One of the criticisms of development work — that is, when money from the US funds projects in needy places like Sri Lanka — is that it creates a “culture of dependency.” Not unlike the knock on welfare and food stamps, the theory goes that foreign money will only teach the lesson that there’s always more coming, thus there’s no reason to learn a trade, plant a field, or otherwise provide for your family.
As progressive as I am on many issues, I actually agree with this criticism. It worries me, both in the States and in the Third World, that we send money to places that need it, but little else. We don’t spend the time teaching the skills needed to make an entire economy more sustainable.
So it was really intriguing to me that on this trip to Sri Lanka, we witnessed World Vision’s last day in a village. It seems — and this was news to me — that WV has a 15-year limit on how long it will work in an Area Development Project (ADP). Thus, from day one in an area, the staff is challenged to partner with local organizations, to teach skills, and to prepare for the hand-off a decade-and-a-half hence.
We’ve seen an ADP on the front end, only six months in. That’s where Afra lives. And now we’ve seen an ADP at the back end, on the last day. In Willuwa, World Vision arrived fifteen years ago. They’ve worked with the schools, raised water towers, built roads, and increased health and sanitation.
For example, in 1997, 42% of homes had water-sealed latrines. Now 87% do.
In 1997, 40% of children were underweight. Now 16% are.
In 1997, there were 0 eco-friendly gardens. Today, there are over 2,000.
On the last day, we were feted with multiple parades, dances by children, and even some tears. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Willuwa to hear the stories of what’s happened there. But, even in experiencing the dancing, singing, and parading, it’s clear that these people are not dependent on World Vision. They are grateful and empowered.
Our group has occasionally talked about Jesus’ statement, “The poor you will have with you always.” You can’t go on a trip like this and not talk about it. I’m quite sure that’s true.
However, you don’t have to leave them poor, do you?