A recent trip to Africa emphasized the subtle interplay between giving and receiving. I was in Kenya visiting members of the Church of God around Lake Victoria and looking at the humanitarian projects Vision Foundation International (VFI) is developing there. A couple of biblical statements from the apostle Paul underlie and inform our efforts. First, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Second, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
The principle of generosity toward those in need, coupled with the recipients’ willingness to make honest effort to help self and family, are central to our efforts to introduce sustainability and honesty into local aid programs. For decades funds have poured into developing countries, too often with little to show for it in terms of long-lasting results. While the intentions were good, bringing them to fruition proved difficult. In some cases, charitable organizations’ high overheads, government corruption, and inadequate recipient follow-through have led to frustration and failure on all parts.
At Lake Victoria, VFI has begun a few pilot programs designed to overcome these problems. The ancient Chinese adage, attributed by some to Lao Tzu, says it well: “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” Around the lake, fish aren’t in short supply, but the principle behind the adage forces our attention on other needs. Accordingly, VFI is funding tuition fees and school clothing for some AIDS orphans, supplying malaria nets for a girls’ boarding school, providing solar panels and clean water, and microfinancing agricultural and small-scale business projects for widows. Each program is under the supervision of regional and local VFI representatives. Recipients must regularly prove that they are using funds as intended and that the goal of self-sustainability is being achieved. The results are encouraging. Not least are the development of self-worth by achievement and the self-generation of funds to repay loans so that more people can be helped. A hand up accomplishes much more than a handout.
Another aspect of these programs is that they are educational at root. Education has its origins in the Latin educare/educere, “to lead out.” Leading describes well what the donor does, but good leadership never forgets that its long-term goal is not to create followers but more leaders.
Teaching and learning the principles of sustainability and resistance to corruption will become very important around the shores of Lake Victoria, where the impact of neighboring Uganda’s oil exploration may begin to be felt this year. Deals have been made for the drilling and export of huge onshore sub-Saharan oil reserves, an activity that’s sure to affect the whole region. A pipeline across Uganda and Kenya to the port of Mombasa will bring its own complexities. Like the oil, money will flow, but likely not to the benefit of local people or their environment.
Will you or your foundation join us in helping out in a part of the world challenged by lack of local financial resources and business knowledge, and by endemic malaria? A malaria net is less than $5. Sending an orphan to high school is about $270 per year. How many cups of gourmet coffee is that? How many movie tickets? The VFI pilot programs cost little per person and can grow greatly with your modest assistance. It will not be money wasted. To find out more about tax-deductible contributions to these worthwhile life-changing efforts, please contact us. Thank you!