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#3093: On Charity and Religion : Driver comments

From: Tom F. Driver

I find myself in deep agreement with Bob Corbett's affirmation of both
material aid and work for structural change in Haiti. I myself bend my
efforts in both ways. The little church to which I belong (the Jan Hus
Presbyterian Church in New York City) has responded to my initiative by
sending money on a regular basis to a small school for children in a deeply
imporverished area of Port-au-Prince. Since the school hangs on by a thread,
our small contributions help it survive. At the same time, I devote most of
my Haiti work through Witness for Peace, a U.S. faith-based organization
that does not engage in any material aid, neither in Haiti nor in Central
America, where it first began to work. Instead of giving material aid, WFP
works to change United States policy toward Latin America, which we think is
very unjust, exploitative, and militaristic. We think that the poverty in
Haiti, Nicaragua, and some other countries to the South, is no accident but
the result of certain US policies that have been designed to enrich our own
country at the expense of others.

So my position is this: I give material aid to Haitians in a particular
place where I think it will do some good that I can see, and I give my
organizing energies to a campaign to get the American government to do the
right thing. If it is to the latter work that I devote some priority, it is
because when I speak with Haitians they tell me that what they most want is

I also invest in FONKOZE, a Haitian organization which straddles the
distinction between material aid and working for structural change. FONKOZE
offers loans and other banking services to people who are so poor that they
cannot get help from commercial banks. While giving immediate, concrete
assistance to individuals and small groups, FONKOZE also aims to change the
economic structure of Haiti. I feel that if you want to do good in Haiti,
you should wear bifocal lenses.

I would like to ask my dear friends of Haiti to stop fussing and get on with
our work. I have no quarrel with any missionaries in Haiti unless they
object to people like me who work for structural change in Haiti. Some
missionaries and some other do-gooders resist addressing Haiti's structural
problems. Some of them think that it's quite enough to "love Jesus," and
some are actively opposed to social change.  I'm a Christian theologian who
thinks we should dream of and work for a better society here on earth. I get
this motivation from the Hebrew prophets, and from Jesus. To achieve this
aim we have to work on two fronts at once: 1) the heart of the individual
and 2) the social millieu in which every individual lives.

Let's pull together.
Tom F. Driver
New York City