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Cities of God
February 28, 2008 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Slum (youtube: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Dwellers (mp3): how the other billion lives.
posted by hadjiboy (60 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite

 
I forgot to add: the first video contains footage of a woman giving birth at home, so if you're not comfortable watching that kind of thing (or if you're in the office), you may want to skip that part--it's in the beginning.

Sorry, I should've put an nsfw tag maybe.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:34 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much for posting this, hadjiboy. It's sleepytime for me now, but I did watch the first few minutes of clip 1, and I look forward to seeing it in its entirety.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:39 AM on February 28, 2008


You know, these clips are examples of just the sort of work that young TV journalists think they will be producing once they get a "real" job in the media: socially relevant, informative, powerful. Wish there were more examples out there.
posted by enjoytroy at 6:49 AM on February 28, 2008


yes. there are many people that live in slums. What is to be done? I will sit at my nice new computer and watch videos that I can get to view while sipping my coffee and eating a bagel. Golly. Those people have it tough. Thank god it is not my life. Done.
posted by Postroad at 7:20 AM on February 28, 2008


Thank you, a most interesting and important topic! Visiting the slums of Nairobi definitely changed my life.

Let me also suggest SLUM-TV for a view from the inside: It's a project that aims to empower people living in the Mathare slum in Kenya, by giving them the equipment and know-how to start their own TV programs. They report about their lives and environment, and also produce entertainment programs, and show the results in free public screenings in Mathare and on the web.
posted by dnial at 7:22 AM on February 28, 2008


yes. there are many people that live in slums. What is to be done? I will sit at my nice new computer and watch videos that I can get to view while sipping my coffee and eating a bagel. Golly. Those people have it tough. Thank god it is not my life. Done.
posted by Postroad at 10:20 AM on February 28


Think of it this way. There is someone looking at your life, sitting in front of a computer all day in a pathetic attempt at some intellectual or social escape from the suffocating confines of your job, and saying "Thank God it is not my life."

The point of these pictures is to ask yourself why the hell people are forced to live like this. Human civilization figure out the needs for isolating sewage from their dwellings thousands of years ago. Why do 60,000 people in Kenya chose to congregate in slums, why don't they disperse? Because as unbelievable as it sounds, this slum is their improvised solution to a worse problem.

Furthermore, one must ask at some point why the combined resources of the world's economic powers cannot provide clear water and sewers for a place like that. How much could it possibly cost to build a decent plumbing and communal restroom facilities? $10 million? How about we send the materials and 20 guys and teach the people living there how to build and maintain their own water and sewer system, instead of contracting out to Bechtel or some European company to fly their own workers in at 100 times the price, do a half-assed shitty job, and humiliate the local population in the process.

It could be corruption at the local level or the international level. Whatever, who cares. Every kid in that slum is one bad day away from picking up an AK-47, and who can blame him. If it were me, and I saw the endless parade of long-faced Westerners in suits, or worse $100 cargo shorts and designer hiking boots, at some point I'd organize a fucking revolt. Dying in a firefight is better than literally dying in a pool of my own filth.

I understand that there will always be poverty, but seriously, send over a few thousand shovels, a few tens of thousands of feet of pipe, and some blueprints, and let them at least have some dignity. Christ.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:58 AM on February 28, 2008 [16 favorites]


yes. there are many people that live in slums. What is to be done? I will sit at my nice new computer and watch videos that I can get to view while sipping my coffee and eating a bagel. Golly. Those people have it tough. Thank god it is not my life. Done.

Let them eat cake, huh?
posted by John of Michigan at 8:16 AM on February 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


DNFTT.

Nice post, hadjiboy. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on February 28, 2008


Well said, Pastabagel, and thanks for posting this hadjiboy. This is an embarrassment for everyone. I've posted about this too. No, Postroad, I can't fix it it on my own but that doesn't mean I can't talk or increase awareness about it. All I can do is send a few bucks via my nice new aging (but sufficient) computer.
posted by tellurian at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2008


Newsflash: You can buy shovels and plumbing equipment in Nairobi, too. [Hint: If you can afford it.]
posted by dnial at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2008


I think you are right about the rest, pastabagel, sorry for being harsh. But imo we urgently have to realize that giving breadcrumbs to "those poor people" will not solve the problem. Giving them shovels is one step better, giving them respect and fair trade regulations, stopping to brutally exploit them and enforce unfair politics may be even better, and who knows what might happen if we can fundamentally make our global society more just, honest, sustainable and so on...!
posted by dnial at 8:56 AM on February 28, 2008


...why the combined resources of the world's economic powers cannot provide clear water and sewers for a place like that.

Because there is no incentive for the corporate economy to (actually) help people. Giving the occasional appearance of philanthropy helps the bottom line by keeping idealistic consumers from revolting, but at the end of the day, philanthropy isn't how the money is made.

....How about we send the materials and 20 guys and teach the people living there how to build and maintain their own water and sewer system...

