The suggestion that the main beneficiary is the conscience and self-image of the donor may well be true. But that in itself does no harm to the recipient. And is the New Internationalist against people acting out of conscience?
It may also be true that child sponsorship does not attack the root causes of world poverty. But no-one has ever claimed that it does. And I am a little disquieted by the implication that no individual should take action to ‘merely’ alleviate another individual’s life until the New Internationalist has put the world to rights.
Many congratulations on another ‘first’. I had wondered when someone would have the courage to come out in public against those ubiquitous adverts for ‘sponsoring’ children in developing countries. It must have been a difficult decision, because you open yourself to the charge of being ‘against directly helping individuals’. And Peter Stalker’s article had to pit a subtle and complex case against the superficial but robust one of the ‘child sponsoring’ agencies.
He did a difficult job well. And the case was movingly complemented by the photograph of the ‘sponsored’ family. I would like to see that picture sent to everyone who is contemplating sponsoring a child or family in the Third World — and I would like to ask them how they would like to have to pose with their families for a ‘thank you picture’ to be sent to their benefactors on the other side of the world. If dignity isn’t a part of development then I don’t know what is.
But I also hope that anyone who might decide against 'sponsoring' as a result of the New Internationalist issue will be equally convinced by the ‘better ways of helping’ listed on your centre pages.
N A. Korosi,
Last year Oxfam launched Project Partnership — a new way of giving which we think overcomes some of the very real problems created by direct sponsorship, while acknowledging people’s need to identify with the communities they are trying to help.
Project Partners are invited to choose an Oxfam supported project which is of particular interest to them. At present there are three projects to choose from — a health scheme in Tanzania an appropriate technology programme in Brazil and a welfare project in India.
In return for regular donations the donor will receive information four times a year about the people and the work of their chosen project in the form of letters, photographs, reports and background material. Taped interviews and slide sets will be available on loan. S/he will also be invited to Open Days at Oxfam Headquarters and sent Annual Reports and full Grants Lists to give a wider view. The idea is that donors quickly build up a good understanding of that project and its people.
The project holders concerned were consulted right at the beginning to find out whether or not they would like to take part in the scheme. They all agreed, welcoming the opportunity to inform people in the UK of their work in a frank and open way.
When people join Project Partnership we explain clearly why it is not a direct sponsorship scheme and we offer it as a positive alternative which we hope will foster a spirit of friendship and personal concern.
If any readers would like further details I should be happy to send them more information.
Back a hundred years
In your concern for the infant victims of profiteering, you make the very common mistake of denying women who have children the right to a life of their own.
Obviously the only person who can breastfeed a baby is its natural mother and breast-feeding therefore ties her to the baby very firmly — she can only go out or leave the baby for as long as the interval between feeds.
This has repercussions for all women. Obviously no employer is going to train any woman, even one who has no intention of having children, for a responsible, interesting and difficult job, if there is any chance at all that she may ‘waste’ this expensive and time-consuming training by going off and having a baby and not returning to paid work until the child starts school.
But at least while bottle-feeding is acceptable, nurseries also become acceptable, so the mother can leave the baby in a nursery and go back to work if she wishes, which means that all women have greater access to higher education or career training, because their reproductive functions are not seen as an insuperable barrier. Therefore the promotion of breast feeding in areas where this is not essential to keep the baby alive negates this process.
Your insistence on breast-feeding everywhere will make the position of women in all countries regress to that of a hundred years ago.
Developing a resource
Breastmilk is such a valuable resource, it is important not only to protect but to extend its use.
Anuradha Vittachi writes in Stop the Babymilk Pushers that there is a terrible hook hidden in the (milk) powder. Once a mother starts on bottlefeeding, her own milk starts to fail. Yes, it does. But not necessarily irrevocably. So long as lactation has begun, it can be re-stimulated by gradually cutting out bottles, increasing the number of sucklings at the breast and by increasing the mother’s calorie intake, if necessary.
This is particularly important in the case of sick and malnourished babies. In your issue, Samah in the North Yemen describes how her baby, who had marasmus and diarrhoea, had to be fed with expensive bottled water by cup and spoon. Was there any reason why this mother could not have been encouraged to relactate? With frequent suckling (also comforting for an ailing baby), perhaps enough breastmilk could have been built up to provide some protection against the baby’s infections — if not for full nutrition. And were there no other nursing mothers in Samah’s village who could have provided breastmilk for her baby, at least while he was ill?
In the West many hospitals now have ‘banks’ of donor breastmilk which is given to preterm, delicate and sick babies. Even if the technology for this does not exist generally in the Third World, wet nursing (a simpler version of the same principle) has a long tradition. Paying nursing mothers a small sum to provide this service would be cheaper than treating sick babies in hospital and it would also encourage breastfeeding in general.
A great deal of research is being done on this subject. Is anyone looking at the possibilities of organising surrogate nursing and re-lactation as a positive contribution to the problems created by bottlefeeding? I should be interested to hear about them.
Maire Messenger Davies
The 1982 New Internationalist (No. 110) covering the sale of babymilk products in the Third World raises a very serious issue. But the campaign could also underline the benefits of breastfeeding in the West.
Breast cancer kills more white women than any other form of cancer. According to the leading world expert on breast cancer, C.D. Haagensen, and numerous surveys in North America and Europe, there is a strong association between the abandonment of breastfeeding among white women and the present high levels of breast cancer deaths and disfiguring breast removals. This trend is likely to be repeated in the Third World amongst the women there if they adopt the Western practice of bottle-feeding.
By contrast, even though the Japanese have in other respects adopted a Western lifestyle, women in Japan still breastfeed and still have low rates of breast cancer. Japanese women in the US who bottlefeed have rates of breast cancer similar to other American women.
Susan M Robertson
Let them drive Porsches
Independent schools not run for profit! Tim Devlin must be joking. Next time the independent schools head-masters meet, he should take a walk around the car park and count the number of Jaguars, Porsches, and even fancier fuel-guzzlers. And he might take a look at the prices of the hotels they stay in.
But perhaps his clientele are so used to this standard of living that they think it is the norm. Marie Antoinette would understand.