In the June issue you make assumptions about Action Aid and sponsorship without consulting us, then give your judgement on our work. The article ‘One child at a time’ contained misleading rhetoric, such as the statement that helping an identifiable child through sponsorship causes divisions and inequality. Inequality is reduced when, through an Action Aid sponsorship programme, all the children in a community have access to education, training and loans.
An information pack on our working methods is available on request.
Sir Leslie Kirkley CBE
I disagree with your conclusions on Foster Parents’ Plan (NI 148). PLAN’s sponsorship program is one of the best ways to work at solving the dilemma of providing aid but not dependency to the underdeveloped world. The fact that ‘direct correspondence between sponsor and child is not permitted’ is to prevent foster parents from being plagued with pleas for additional money and gifts. This curbs dependency by the families; it shows them that they have options, but that a higher standard of living is not given to them — but earned by them.
One of the family
Action Aid’s operation is different from that of Foster Parents PLAN as described in your June magazine. No contributions made through Action Aid go direct to the child or the family and sponsors are asked never to send presents direct.
When joining the scheme a sponsor is told that ‘through sponsorship the child will be able to continue his (sic) education at the school he is currently attending, he will be provided with full material care and when older may receive vocational training’. So in a country where family needs determine the end of schooling, the help given makes independence in adulthood a possibility.
Sponsored children almost become part of one’s family and so create a pressure to give more generously. Rightly or wrongly, human nature seldom allows such a sense of responsibility to extend to the whole of suffering humanity.
Within the PLAN projects I visited in Bali, aid is not available for buying food either for the individual or their family, but only for projects likely to improve the family’s health or ability to earn a living. Funds are used to set up credit unions to help with house repairs, irrigation and the purchase of tools, and community health projects. To qualify for aid a foster family generally has less than US$3 per person per month.
But I do agree that PLAN’s promotion is deceptive in suggesting that one is sponsoring a particular child whereas funds are used in more community-based ways. This deceptive promotion and problems arising from the donor-child correspondence are my two greatest concerns about PLAN’s work.
Hungry no more
The Hunger Project’s stand (NI 148) is to achieve that which is achievable — the end of world hunger by the end of the century. This is attainable with the commitment of individuals around the world. The Hunger Project seeks to empower these people (some 3.5 million at present) and to give them the opportunity to think and act for themselves.
We are obviously aware that to eradicate hunger many difficult political choices must be confronted, but we do not believe that the only people who have a right to participate in the end of hunger are those who adhere to a particular political viewpoint.
Given the many different pathways people have pursued in eradicating hunger The Hunger Project does not consider itself nor any other organization to be the final arbiter on what is the best way to end hunger.
Change of heart
Enrolling in The Hunger Project (NI 148) has dramatically changed the lives of thousands of people and turned them into dedicated workers to the cause of eliminating hunger. One friend of mine sacrificed a career as a leading professional tennis player to educate people on hunger, while another single-handedly raised £16,000 in one year which he donated to Swiss development agencies. The president of an American corporation has decided to devote its entire publicity budget to draw the business community’s attention to ending hunger.
The Hunger Project is based on ‘new age’ ideas and an American style which may not endear it to Europeans but I have to recognise that it is able to touch large sectors of the public which our traditional aid agencies (and I work for one) have not been able to motivate.
I have my disagreements with The Hunger Project, but could we not seek what unites us rather than stress the divisions?
Mind made up
I have participated in the Erhard Seminar Training and so am an ‘Est graduate’ as John Tanner puts it in your June issue. But I despair when I read trivial nonsense about ‘mind-bending cults’ in the New Internationalist. Werner Erhard’s work has made an enormous contribution to the lives of thousands of people. It is honest, dignified, truthful and compassionate work and inspiring to a rare degree.
By the way, I am not a hippie or a brainwashed member of a mind-bending cult. I am an academic research scientist committed to peace and I have the respect of my colleagues and friends. For me, John Tanner’s piece demonstrated the very cynicism which the Hunger Project seeks to break through.
In your otherwise excellent analysis of aid agencies (NI 148) I was disappointed that you did not examine giving to volunteer organisations like Voluntary Service Overseas.
Donating to such bodies allows an association with a sponsored volunteer whose progress can be monitored. And probably the major contribution to development made by volunteers is on their return to the West where they act as potent development educators.
Donating to volunteer agencies may unlock a substantial amount of UK government money: it supplies £9 for every £1 raised by VSO. So this is one way we can squeeze aid money out of this government.
Christopher E Lennox
Tony Vaux’s article ‘A public relations disaster’ (NI 148) may do a little unintentional mischief. It implies that donors give a mere trifle in relation to what they can really afford and are always on the look-out for excuses not to give more. Surely this is unjustified?
Safe as houses
Here’s another ethical savings organisation to add to the list in your May issue: The Ecology Building Society. Set up in 1981 this society lends on ecologically sound properties and uses investments to support alternative housing. It offers much the same services as other building societies and full details can be obtained from its head office at 43 Main Street, Crosshills, via Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD2O 8TT, UK.
In a recent issue (NI 145) I noticed the statement ‘Setting quotas of black appointments is established government policy in the United States.’
Not so. Reagan’s government is firmly committed to unravelling all the civil rights gains made during the past twenty years — for instance the President has ordered his Justice Department to actively oppose city- and state governments that try to enact Equal Opportunity programs; and his administration is giving generous tax breaks for private all-white schools.
In response to Derek Ingram’s question in his April article about the Ethiopian Famine: ‘If there were a million white people dying... would governments be acting more decisively?’ Ingram believes they would. This was not the case, however, when Stalin systematically let millions of Ukrainians die after World War II.
The fact is that man’s inhumanity to man (sic) does not necessarily follow racial guidelines: what it does follow is intolerance, lust for power, and greed.
Right of reply
I am impressed by your willingness to print so many letters critical of the magazine but feel there should be response to the criticisms.
My own gripe is that while the NI is a useful source of factual information it lacks analysis. Its ‘liberal’ stance denies it a hard political edge. It identifies problems but lacks the courage to suggest answers.
G R Hunt
Ed. note: We welcome readers letters expressing their views but normally only print editorial replies where there is a controversy over facts. After all, the letters page is for readers the editors have quite enough space already. Modesty prevents our printing the many letters of support we receive, but we do appreciate them.