Want to make it happen? Contribute today! Engineers Without Borders is an excellent organization that does exactly that. Granted, there aren't nearly enough of them to help the billion or so people involved, but at least they're doing something.

dnial: I would argue that the global, corporate economy is structured around concentrating wealth as much as possible, and that it will continue to do exactly that no matter what laws and stop-gaps we enact. Because concentrating wealth - and thereby generating a few 'haves' and a heaping load of 'have-nots' - is what the system is designed to do. Changing our economic system is step one towards changing this situation.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


Don't miss the Flickr photo essay of Dharavi (Bombay's most prominent slum) in the "the" link. Here it is again. It's staggering in its portrayal of poignant beauty and ingenuity amidst impossible squalor.

Excellent post, hadjiboy. Thanks.
posted by gompa at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Poastroad. Look and learn. Unless you are a very, very, wealthy American (or a a citizen of the EU) in twenty years there is a fair chance you, or many of the people you know, could be living in a close approximation. It's not a certainty. But it's not out of the realm of possibility. One could look at history and current trends and say it's probable.
posted by tkchrist at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It could be corruption at the local level or the international level. Whatever, who cares. Every kid in that slum is one bad day away from picking up an AK-47, and who can blame him. If it were me, and I saw the endless parade of long-faced Westerners in suits, or worse $100 cargo shorts and designer hiking boots, at some point I'd organize a fucking revolt. Dying in a firefight is better than literally dying in a pool of my own filth.

Me too. Reclaiming ones dignity though violence, while often not productive or sane, can seem like the only viable option.

However the solution people seem hesitant to mention is really the only long term solution. And that is family planning and birth control. The world just cannot sustain six billion people in dignified conditions. Even with an ideally operational social justice system. It's not possible.
posted by tkchrist at 12:03 PM on February 28, 2008


tkchrist, don't forget that when people's economic lot improves, they then tend to start having smaller families.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:26 PM on February 28, 2008


slum
slum

and
btw
posted by kliuless at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2008


Excellent and informative post. Thanks hadjiboy.
posted by nickyskye at 7:35 PM on February 28, 2008


Cool post, thanks hadjiboy.

I understand that there will always be poverty, but seriously, send over a few thousand shovels, a few tens of thousands of feet of pipe, and some blueprints, and let them at least have some dignity. Christ.

Pasta, you're brilliant as ever.

I moved to South Africa last year to do some pro-bono work with one of the biggest NGOs doing relief and development work in the third world. I think both are necessary, at different times in different places, but that's a whole can of worms we already opened recently on the blue.

I've seen the slums here in South Africa. And in Kenya. And in Zambia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

When I was in Zimbabwe I had some time near Victoria Falls - probably one of the nicest, safest areas in the country - and even that tiny outpost of resort hotels was surrounded by areas where the living conditions could be described as not much more than slum. I went running outside of town each morning and got to see more of the local conditions.

Unlike most other places I've been in the world, people didn't beg for money. They begged for bread. They begged for clothes. Old t-shirts back in your hotel room. Your hat. Your shoes.

They begged for shoes, because they can't get things like shoes there. 95% of the population can't afford to buy them.

On my first full day there, I went on a rafting trip on the Zambezi. I felt simultaneously guilty for indulging in such an extravagant pleasure while there were people everywhere who wouldn't eat 2 meals that day, and somewhat justified in supporting the local businesses that created jobs for the lucky few of the locals.

I sat on the front of the raft, and across from me, one of the guides - Butho (short for Butholezwe). He was a smallish kid, about 20 years old, skinny. Big smile, and a NY Yankees hat that a previous client had given him. After a nice day on the river, we reached the end of our trip and started hiking up out of the river canyon. Your lower half gets covered in mud during this process, and Butho started asking me a question that I couldn't quite understand, and he seemed a little shy about asking. On the third try I realized he was asking me what I planned to do with my mud-covered Adidas that I had worn for the trip.

I bought these shoes for $50 bucks a year and a half ago and they were starting to fall apart. But he didn't have shoes. He had done this whole trip - the rocky hike down to the river, the rafting, and the muddy climb out, without shoes. I told him I would trade them to him for his company-logo tee shirt. Deal.

We had our beers at the top of the gorge and when we were getting back on the trucks to head back to town, I looked around and Butho was gone. Another guide told me he was "running". 10k's down the road, we caught up with him and 3 other guides, who get their exercise by running ahead of the trucks every day. Without shoes.

When I gave him my shoes later that day, I realized that they were way too big for his smallish feet, and told him to come by my hotel the next morning, and I'd give him some thick socks to wear with them. He came and waited at the hotel and I loaded up a laundry bag with a bunch of other stuff that I couldn't imagine ever wearing again without hating myself. We went back to his place to get the tee shirt. On the way, he started telling me about how he and his co-workers hoped the river wouldn't rise too fast because the rafting would close for the season and they'd be out of work. He was sharing a room at an apartment that a friend of his lived in, because he couldn't afford his own place. I asked him how much rent was.

$15.

