A-M u s i n g s: Help to Self Help

Having been a member of Rotary International for most of my adult life, the notion of ‘Help to Self-Help’ is something I truly believe in. As my friend Tom always used to say, ‘Give a man a means by which he can catch fish, and he will be able to sustain and nourish his family”. By that, I took him to mean that if you provide someone with food everyday, you will make him a beggar who will never try to find food on his own.

Interestingly enough, my buddy Didacus, who will shortly take over the position of Director General of the OECS, has repeatedly complained to me that international donors turn societies like ours into ‘mendicants’.  The noun ‘mendicant’ is a posh word for a ‘beggar’; the adjective means ‘given to begging’, as in ‘a mendicant nation’, a nation giving to begging. The irony is, of course, that the OECS Secretariat spends a great deal of its time ‘begging’, or put more diplomatically, ‘seeking funding for projects’, which brings me nicely to the topic of today’s A-Musing.

Not so very long ago, I attended a forum at which the topic of aid, assistance and investment with regard to countries in the Caribbean Region was discussed; it was, in fact, the focus of the meeting. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Saint Lucia was considered the best country by far at presenting its case and providing an environment conducive to aid and investment. I even felt a twinge of pride in my fellow countrymen even though I had played no part in their success, a feeling I felt I need not be ashamed of for, after all, we all feel pride in the successes of the West Indies Cricket Team even though we play no part in them, except perhaps as spectators.

Yes, it turned out that Saint Lucia was the region’s, perhaps one of the world’s most efficient applicants for foreign aid, donations, and now and then, investments, though the latter lagged far behind the former two.

It seems that the writers of Saint Lucian applications for funding are far more proficient than public servants from other countries in the region – all this is ‘hearsay’, mind you; I am only repeating what I was told – proficient at presenting a case for the needs of the nation, and the nation’s inability to pay for the alleviation of these needs from its own resources.

Significantly, it seemed to be agreed, Saint Lucia’s Ministries were at the head of the pack when it came to actually implementing projects funded by donor agencies – with the notable exception of, well, one notable exception.

Nice, I thought; best in class; something to be proud of. I was basking in proxy glory, but my satisfaction was short-lived. I should have remembered that the sting is always in the tail. Dimly, I heard a voice say, “Of course, they never follow things up.” “No, no sustainability,” added another. I pricked up my ears as not so much a discussion, but rather, a litany of condolences fell one upon the other.

And with that, I’ll draw a veil over the proceedings. It turns out, at least as far as the participants at that forum were concerned, that Saint Lucia crossed the threshold to mendicancy many a year ago. The country enjoys a reputation of ‘seldom’ – and that is putting it mildly – maintaining and sustaining the results of its laudable completion of funded projects because – and I quote – donor agencies really expect recipients to ‘run with the ball’ once the funded stages of their projects have been completed. Donors do not enjoy funding sustainability. It’s all a matter of Help to Self-Help.

I clearly recall a lady pronouncing emphatically, “That country never pays for anything; if they can’t get donors, well …”

How can we acquire the capacity to claim the ownership of, and therefore the responsibility for, all the gifts that the global community bestows upon us? When will we cease to be a nation that uses then loses? When will ‘sustainability’ become more than a word? How can we avoid the stigma of being beggars unwilling to help themselves?

Which, of course, leads me to wonder how this country will ever be able to afford to service and maintain the thousands – yes, thousands – of computers and other high-tech goodies that are being showered on, and scattered about, our schools.

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