Saturday, August 20, 2011

Right is Right

One of the teaching books I like is Teach Like A Champion, which provides great practical advice based on systematic observation of some of the best teachers in the best charter schools in the States. One of the techniques they encourage is called "Right is Right". Basically when you ask a student a question, you only stop when they say the 100% correct answer. So if the student says an answer that is close you do not say, "right, close". You hold out for the right answer. I love that idea. So much in our culture is relative that I find the idea of absolute write and wrong refreshing.

I want to apply it in more places that just the classroom.

There is a church in Wisconsin partnering with Lifeline Mission that is in the middle of sending 28,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti to help with the problem of malnutrition. And it is not right. This type of aid is detrimental to the economy of Haiti and a mis-allocation of resources. It is typical of well-intentioned but poorly informed people.
Before I explain my reasons for taking exception to their work, let me say that I have emailed the pastor of the church and the mission in keeping with the spirit of Matthew 18:5 and tried to bring my concern to them directly. I have not received a reply. I have learned that they have been inundated by emails from people critical of this project.

Haiti is indeed very poor. Kwashiorkor (severe protein deficiency) is a problem. However, I do believe there are right and wrong ways to help; ways that break systems of poverty and ways that perpetuate vicious cycles of unemployment and need.

The mindset behind most aid that comes from America is deeply troubling to me. It is part of the latter system that I mentioned. It is the White Santa mentality that we have talked about before (remember our ill-fated toy distribution?). The well-meaning folks in Wisconsin are right: Haiti is poor, but there are a few things Haiti can do quite well for itself. Harvesting mangoes is one, producing excellent rum is another, but the country also makes some good peanut butter. Peanuts are a resilient crop; they do well here. Haitian farmers sell their crop to local business who make a very good peanut butter that when sold here in Haiti is actually cheaper than the brands imported from the United States.

The aid mentality that says let's send stuff to a poor place is actually very destructive to that poor place's economic system and should be eliminated from our mindset entirely. It is simple economics.

By bringing 28,000 jars of peanut butter into the country, literally tons of it, they are reducing the demand for a local product. That means less sales at a local market for a marchan,who will buy less of the product from their supplier, who will buy less from the manufacture, who will purchase fewer peanuts from the farmer who depends on his crop to survive. It starts a terrible chain reaction that exacerbates poverty in this country. It is aid that tries to help but only ends up hurting the very people it is targeting and many more!

28,000 jars of peanut butter shipped to Haiti as aid is also a terrible waste of money. tells me that in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin a 15 oz jar of peanut butter is $2.12. At 28,000 jars that is $59,360! Here in country you could get better bang for your buck. Because the peanut butter is local it is cheaper so with the same amount of money you could actually buy more. These numbers do not even being to take in to consideration shipping costs and customs fees which can be considerable.

Of course I do not think that the people Lake Hallie, Wisconsin mean to harm Haiti, I am  certain it is just the opposite in fact. I believe that they have sincere compassion for Haiti, that they take Christ's commands to love their neighbor as themselves seriously. But I do believe that right is right. And this, while full of good intentions, this is not right.

Let me quickly suggest some alternatives.
  • The best alternative would to be to raise funds and purchase local peanut butter(or any product). This is always the best option for aid. It benefits the manufacturer as well as the farmer, and it all-around is a huge boost to the local economy. This option is also the most cost-effective since Haitian peanut butter or any local product) is much cheaper than its American counterpart. 
  • A second option would be be find a local wholesaler and purchase goods from them, even if it was American brands. This second option also works with any other product that you would like to deliver to the Haitian people. From baby formula to to tooth paste, it can all be bought here from local grocery stores.
  • Lastly, if you or your group are looking to help the Haitian people, and want to boost the Haitian economy let me suggest three online resources.
Obviously there are times when there are things that just cannot be purchased locally and must be shipped, but with good partners in country that happens less than you might think.


Shout out to my friend Corrigan for the 3 commerce links.

1 comment:

  1. Ben,
    I keep up with your blog because I have been to Haiti on six different mission trips and Haiti owns a piece of my heart.

    I totally understand what you are saying! The intent is from the heart but not done with the practical mind. I was told once while there, from a Haitian man, that one time Haiti had a thriving tomato industry. They sold and shipped out of the country many tomato based products. He said that the US destroyed this industry buy America's big industrial plants sending all of the second hand goods to Haiti "as a way to help". While the intention was good, eventually it put them out of business with so much coming in to the country. And that in turn leads to a mindset of being dependent upon the handout.

    This is so frustrating to me and heartbreaking. With that kind of money they could do so much more! And not only of how much they could do but the sense of pride they could instill in the Haitian man. A man is a man no matter where you are, and they want to be providers for their families.

    Okay, I have given more than my fair share of personal opinion. Thanks for the really, really great article!



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