For a month?

Yes, about, for a small room, and a bathroom. How much is that in the New York?

I paused.

About 100 times as much.

He was quiet for a minute. It was clear he couldn't comprehend that figure. I tried another way:

OK, so if I didn't live in my apartment in New York for one month, and I gave you the money that it cost, to pay your rent...that would mean you could pay your rent for 100 months. That's about 8 years.

And this was a guy who was doing much better than most in the area.

That experience and many others like it have driven home the point to me that there are more than enough resources and intelligent, capable people in the first world to solve and eliminate most of the issues that we see in the third. Chances are, if you're reading this post, you'll spend more money on yourself today than it would take to sustain a person for a month in many parts of the world. The math here is incomprehensible and yet undeniable.

We have more than enough of what is needed to solve this problem, except for one small yet infinitely significant thing, which Postroad, on his chair in front of his computer with his coffee and bagel in his apartment summed up quite nicely.

There's just not enough motivation.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:40 AM on February 29, 2008 [272 favorites]


Does anyone know how to send some shoes to Zimbabwe? Because I would like to mail some today.

I have seen some crazy poverty in Asia and South America, but most people had shoes. I can't imagine what it must be like in some parts of Africa.
posted by Alison at 4:28 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is also this excellent New Yorker article on the City of Lagos and its squatters.
posted by Alison at 4:32 AM on February 29, 2008


Answering my own question: 1 2 3
posted by Alison at 4:36 AM on February 29, 2008 [12 favorites]


Christ, couldn't we just load up a couple of huge cargo planes and fly over Zimbabwe and dump shoes on everyone? Wouldn't this defiled and humiliated nation be able to come up with a million pairs of shoes, just digging around the back of closets? If that's hard to take for the redstaters, stuff a Ronald Reagan T-shirt into every Right shoe. Seriously, if there was an organized shoe collection for this purpose, I would be right there with my scuffed up size 14 cross trainers, and shame on the shoe companies for not throwing in as well.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:36 AM on February 29, 2008


The worst slums I've seen was the shanty town on the south side of Guadalajara, along the road to Chapala. I was 22, and it pretty well turned my mind upside down a to my idea of whether or not I was doing okay. I've felt absolutely blessed ever since, as I've eaten every day of my life, and have never had to sleep under cardboard or corrugated tin.

What to do? When we travel to Mexico to go caving, we usually take all the clothes and shoes that we reasonably have room for, and distribute them as best we can. The last time, it was through the village Alcalde who arranged to have the church bell rung when we delivered the stuff, so that everyone would have a chance to go through and pick something out. That, and we bought about 30 kilos of coffee beans directly from the growers at their price, because they had been unable to get it on the open market for over a year. I'm sure I don't do enough, and this haunts me sometimes, but I've done something, which is better than nothing, I suppose. *sigh*
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:03 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Flanders, how about this organization?
posted by LN at 5:57 AM on February 29, 2008


Does anyone know how to send some shoes to Zimbabwe? Because I would like to mail some today.

Email is in profile - I'm not back in Zim soon but I can let you know when I will be and arrange transport of your shoes, if you like.

Also, some friends of mine (literally, see the original story, here) - Hanson, the boy band of days gone by, are doing a tour promoting shoes for poor children in Africa, in conjunction with Toms Shoes - see here.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:25 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The worst slums I've seen was the shanty town on the south side of Guadalajara, along the road to Chapala.

On a world-wide scale, that particular area isn't all that bad, physically or socially. Scary thought, no? (Similar to Tijuana and other border cities, Guadalajara has received a lot of immigration from places much poorer and further south, and those "slums" represent a much better situation than the places people are emigrating from; more strikingly, those slums are staggeringly better than the worst options around the world -- Mexico, for all its faults, provides far more public services and public safety than many other countries, and there are reasonably well-functioning religious and non-governmental aid organizations, as well.)

The airlifting of shoes is a cute idea, but I have to say that you end poverty by making deep, redistributive political and economic changes, not by giving away your unwanted extras. Yes, there is a place for basic charity -- the world needs many, many more soup kitchens, for example. But all the shoes in the world won't change the fundamental inequities that create, structure, and perpetuate poverty.

And there is something of a limited pie distribution problem -- to genuinely lift the bottom 50% out of poverty, we in the top 5% are going to have to give something up. Our lifestyles are not sustainable in a social sense (never mind ecologically). Put another way, my ability to sit in my nice heated and cooled house, with reliable services and internet access and in a safe neighborhood, is in some ways predicated on the vast majority of the people in the world never having access to this lifestyle.

So to make real change, we as a society will have to give up something more than just our shoes that we would have thrown away anyway.

