How to avoid the 'band-aid' fixes of development
The following is an excerpt of Stephanie Woollards book ‘From a tin shed to the United Nations‘
On my first trip to Nepal at the age of 19, the extent of the poverty and suffering in Nepal shocked me to the core. I kept thinking, how does this exist? How can this exist? What can I do? This would be so easy to solve if I could just pay $20 and I could fix that, or I could fix this. How can I fix this fast?
I’ve noticed that same impulse in many other Westerners wanting to contribute and wanting to help. On my first trip to Nepal, we had a free day in the well-known lakeside city of Pokhara, which is frequented by tourists. While I was walking along the lake, I met a little boy called Sunil who was begging on the street. He had a big paper bag on his back and I’d been told by somebody not to give money, take them to buy them food because that’s a better way to help.
If you want to help, buy people things rather than give them money. That was 11 years ago. So I took this kid into the supermarket and said to him, ‘What do you want to buy?’ He picked up some chips and a few other items. Then I walked with him all the way along the lake in Pokhara to a bus stop, where I thought he said he used to sleep at night. He was trying to tell me things. And with my smattering of Nepali at that time, I couldn’t get what he was saying. I spotted another older boy – he looked my age – called Binod, who was riding around the bus park in circles. I called him over and asked if he could translate what Sunil was trying to tell me.
He was happy to oblige and explained that Sunil’s mum had been burnt by fire, then the dad had left them, and he and his brother were now begging. Sunil’s territory was in this particular bus park; his brother worked in another bus park 20 minutes away on foot. He went on to say he used to sleep in the bus park and sometimes an old man would come up and cuddle in behind him when he was asleep on the bench. It was freezing at that time of year and Sunil was wearing a T-shirt and shorts that were ripped and dirty.
My immediate reaction was to try to fix that, and I asked Binod if he would accompany Sunil and me to the local market in a taxi, so I could get Sunil some socks and proper clothes. I was prepared to buy him whatever he wanted with the money I had. Once again, Binod acquiesced, and I got Sunil decked out in a beanie and new clothes. I remember dropping him back to the bus park as the sun went down and speed walking back to the tourist strip before the group put out a search party. Where would this boy end up? What was his future going to be? The clothes were a Band-Aid to his situation. Maybe he might be warm for a few extra weeks but that was about it.
So I really do understand people when they want to be able to help and go for the sugar hit of quick fixes, because I too was one of them.
About Stephanie Woollard:
Stephanie Woollard is an award-winning Australian social entrepreneur and speaker who believes that a far more tolerant and compassionate world is achievable in our lifetime if we each take steps to make a difference. Stephanie is also the author of ‘From a tin shed to the United Nations’. She has founded several enterprises with social impact: the aid organisation Seven Women, the Kathmandu Cooking School and the tour company Hands on Development. To find out more information visit www.sevenwomen.org and www.handsondevelopment.com.au.