Last week’s Huffington Post account of Karimu’s work (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzanne-skees/tourists-changing-the-wor_b_892635.html), by Suzanne Skees, underscores a point recently made by the development economist Owen Barder.
Barder calls his July 14 blog post “Can Aid Work?” ( http://www.owen.org/blog), 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