(That said, I think that direct connections, like allkindsoftime and devils rancher's stories, are incredibly important -- they don't make any kind of societal change, but they are morally right actions, and show humanity in a way that a donation to an organization never will. The act of listening changes you, and if you can look someone in the eyes when they describe their situation, you will never be entirely the same afterwards. To listen is to be vulnerable -- and in that vulnerability we have the possibility of a different future.)
posted by Forktine at 6:31 AM on February 29, 2008 [15 favorites]


(shameless self promotion here)

If anyone's interested in reading a little more about my brief time in Zim, I wrote a bit here and here - there's a little more detail in there about the local issues. I didn't write enough about it, and many of the other places I've been too, and things I've seen, and I intend to, but right now my work is more important (I really love the fact that that is a true statement).

Oh and here's a short one from a ghetto I was in here in South Africa (in SoWeTo), which particularly broke my heart.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:56 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Forktine is 100% correct. There are more fundamental needs than shoes. Africa needs real development, and this development needs to be far reaching and deep.

Maybe a plane with shoes on it would help, but you know what else would help? More planes and airports. Seriously, right now if an African businessman wants to go from one African country to another, usually he has to fly through London or Paris. There are few intercontinental forms of transport available, which limits the ability of African nations to develop economically.

Also, shoe factories. It means one thing to provide even every single person in Zimbabwe with an old pair of shoes. It is a whole other thing to provide the means for Zimbabweans to make these shoes for themselves. Even if at first they are out of the financial reach of most people, so long as there is a free market (even if the government has to intervene for it to be free) then competitors will come in and the price will go down.

Africa is known for its cocoa and coffee crops. Many Africans (especially often the ones tending these crops) have never eaten chocolate or drank coffee. Fair trade is a very good start, but consider this: in most cafes in Africa, I have heard that freshly ground coffee is unavailable; all they have is Nescafe, manufactured by a Northern corporation (probably in the North as well).

There need to be fundamental changes to the ways that governments in Africa develop their countries. There needs to be unfettered and uncorrupt access to the market, to be sure, but also there needs to be increased government intervention, to prevent the rise of oligopolies, to control and direct how money is invested and spent, and to increase local manufacturing and services. Right now it seems like there is the worst of all worlds: aid to African countries is often contingent on them adopting "free market" policies which are really just policies to denationalize everything, put it in the hands of multinationals, and then set up a system where these multinationals can do pretty much whatever they want. At the same time, general corruption and skimming off the top is quietly tolerated.

Oh, here's another idea: I don't have the numbers to back it up, but I'm going to make a safe guess that news correspondents to Europe outnumber their colleages in Africa by 100 to 1. There are way too few news organizations and correspondents in Africa, and most of them tend to be focused on one or more of the wars going on. True, there are a lot of wars going on in Africa, and a lot of people are dying, but surely it is going to be difficult to get Africa to be taken more seriously as an investment opportunity if the perception is that the whole entire continent is a mess. My guess would be that the perception of Africa as a whole as some kind of godforsaken, backwards, and violence-prone wasteland results in the serious undervaluing of African business. I mean, for all its poverty the economic growth of Africa in certain areas is simply astronomical compared to the sluggish growth of America or Europe.

I want to emphasize that most of this opinion is based off of research I did a couple of years ago, and it was limited. I think I have most of this information correct, but if I am wrong please rip me a new one. Thanks.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:09 AM on February 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


intercontinental transcontinental
Man I always confuse those two.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:10 AM on February 29, 2008


Oh! And don't donate clothing to an organization unless you are absolutely sure that they give away the clothing you donate. I've heard so many stories about huge containerships filled with donated clothing coming to Africa and then being sold in markets. Don't assume that just because you're giving it away for free on your end that it is being given away on theirs.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:12 AM on February 29, 2008


Forktine - I agree with a lot of what you said. Like I alluded to above, this is a serious dilemma in my head. I want to help in the best way possible, and it is possible to "help" in ways that don't really help at all. I've seen way too much of that over here. I doubt my own work very often.

That said, there are a lot of great orgs doing a lot of incredible, sustainable economic development work over here. I met a guy with Technoserve, last week, helping people build profitable chicken farms in Mozambique. He had incredible stories of lasting change over there, and most of it, surprisingly, is not coming through microfinancing efforts, et. al..

There's some interesting Ted talks related to this issue, here (don't miss the part where Mwenda takes a shot at Bono) and here.

Also, our recent conversation on the blue about the whole paternalism issue. I think the key quote from the article was this, which of course supports what you were saying above:

Like earlier practitioners of paternalist charity, today’s Africrats propose policies that treat the material effects of Africa’s problems—disease, dirty water, hunger—not their underlying causes, which the West, too, once struggled with. For thousands of years, high rates of death from infectious diseases were the norm throughout the world. Before the twentieth century, Western parents expected to lose at least one of their children to illnesses that are preventable today. Not until late in the nineteenth century did the White House itself have clean water; in 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie died of typhoid, likely contracted from the mansion’s tainted plumbing. Hunger, too, once darkened what is now the prosperous world, though so effectively has the problem been solved that countries like the United States face a looming obesity crisis.

