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#2568: Corbett replies to Grey on critique of basic charity
>From Bob Corbett:
In Kathy Grey's recent post in reply to a news story of a church
raising money for food, she raises again the issue we've had before
us many times: the division between basic charity work and
work for structural change. I suggest that this is a false dichotomy
and that both are necessary in Haiti or any other place.
There are drastic materials needs in Haiti. As we all know and are
aware, malnutrition claims the lives of many, and often very early.
Health care is scarce for most and non-existent to many. Potable water
is a luxury and for many rural villagers and people who live in the
countryside, electricity, paved roads, or, for that matter, anything
beyone a foot trail, is unknown. Housing is often quite vunerable to
the elements and on and on and on.
When one looks at this situation and focuses on causes, it seems
impossible not to see that these needs and deprivations are caused by
structural things in Haitian society -- the nature of government; the
nature of the economy; the lack of security and so on. Many on the list
can analyze these structural weaknesses much better than I.
If one has a humanitarian (or religious) bent, and is driven by these facts
of need and suffering, one may well be moved to action to help Haitians.
But what to do. That's the rub.
Without fundamental structural change those who rush to service the
immediate needs with basic charity will be fighting a battle that is
forever and virtually impossible to win. The sheer volume of desperate
needs and the paucity of people moved to devote significant energies to
solve them just overwhelm those trying to help. Structural change is
necessary if there is any long-term hope.
On the other hand, structural change takes so very long and often for
every step forward there are several backward. The story which we all
know too well of the great exhilleration of Feb. 7, 1986 and the great
hope which lasted with a significant high until the crushed elections
of November 29, 1987 is a case in point. Then many hopes flaired again
in the Aristide election of Deceber 1990. Since then we've seen the
country thrown into near-chaos and one may ask the difficult question:
just how much STRUCTURALLY has changed? My point is not to criticize
the work for and hope in structural change. Rather, it is to point out
with well known evidence, just how very difficult and long-term the
struggle for structural change is and must be.
What is to become of the masses of people suffering desperate need in the
meantime? Are they to simply be abandoned in the name of the struggle for
structural change and told that a generation or two or three must be
sacrificed in order than we must all throw out energies into structural
I think not. I think the case is strong that Haiti needs people,
Haitians and non-Haitians alike, to participate in TWO battles
-- the battle for fundamental structure change, especially
toward constitutional govenment which is effective
and law-abiding (I see this as much more important
the "democracy" in the vague sense the term is used,
but them perhaps REAL democracy is in constitutionalism).
-- the battle to alleviate immediate material needs now.
But who is to do all this? I've been active in humanitarian causes for
at least 45 years now. I've experieced a lot and it seems to me that
different people within the humanitarian and religious communities are
simply DRAWN to different trusts. For a variety of reasons, which are
not of great interest to me here, some are drawn toward basic charity and
some toward structural change. This list seems to attract many with that
latter bent, or at least they are the ones whose posts dominate.
But the two groups are not in fundamental opposition. At times they
may be in some conflicts. Aleviating radical food shortages may make it
easier for repressive governments to keep from being overthrown. But,
again, are the lives of people to be the weapons of structural change? It
may be necessary that those who CHOOSE that might have to risk their lives.
But for others to be forced into being warriors for the cause so that
a one-minded revoltuionary strategy may be followed, seems to me not a
decent solution to the structural problem.
Haiti needs BOTH those who contribute to basic works of mercy: feeding
the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the underclothed, shooling
the ignorant and so on. Haiti needs leaders in analyzing and leading
the country to fundamental structural change. It desperately needs both
groups. They simply are not on another's enemy.
I have experienced a constant mini-war between the two groups. I've
seen it all my life. Often there can be a sort of smugness among the
charity folk who may appear quite self-satisfied and filled with
importance over their work. Often the structural change folks may well
appear rather arrogant and willing to use others for their purposes
against their own will. I will admit to probably being guilty of both
negative attitudes at different times in my life and in different roles.
Yet I would argue that Haiti needs both groups, and that Haiti would be much
better off if members of each group could come to respect the efforts of
Basic charity is not for everyone. The battle for structural change is
not for everyone. I'd rather see people involved in at least one of the
two struggles if they can't move themselves to both.
I would argue that we need lots of mutual respect and support between the
groups so that Haiti can better be served.