Small, good things

Last week’s Huffington Post account of Karimu’s work (, by Suzanne Skees, underscores a point recently made by the development economist Owen Barder.

Barder calls his July 14 blog post “Can Aid Work?” (, noting that the many people who are skeptical of foreign aid justly ask what impact it “has on the country as a whole.” He continues: “Does it lead to economic growth? Does it drive up the exchange rate and so damage competitiveness? Do governments become dependent on donors and so less accountable to their own citizens?  Does aid keep the bad guys in power?”
These are serious questions which it is crucial for some people to ask and try to answer. They have motivated influential critiques of foreign aid like William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden and Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid. In 2006, Easterly, a New York University development economist, spoke for legions of foreign aid skeptics when he complained that after six decades of “countless reform schemes to aid agencies and dozens of different plans, and $2.3 trillion” in spending, the “aid industry is still failing to reach the beautiful goal” of ending poverty. Easterly, Moyo, and a host of other critics give discouraging answers to Barder’s questions.

But they are questions that have little or nothing to do with the goals of little nonprofits like Karimu which, as the Huffington story observes, “runs on a shoestring.” Small nonprofits working directly with people in need rather than with the “bad guys in power” can appreciate what Suzanne saw last month in Tanzania and what Barder saw when he lived in Ethiopia the last three years: “aid working every day,” as he puts it, in the form of “children going to school” or “health workers in rural villages” or other types of “visible evidence of the huge difference aid makes to people’s lives.”

Karimu cannot answer the big questions: we cannot produce economic growth for all of Tanzania, or promote the international competitiveness of its industries, or put good guys (and good women) in power.

What Karimu can do, however—as we refuse to let the perfect become the enemy of the good—is continue to accomplish a few small, indisputably good things. Year after year, Karimu can build classrooms and buy textbooks to enable more children to go to school so they can learn from outstanding teachers like Paul Yoronimo and Daniel Amma, whose ongoing professional development Karimu can support. Karimu can help the remote, rural primary school where Paul and Daniel work, as well as the nearby secondary school, retain superior teachers by building apartments for them.

And Karimu can celebrate with Paul and Daniel and their colleagues when they hear the news, as they did recently, that their students have achieved the fourth highest secondary-school-qualifying exam results in all of Tanzania.

Karimu can install a clean-water system at Paul and Daniel’s school, as we expect to do soon—maybe next month—once we solve a minor technical problem. Karimu can supply six hundred forty mosquito nets to rural households as we did last year, deliver clean-burning and fuel-efficient cooking stoves to a couple of hundred homes as we anticipate doing very soon, and bring doctors from California to consult with Tanzanian nurses and midwives bent on radical improvement in the health of the mothers and babies who are their patients and neighbors.

Whether foreign aid conceived on a grand scale can work is, as Barder admits, a tough question. But whether Karimu can work is, for the many Tanzanian villagers and American volunteers—and one Huffington Post reporter—touched by its projects, absolutely not in doubt.—Don Stoll


About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
This entry was posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Small, good things

  1. Don Stoll says:

    The comment below comes from a valued friend.—Don Stoll

    Hi Don,
    As you know the Internet connections are not good in Babati and I am
    unable to write on to your blog, but I am able to reply which I hope
    you might add to your blog on my behalf.

    The Livingstone Tanzania Trust, working in Babati got into a little
    trouble last year with a local community leader who wanted to shut
    down some of our activities. It was all very sad and the members of
    the community came to me and said that they would support us saying
    that LTT have been here just a short time and done so much, but this
    man has lived within our community for over 10 years and done nothing
    to help us.
    It transpired that it was prior to the election and we were making him
    look bad.
    Karimu’s work, like our work, brings hope, brings new enthusiasm,
    brings honesty and helps to create the environment for change. But
    the by product of such work is that it shames the leadership, and when
    you see their new air conditioned offices, perhaps they need to be
    Grassroots sustainable participatory development is one of the best
    ways to bring about real changes. It is non-tied, non-conditional, the
    funds are not spent through the long chain of bureaucratic officials at
    both the donor and receiver end. But is is targeted, accountable and
    has measurable impacts.
    Keep going Karimu and long live the small not for profits!!
    Julian Page
    Director of Livingstone Tanzania Trust

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