How did today’s prosperous nations create the embarrassment of riches that they now enjoy? No benign magician descended, à la Jeffrey Sachs, on London or Washington to shower its inhabitants with money. Instead, the rich nations developed laws and freedoms that enabled people to take their futures into their own hands. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has argued in The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, the world’s poorest countries remain poor in part because they lack legal protections—property rights foremost among them—that enable people in the West to tap the potential of “dead” capital and invest it in wealth-generating enterprises.


I have reams of other stuff I've been reading on this, but I digress. I feel like I'm lost in a sea of not-very-clear information on the topic at large and am wondering if I'll ever swim my way to shore. In the meantime, I know I'm helping in a small way, and something is better than nothing. That applies to everyone, not just me - even if it does mean sending shoes. At least it gets people thinking about it.

Most people with the power to help are stuck in a endless infinity of materialism. I know, because I was in it too. Hell, I still am, in a lot of ways. Anything that helps break the cycle, I am in favor of. For me, giving Butho my shoes was probably a hell of a lot more important for me, than it was for him, because it got me thinking.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:18 AM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


The airlifting of shoes is a cute idea, but I have to say that you end poverty by making deep, redistributive political and economic changes, not by giving away your unwanted extras. Yes, there is a place for basic charity -- the world needs many, many more soup kitchens, for example. But all the shoes in the world won't change the fundamental inequities that create, structure, and perpetuate poverty.

We were discussing this idea on Metachat awhile back- the idea of meeting need vs. eliminating need. It's much more satisfying to work on the first, because the results are immediate- you are hungry, I give you food, you are not hungry anymore. But that doesn't solve the fact that you'll be hungry the next day, and will never be able to afford to buy food because you can't get a job that pays enough to meet that need.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:19 AM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Similar to Tijuana and other border cities, Guadalajara

Ok, poor sentence construction -- really, I know where Guad. is, and where the border is.

I've heard so many stories about huge containerships filled with donated clothing coming to Africa and then being sold in markets.

Here is an ABC news story on the subject. Worth reading is The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade, an imperfect but fascinating book that traces a t-shirt from its creation to its final sale in a used clothing market in Africa.
posted by Forktine at 7:23 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh! And don't donate clothing to an organization unless you are absolutely sure that they give away the clothing you donate.

I can personally vouch for the fact that any and all goods donated to World Vision International go directly to the field, rather than to markets, because that's exactly the line of work I'm in. Except of course in the rare but real scenarios where convoys are hijacked in-country by rebels, govt. forces, etc..
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:25 AM on February 29, 2008


Whoa, cool book, thanks Forktine.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:28 AM on February 29, 2008


Over in the MeTa thread, anastasiav wrote:

you need shoes first (in particular, children needs shoes and specific clothing so they are able to attend school)

This is a really, really good point, and illustrates how meeting immediate needs is connected to fundamental issues. This has been a huge issue in the areas I have worked -- in many places, a child without appropriate shoes cannot attend school. It's sort of like that old saw about "for lack of a nail the war was lost" -- without some $3 plastic shoes made in China, a kid won't learn to read, write, or be numerate, which are the sorts of skills that can make the marginal difference between being horrifyingly poor, or working poor.

But what is needed is not a once-off airlift of shoes, but rather an ongoing mechanism that provides kids with shoes. You can do that a lot of different ways -- charity give-aways, subsidies to the parents, better jobs or commodity prices for the parents so they can afford the shoes on their own via market mechanisms, and so on -- there's room here for socialists, libertarians, Christians, and any other world view.

So yeah, it's emphatically not an either/or between immediate needs and long term issues, and I sure hope that what I wrote didn't sound that way.
posted by Forktine at 8:29 AM on February 29, 2008


Returning late to the conversation to say that if you're really interested in the question of how to provide development aid that works - and if you want to understand why money and free stuff by itself generally doesn't - I highly recommend the writing of William Easterly. In particular, seek out his 2002 Foreign Policy essay "The Cartel of Good Intentions" (there's a link to a pdf copy if you scroll down the page aways at that first link).

Among Easterly's discoveries is that malaria-preventing bed nets are more likely to be used in sub-Saharan Africa if the recepients are charged a nominal fee for them; free stuff is generally considered to have no value, and the majority of bed nets given away for free are never used for their intended purpose.

(I was going to post this at that previous paternalism discussion, because Easterly's quoted in passing in the linked piece, but it turned into too much of a self-righteous free-market-is-teh-SuX0R session to bother. . .)
posted by gompa at 10:16 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bed nets for money is far from a decided question.

Here is an article from last October on the subject that provides a good overview of the viewpoints and the dilemmas. I just saw a more recent article on the subject, but can't remember where -- maybe the Gates Foundation announcing a decision on the matter? A quick search isn't coming up with the article I'm thinking of; I'll look more later.
posted by Forktine at 11:19 AM on February 29, 2008


This made me weak with grief. I've been poor (as in, my mother gave me a pair of her own shoes for Christmas poor), but I will be doing something to help. I know exactly which pair of shoes I'll be mailing off next week thanks to the links provided by Alison upthread.

