In January of 2010 when Haiti was hit by a tragic earthquake, masses of people supported campaigns from the Red Cross to Oprah by giving money to aid in Haiti’s recovery.
Initially the group ,Médecins Sans Frontièrs (MSF)better known in English speaking countries as Doctors without Borders were forced to work in horrific conditions, using Vodka as a sterile liquid to perform surgery on countless victims. Funds did reach this group and millions were spent on erecting hospitals and clinics to serve the masses. But, months later, some of the doctors within the group believed that nothing internally was being done to help Haiti take back responsibility for rebuilding its own country saying all the rebuilding had been done by Médecins Sans Frontièrs, a group that had already been in Haiti trying to sustain medical services for nearly twenty years.
Reports from various news agencies have criticized the lack of organization of distributing the billions of dollars sent to Haiti from countries pledging millions of dollars of aid to the pennies collected in elementary classrooms. There are many who accuse agencies like the Red Cross of holding funds in Haiti because of no clear jurisdiction about how those funds should be distributed. One report indicated whenever medicine first arrived in Haiti; it was confiscated by locals and sold. MSF has been in Haiti with the best of humanitarian efforts but reports say MSF has enough money to remain there for decades but funds earmarked for this agency as well as other specific agencies often remain unspent while other causes and even other nations remain in dire need. And months later despite the enormous contributions, many Haitians are still starving and without housing. http://tinyurl.com/y8ztljm
While Christians should feel compelled to extend a hand to individuals in need the question of whether we should spend our donations in our own backyard remains a critical one. There are an estimated 19 million Americans or 6.3% of our country’s population living in extreme poverty. Hunger statistics have dramatically increased in America in the last three years. While there is no comparison in standard of living to a third world nation, one still wonders if the billions in aid given to countries that have no means to adequately distribute or take responsibility for development of a stronger economic environment might have been at least partially better spent on improving conditions for the extremely poor of America. The faces most Americans either don’t believe or don’t want to acknowledge can exist in a country of such wealth. Our country has fallen on some critical economic times and yet while our nations unemployment has risen to staggering levels, we continue to support foreign aid in the billions to other nations.
As a Christian I believe we should be offering assistance to those less fortunate, but I wonder if we need not start in the places that we pass daily. In towns like Detroit where factories have closed long ago and the population is increasingly becoming desperate for jobs and a chance to rise above a poverty level or in Appalachia where the scenic beauty of the mountains is in stark contrast to the extreme poverty in trailer parks or run down homes without heat and children whose meals are only predictable whenever they are attending school.
A excellent list of how to donate in crisis comes from the Good Intentions are not Enough website http://goodintents.org/choosing-a-charity/the-dos-and-donts-2, but the questions of how to address our role in assistance as Christians remain.
If people in third world nations cannot help themselves we must help, but where do we draw the line between assisting them in developing their country and enabling them to stay dependent on foreign aid?