanzanians playing soccer on a white sand beach with the serene blue waters of the Indian Ocean gently rolling in the distance.

Most people where I’m from would pay big money for a similar experience.

That’s what I’m looking at right now.

 People are laughing, children are chasing each other, and a game of volleyball entirely comprised of locals is about to start.

It just isn’t the same Africa that you see on late night TV commercials petitioning us to adopt starving children in the slums.

Granted, many residents in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – my current location – are not nearly as materially poor as the vast majority of Africans, but the people that are having such a great time in front of me are definitely living well below the poverty line when their incomes are compared to the incomes of most people in the Western world.

I mean we’re still talking about incomes of less than $20 per day and that doesn’t go as far as you would imagine in a third world country like Tanzania. And don’t get me wrong; the slums depicted on those late night commercials are very real…they exist just a few miles from where I am sitting.

Most people in the West have been told that money can’t buy happiness and most people around the world would say that is true.

But nonprofit organizations and governments (including the United States government) around the world must believe something entirely different – at least that’s what their actions would depict.

We’ve been fixing poverty the wrong way.

Western governments have been giving a substantial, and I mean SUBSTANTIAL amount of money to Africa for a long time now so that Africans can be happy and live longer. That’s what our efforts tend to boil down to when we evaluate the broad goals of most nonprofit organizations and government aid efforts in places like Tanzania – we want Africans to live longer, happier lives. More on that in a moment.

                What role does money play when it comes to helping people in places like Tanzania get the aid that they need to live the lives that we think they deserve – to live longer, happier lives?

First let’s talk about the lives that we think they deserve. We think that everyone in the world deserves food, water, shelter, clothing, education, opportunity, etc…surely that will allow them to live longer, happier lives, right? That’s certainly not a bad goal, but is it enough?

Why can’t these Africans playing soccer right in front of me on this beautiful beach have fun? Why can’t they have food, water, shelter, education, opportunity, freedom…whatever we have?

Fortunately for all of us (and them), the West has done a fantastic job of pouring money into countries like Tanzania over the past 60 years so that they can be as happy as we are in the West. And with all of the money that we’ve given to support new hospitals and medical schools, Africans must be living longer.

Somewhere in the realm of hundreds of billions of dollars have been gifted to Africa in some way over the last several decades. If it weren’t for all of that money, Africans would be doomed to live in impoverished conditions, and that’s just not the case anymore, thanks to all of the money that we have given to Africa…

I’m sorry…just one moment. I’m getting a message from someone…okay, I’ve just been informed that Africans are still living in impoverished conditions and the conditions that they’re living in are not too far off from the way that they were living about 60 years ago.

Well that can’t be true. There must be a mistake. Let’s take better surveys! We’ve “invested” so much money in Africa. So much time.

We’ve created so many great organizations that do so much good in Africa. We gave them cell phones! Okay the cell phones are actually a very good thing for Africans. But what has all of that money actually done? Not much.

The governments in most countries that we have helped are more stable, if we measure stability by the number of expensive vehicles that government employees now have.

The point is that money just doesn’t fix the complex issues associated with poverty. It’s that simple. Clean water doesn’t either. More schools? Nope. Farms? Nuh uh.

So how do we fix poverty in places like Africa?

We really want to help those people! What’s more, most of us know that money doesn’t really solve big issues if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s just so much easier to give money than it is to do just about anything else to help others.

It’s not that money is a bad thing. Without countries like the U.S.A., England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and many other highly industrialized nations giving money in creative ways to strengthen countries like Tanzania, many negative outcomes would have transpired. Great hospitals, schools, and community centers could not have been built. Money has done some good in Africa. 

But when is doing good not enough?

It’s not fair to say that an organization or even a government is doing an inherently “bad” thing when they pour millions of dollars into places like Tanzania each year without any tangible progress being recorded over the course of decades of investment – because we just can’t practically gauge success.

We can’t harshly judge a charity because its leader takes a salary of $300,000 or more – because they’re smart and deserved to be paid well. And we can’t call a group of good-doers bad because they spend most of their money from donations on marketing and getting more donations – because how else will they do it?

I’m really not talking about any of those things specifically. Those are just some things that we hear about and develop negative perceptions about which lead us to donate less money.

Fortunately, money is not a means to an end.

The big problem is not how we address poverty. It’s how we define poverty. If we define poverty well, we can address poverty well. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I recently discovered an organization based in the U.S.A. that does charitable work in Tanzania. The organization reported revenues of over $6 million in 2012 according to Charity Navigator, an unbiased web database of well-established American nonprofit organizations.

I was introduced to the organization through a friend in Tanzania and I thought I would see what kind of work the organization did. I found out that one of their largest projects was a feeding program in the same village that my organization was considering working in.

I visited the feeding center with the executive director’s permission. At first glance I thought, “This is what they spent millions of dollars on?” The building wasn’t anything spectacular and the organization’s name was very visible all over the building. It all seemed like a bit of a show. I introduced myself to the Tanzanian staff that was working that day and they gave me a tour of their food distribution center.