I don't have much, but I do have a heart.

Thank you for posting this, even though it is sad. We are all part of the same family, whether we are willing to accept it and do something about it or not.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:02 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh! And don't donate clothing to an organization unless you are absolutely sure that they give away the clothing you donate.

I was thinking just the opposite. Why do you want to fuck over small African businessmen by dumping product into their market?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:53 PM on February 29, 2008


Meatbomb: "Oh! And don't donate clothing to an organization unless you are absolutely sure that they give away the clothing you donate.

I was thinking just the opposite. Why do you want to fuck over small African businessmen by dumping product into their market?
"

You make an excellent point. I think a better way of phrasing it would have been "Don't donate clothing if your intent is for poor people to get clothing for free, unless you are sure that the organization does in fact do this." In the context of a discussion of people donating shoes to charity because they are moved by stories of people too poor to purchase shoes, it would be a bit of a let down if the shoes they donated ended up not in the hands of someone poor, but in a store being sold at a price that the poor person cannot afford.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:03 PM on February 29, 2008


I hate to bring up a comment from way upthread (especially, like the fourth or so), but is it possible to flag someone and/or their comment(s) as "douchbag"?

If so, consider it flagged.
posted by nevercalm at 7:20 PM on February 29, 2008


I wish I could favorite multiple times, because I would like to give Deathalicious' comment above about 10.

I've been thinking a lot about these issues lately - and it is development that is needed, not aid. But development doesn't mean letting multinational corporations go to town - it means developing the local economy with local capital that generates wealth locally which gets spent locally thus generating income for more people locally.

Maybe that means selling globally - but with the intention of developing locally.

(Yes, I realise I repeated the word "locally" many many times. It was intentional.)

I actually wish that instead of just fair-trade coffee, that I could buy Uganda roasted coffee, because getting a roasting industry going would be better for their economy than just paying the farmers higher prices. I would buy Ugandan roasted coffee for moral reasons, but if it tasted good and was affordable (and with lower cost of living, that might be possible to do), all the better.

There are aid actions which really do help. Bringing in food and clothing really just floods the market*; sending money to buy food and clothing from local producers for redistribution helps in emergencies. Even better are funding schools, clinics for health and birth control, loans and investments for small businesses.

Basically, investment in human capital and local businesses -- and also in infrastructure. I already have made a comment in the paternalism thread (which didn't end on a free-market-suxor tone, but perhaps on a "markets are rarely completely free, and we probably don't want them that way"-tone) that you have have market-oriented development which isn't necessarily market-based. Because the market is, quite frankly, extremely bad at doing anything but growing the market. And even then it has always needed, and always had, lots of non-market interventions to make it work -- authorities setting standards, regulating markets, building trading halls, maintaining infrastructure -- and in the modern age, paying for education and research which has vastly improved our society's ability to produce.

*I actually donate all my re-wearable clothing to the Salvation Army, so that it will be reused locally. Then I go and buy some more clothing (and furniture and dishes and a toaster oven and a sandwich maker...) from the same Salvation Army.
posted by jb at 10:07 PM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


An idea just occurred to me. I would love if there were a Kiva TV show. If some TV channel would send a crew out to Kiva partners and borrowers who were OK with the idea, and showed how the money was being used. It could be not only a great show, but a powerful tool for Kiva and programs like it that are doing impressive small-scale development. I'd watch it.
posted by lorimt at 10:34 PM on February 29, 2008


Furthermore, one must ask at some point why the combined resources of the world's economic powers cannot provide clear water and sewers for a place like that.

Because 80% of the wealth is held by 1% of the population, and that 1% does not want to share. And you're not going to get them to share: if they were the fair-minded, sharing sort of person, they wouldn't have accumulated and hoarded all that wealth. A fair-minded, sharing sort of person might settle for, say, a million a year in income — enough to live terrifically well by any rational measure — and give away the rest of the tens and hundreds of millions their exorbitant salaries provide them.

The CEO of Nortel laid off several thousand employees last week, and gave himself a 22% raise this week. People like him are the root problem, not people like you and I.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:49 AM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


which Postroad, on his chair in front of his computer with his coffee and bagel in his apartment summed up quite nicely.

There's just not enough motivation.


yeah, fuck Postroad, world poverty is his fault. even better, it's every MeFi reader's fault -- except for the guy who gave some broken Adidas to some poor kid, now world poverty is not his fault anymore.

as much as one dislikes to rain on the kumbaya singing session here, it's kind of important to remind that world poverty is a political problem, period. not a volunteering one. solving it (if indeed you think it's possible to solve it, the debate's open there) can not be about sending some money by PayPal to your favorite NGO. NGO themselves are the fig leaves of a system that breeds inequality by design. world poverty and inequality are political problems because the only viable political system in the world, now that Communism, unless you're North Korean, is kind on its way out, quickly became everywhere (esp in the US, but everywhere, really) scandalously rigged in favor of an elite of monstrously rich and powerful oligarchs -- once again Russia becomes useful because it shows us the machinery inside the system in a very open, I'd say merrily shameless, manner.

