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“For God’s sake, please stop the aid!” This prominently placed quote in a magazine I was reading immediately caught my attention. It reminded me of an article written by Milton Friedman on the null or negative impact of foreign aid. I admit that by then I had developed a prejudice towards Friedman’s opinions, yet his article was so convincing — and startling — that I decided to read more on the matter. This happened during my last summer vacation, in Brazil, not long before the G8 summit at Gleneagles, so the matter was being intensely debated, and articles and papers on the topic were even more easily available than usual. The more I read, the less it seemed like ending poverty was as simple as having countries abide to the Monterrey Consensus. I found the whole issue extremely intriguing, but I was particularly fascinated by research into the types of foreign aid that do work: studies performed by Abhijit Banerjee, Ruimin He, Esther Duflo and Jeffrey Sachs.
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Then came the quote. It was an excerpt from an interview with the Kenyan economist James Shikwati. What struck me his statement’s bluntness: “For God’s sake, please stop the aid!” Only then did I start thinking about the issue in a personal manner; I began to question similar ideas that I had until then taken for granted. Having studied at my present college for one year, where community service is an integral part of the curriculum, I began to reassess the value of the projects I was involved with. I pondered what their ultimate effects really were. Only a few months before, I had gone with a small group from my school to the southeastern coast of India to assist villagers in a tsunami-affected area. I came back terribly disappointed. The villagers were receiving food from the WFP, and various organizations were helping to set things back on track, so they believed that they were not required to do anything. Our group, for example, worked mostly with the desalination of farms, but for much of the time the farmers themselves did not help us. The fishermen, too, had all their tools and boats replaced, but nevertheless they did not work at all for months. This meant that, once the initial humanitarian aid ended, they were not prepared to continue the work themselves.
On the other hand, we also distributed scholarships to orphaned children so that they could continue their education. This, by what I had read and could see, was effective, and it was wonderful to know children who were very keen on studying had the opportunity to continue doing so. Even though we spent more time on the desalination of farms, allocating grants was much more helpful. I thus realized how important it is to thoroughly consider the impact of what we do.
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