According to the organization’s website, this is one of their biggest programs. What do they do exactly? They import dried food from the U.S. to the middle of Tanzania twice per year (the food appeared to have been donated by a major university – there were personal messages on the boxes from concerned students).

According to the organization’s website, one of the meals is “an All-American favorite, macaroni and cheese.” I couldn’t help but laugh because Africans don’t normally eat macaroni and cheese and most have no idea what it is.

I asked my tour guide who happened to also be the cook why they import food from the United States when there is fresh, healthy, inexpensive food right outside. She said, “I don’t know why they import food when we have food available in our community.” Ironically, one of the organization’s core missions is to support the local economy, according to their website. Plus, the organization only feeds 540 children five days per week.

Just a note, it costs less than $5 per day for an average child to eat three very healthy meals each day in Tanzania.

According to the staff at the feeding center, the organization doesn’t do much else in the lives of those children. Just food. Once per day. Five days per week.

Knowing all of this, I left the feeding center with a very funny feeling. It just didn’t make any sense to me and I couldn’t help but think that there was something fishy going on behind the scenes.

But is any of this truly bad?

So what if they want to send macaroni and cheese to Tanzania with the $6 million that they raised last year and do who-knows-what-else with the remaining funds? Let’s give the organization the benefit of a doubt. Perhaps there is some logical reason that they do the things that they do.

In fact, most charities are very good at providing the reasons that they do the things that they do. And they truly believe in those reasons because every one of us values different things. We all want to help people in ways that make us happy.

The world would be in a very bad place if every charity or government aid program were the same.

The aforementioned charity chose to help address poverty through this feeding program that they started. Sure it’s relatively small and backed by lots of money, but it’s doing some good in Africa and probably making many Americans feel good, too. That’s of some value. They are actively addressing poverty in some way.

Here’s my issue with the example organization: They are addressing poverty, but they most likely define poverty as a person’s inability to purchase food. Most people would have similar definitions of poverty.

The truth is that poverty is something that we all experience. It is more than just not having enough money. And it cannot be addressed by pouring money, food, water, microfinance institutions, jobs, or better leaders into a poverty-stricken community or nation.

According to the book, “When Helping Hurts,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, poverty is a lacking in any of the following relationships: Our relationship with God, with self, with others, or with creation.

In this regard, we all experience poverty to some extent – those relationships can never be fully satisfied in any person’s life on earth.

But we can pursue addressing poverty by pursuing positive relationships in those four areas.

Before anyone in the West is capable of doing anything to help anyone in places like Tanzania, we must first recognize that we experience the same kind of poverty as people in Africa do. That does not disqualify us from helping in Africa, but it should change our methods significantly. We must focus on relationships, not solutions.

So what should our methods look like? They will certainly vary, but here’s the long and short of it all – without hope, people will not be inspired to grow out of poverty. Hope leads to motivation, motivation leads to an acceptance of education, and an acceptance of education leads to proper use of innovations, like Tanzanian villagers digging and maintaining their own shallow water wells.

One last question remains. If hope is the foundation for every type of sustainable growth out of the grip of poverty in every sense, is there a truly lasting source of hope? Yes. But it requires faith, and most large nonprofit organizations are unwilling to tackle the whole “religion thing.”

Do people really need faith to live longer, happier lives? Yes. Try to prove me wrong. Humanitarian and charitable programs that don’t foster hope are not going to last, especially in Africa. And hope will not last unless it is rooted in something outside of this life. That only leaves faith.

In my own experience and throughout many years of learning about my faith and others, I am convinced that the only lasting faith that can lead to lasting hope is faith in Jesus Christ and the daily pursuit of a stronger relationship with Him.

It cannot be earned. It cannot be taken away. It is everlasting, even beyond this life. It makes practical sense to include the message of hope that comes through a relationship with Christ in any and all poverty alleviation programs that we promote as humans to help other humans.

And helping other people needs to start in our own backyards. If we don’t know how to say hello to our neighbors when we see them cutting their lawn next door, then we are not qualified to help people discover hope in places like Tanzania – and that includes financially supporting the people who are actually going to Africa to do any charitable work.

So let’s start fixing poverty differently. Let’s stop doing things like shipping food from the U.S. to Africa twice per year to feed 540 children when they could just as easily get healthier, fresher food in their own community.

Let’s stop making ourselves feel good and start building relationships with people, beginning with our literal neighbors. Let’s address poverty by evaluating our own impoverished state. Let’s recognize that our problems are not very different than the problems of people in Africa when we take money out of the equation. And let’s instill a positive foundation for poverty alleviation by fostering lasting hope in Jesus Christ in all that we do to help others.

For more information about Water for All Nations, visit www.waterforallnations.org

well dug 2

What are your fruits of your labors buying for yourself and others?

Celebrate-Love-Life_SavetheDate_LaborDayWeekend



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