why does western-style democracy ended up like that? why do we the people vote in favor of this system all over the West, more often than not against our interests? and, really, why do democracy-challenged countries (most of subsaharan Africa comes to mind) who we all like to think would enjoy the benefits of a more open, accountable society, are even more corrupt than the West?

these are the questions. volunteering is nice, but it's not the solution. and feeling guilty about one's relatively lucky position (as if Western countries had no poverty on their own -- 4 words: New Orleans, Ninth Ward) is a popular, petit bourgeois waste of time -- it's sterile, unless you're a fan of Bono and that Boontown Rats asshole guy and really enjoy your RED Gap limited edition t-shirt made of African cotton.

the solution? to sum it up crudely, a radical rethinking of the economic and financial organization of Western countries in a, ah the horror!, Socialist (not Communist) manner: ironclad antitrust legislation, to smash up in a million pieces the few megacorporations who literally run the world, would be a good beginning. war crime trials for war criminals and war profiteers (and the eventual seizure and redistribution of their stolen assets) are another essential first step.

who's voting for that?

seriously.

no one, really.

revolution, anyone?


these are the painful questions.

but then, giving away old shoes is easier and feels much, much better.
posted by matteo at 9:22 AM on March 1, 2008 [9 favorites]


Deathalicious is correct. If you're interested in the economic theory behind this stuff, this article from The New Yorker on microfinancing is excellent. And I can't believe no one has mentioned Amartya Sen yet; he's the go-to guy when it comes to this stuff in pop economics and political economy. I spent the second half of my time in university studying what makes third world development stagnate and what can and can't be done about it. It's fascinating stuff. And as ThePinkSuperhero and others have mentioned, the knee jerk emotional response to just give in a very direct, visceral sense is counterintuitively not the most effective answer. Like another recent article from The New Yorker on third world disease and contagion, the issue is almost always a problem of stagnation with regard to infrastructure. Sen wrote a piece decades (I think?) ago on the tragedy of the Irish potato famine and how it was definitely not a matter of limited basic resources but one of transportation and too little too late political action. He believes most famine crisises throughout history have had similar patterns where the issue is not basic resource limitation but political malaise or instability coupled with a lack of infrastructure needed to efficiently and quickly respond to shortages in a specific area.
posted by ifjuly at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


matteo, you may have made some good points, but what you're forgetting is that there are many in this world who require the essentials of life that you and I take for granted RIGHT NOW. What do we tell those people? What do we do for them?? Do we tell them that to donate something to you at this time would be worthless, because--you know--the Political System that has caused this poverty, will still be in power, and it would be in vain to lend you a helping hand right now?

Do you think that's what Butho would've liked to have heard--how you're going to solve all of his problems by fighting The System, when all he wanted was a pair of shoes--yes--even a pair of "broken" ones, so that he could be a bit more comfortable doing his work. He doesn't mind if they're old, or if they're scruffy, or if they're a bit too large, or a bit too small. He'll wear them proudly, because he's finally gotten something that he never had, and always needed.

I don't want to make this into another Kumbaya session as you've suggested, but the work that allkindsoftime and Deathalicious (and other people who are involved with these NGOs) are doing is not the problem. They're just a small part of the vast solution that is required to solve this problem, and I'm glad Butho got those shoes that he needed. (I know I'll be giving mine to someone as soon as I can after reading this instead of keeping it in my loft as if it had some sentimental value attached to it which I couldn't overcome, and I have you know who to thank for that.)
posted by hadjiboy at 9:07 PM on March 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


hadjiboy: " the work that allkindsoftime and Deathalicious (and other people who are involved with these NGOs) are doing is not the problem"

Err...just to be clear, I only did some research on this a couple of years back for my dissertation. I'm not doing development work, although I definitely had thought about doing it (which is why I had gone for the degree). Although it is true that a lot of what I found out during my research made me think about whether I wanted to get involved or not.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:19 PM on March 1, 2008


I only did some research on this a couple of years back

Well, it's a start. And that did lead to a lot of good ideas that you've shared here with us, which has informed a lot of people on how the world of charity works, and what to do, and what not to.
posted by hadjiboy at 9:52 PM on March 1, 2008


I would like, in as neutral a sense as I possibly can, to question this:
Our lifestyles are not sustainable in a social sense [...] my ability to sit in my nice heated and cooled house, with reliable services and internet access and in a safe neighborhood, is in some ways predicated on the vast majority of the people in the world never having access to this lifestyle.
You're saying it's literally impossible that everyone in the world should have safety, food and basic amenities?

How exactly is the comfortable developed-world life fundamentally predicated on the suffering of developing-world people? Isn't that just the way the world is at the moment?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 10:38 PM on March 1, 2008


You're saying it's literally impossible that everyone in the world should have safety, food and basic amenities?

How exactly is the comfortable developed-world life fundamentally predicated on the suffering of developing-world people?


