To give aid or not to? Now, that is the question.
Poverty during my childhood
The issue of giving and receiving aid is a very sensitive one for some people. My family hit a rough patch when I was about 12 and that lasted for a couple of years. I would go without food the whole day, walk about eight kilometers round trip to school. The thing that kept me going was that my parents told me (and my siblings, of course) that I had to work hard at school, go to college, get a job and then I would be able to have enough food. There was no aid handed to us by some sponsors from the US, UK or anywhere else. We did not have or need support from outside in order for us to be motivated enough to go to school.
Fast forward many many years later, we suddenly need motivation from sponsors/donors in order for our children to go to school. Why am I so against aid? My answer is a bit long, but bear with me.
I was visiting my parents several years ago after being away for a year when I heard some loud voices outside early in the morning.
Flo’s mom: Hey, you are not yet ready? Today is the day!
Sharon’s mom: Give me a few minutes and I will be done.
Flo’s mom: Hurry up! We will be late.
Sharon’s mom (a few minutes later): OK, I am ready. Let’s go!
I would not have paid attention to the conversation except for the fact Flo’s mom said “hurry up”. This is a woman who never does anything that requires expending energy. In short, Flo’s mom is a very lazy woman – something she was well known for in the neighborhood.
Why I do not like aid
Since my interest had been aroused, I asked my mother where these two women were rushing to. She said that poor parents whose children attended school regularly were given mealie meal (corn meal), cooking oil and beans enough to last for about a month. I had heard about this ‘phenomenon’ before, but had never met anyone who was actually paid (that’s how I see it) for having their kids go to school.
My mother also told me that she had been voted onto the school board of the local community school even though she did not have children there. She had declined the position but the parish priest and other board members finally convinced her to take the position. One of the board’s duties was to go through class registers every month, see which children consistently attended school and ‘paid’ their families with dry food stuffs. The board had noticed that some children did not attend school except for the last few days before rations were given out. These children were not given anything and their parents had protested – very loudly, I must add. The board members were not happy with this because the parents knew the rules. The board also knew the families personally and knew that the children had no real reasons for not going to school.
So, to me giving aid in order for children to go to school, something their parents should ensure they do anyway, is encouraging laziness and a sense of entitlement as seen from my mother’s experience. The parents, Flo’s mom in particular, get encouraged not to work hard because they know that their food supply is guaranteed through their children. Who knows, maybe some people may decide to have children just to receive free food as well. I (and countless other children) never needed aid to motivate us to go to school, so why should generations after me need to be paid to go to school? What will happen when this aid dries up? Will children stop going to school?
The above reasons have made me not like aid for the most part. Why should someone have to pay me for improving my own life? Why should some old lady somewhere in Europe knit her fingers off, sell the product and send my childred food every month (figuratively speaking) while I wake up at 10.00 am, eat the food she sent, chat with my neighbors and relax the whole day, go to bed at night and wake up to the same thing tomorrow? Basically, that is what Flo’s mom has done for years. Her laziness is being encouraged and I do not like that at all. I know I do not receive aid, but it just makes me mad to see what some Zambians have been reduced to – glorified beggars. I am mad! They are giving the rest of the Zambians a bad name. We are not too poor to try and fend for ourselves!
I know some families need all the help they can get, especially with the scourge of HIV/AIDS, but the majority of them do not. What is the solution, then?
I believe that one of the solutions is education for the parents. They have to be taught that it is for their children and families’ benefits that the kids go to school. My parents told me constantly in different ways why I needed to go to school – e.g. I could travel the world (and I have done quite a bit of that) and I could have all the food I wanted. It would also help if successful people gave talks at schools about the benefits of hard work so that the children see the results of hard work.
I hope that this dependency syndrome will one day stop in Zambia and people will be like they were years ago – strong people who depended on themselves and not handouts.