I am not saying that it is "literally impossible that everyone in the world should have safety, food and basic amenities" -- I am saying that it is socially and physically impossible for everyone in the world to live at the level of consumption at which we in the richer nations do. If some large portion of people in the rest of the world were to begin to do so, it would directly impact my ability to continue to consume so much.

Oh, wait -- that's happening. As China and India increase their oil consumption, my ability to drive a huge-ass SUV has diminished. If I were so unlucky as to heat my house with oil, my ability to have thousands of square feet, occupied by one or two people, would diminish. And so on.

Obviously I not saying that giving the world's population clean water, functioning sewers, and a minimally adequate diet would do much of anything to my quality of life -- if anything, it would improve, because a whole set of diseases like cholera would go away, putting me at less risk when I travel. But there is simply no way that a western "middle class" lifestyle can be extended to six billion people. Can't happen, won't happen, won't work. The level of privilege at which I and 99.9% of MeFi readers live (yes, even the "poor students" among us) is so enormous compared to the bulk of the world's population that it is hard to communicate.

It's things like: how many of us had to choose which child will eat today? How many of us queued up for two hours to fill our water buckets... and if we spill it on the way home, we have to go back and do it again? How many of us carried our family's clothes on our heads for a mile to wash them in a dirty river, exposing ourselves to schistosomiasis each time? Did you routinely have to miss a month or more of school when your shoes wore out, until your parents could borrow at usurious interest rates the $3 for a new pair? How many of your brothers were shot by the police in roundups of "undesireables," and then the bodies were dumped somewhere so you can't even bury them? Does your family have to sleep in shifts because there are so many of you in a 3x3 meter room that not everyone can lie down at once?

These aren't weird, made-up examples -- these are ones that my neighbors had to deal with when I was in the Peace Corps. I later saw worse things, but these were the ones I watched people have to deal with day in and day out for a long time.

The gulf between life at this marginal level, and life as most of us here live it, is just enormous, and there are political and environmental constraints that mean that even if a rising tide is lifting all boats, my lifestyle is unattainable by the majority of the world's population; conversely, if all six billion of us start driving cars, building and owning large, detached houses with heating systems and AC, and so on, well, I'm as utopian as they come and I can't see any way to make that work. So yes, our lives are predicated on other people not being able to access those same privileges. Not predicated on their genuine immiseration, but definitely on their staying much, much poorer than we.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 AM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


To follow on Forktine, western-style consumption for everyone would take multiple planets' worth of resources. Since we only have the one planet, it holds to logic that (barring a technological miracle for energy or other resources), it is impossible for the whole world to partake in the current level of consumption in the developed world. If we are to have equality, that means a reduction in lifestyle for us.
posted by jb at 8:57 AM on March 2, 2008


you are hungry, I give you food, you are not hungry anymore. But that doesn't solve the fact that you'll be hungry the next day

Karl Marx had a great quote that covered this.

I can't remember it precisely, but I think it went "Give a man a fish, and he can eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he can sit in a boat with his mates all day drinking beer"
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:12 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, no no!

It was "Teach a man to fish, and he'll never work again."
posted by Deathalicious at 9:55 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Fishermen of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your jobs!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:40 PM on March 2, 2008


A follow-up on the Nortel comment above: shares tanked.

So here we have one of our ultrawealthy assholes giving himself a $22 million pay package, whilst simultaneously toasting 2200 employees and driving the share price into oblivion.

Nice work if you can get it.

Why the hell aren't we hanging these people for economic treason?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:46 AM on March 8, 2008


matteo: as if Western countries had no poverty on their own -- 4 words: New Orleans, Ninth Ward

There was a lot of what you said that showed you have very little sense on these issues, but I'll just hone in on this one.

I've worked in the Ninth Ward, gutting houses there. Have you been there?

No, its not as nice as many other parts of America, but if America's your only context (and, from the nature of your post, I think that's a safe bet), then you have no. freaking. clue. my friend.

The residents of the Ninth Ward are comparatively wealthy to many of the people I've seen here in Africa. When the looting started down there, it wasn't just food stores that were affected. People had the luxury of taking whatever they wanted. And the stuff was there to take. In places like Zimbabwe, the stuff simply isn't there - food, clothing, let alone luxuries like bicycles or electronics. They don't even have electricity there to power stuff anyway.

Even the Ninth Ward had electricity - we had to make sure it was shut off before tearing the walls of these houses up. Comparing New Orleans to Zimbabwe is idiotic, at best.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:00 AM on March 10, 2008


if America's your only context (and, from the nature of your post, I think that's a safe bet)

Before matteo drops by to mock you for that, I'll alert you to the fact that, being Italian, he's got plenty of other context, but I'm guessing it's mainly first-world, I suspect the part of America he's familiar with is pretty much limited to NYC and vicinity, and I'll bet he's never been to New Orleans. But even if he had, it wouldn't make a difference; any facts that don't fit into his black-and-white vision of the world don't matter to him.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on March 10, 2008


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