The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
That was a bizarre proverb I never quite understood. How could the image of ultimate evil, be in any relationship with the concept of ‘goodness?’ It didn’t make sense. Yet so often, in aid work, good intentions when not thought through, or when not carried through with a good heart, can cause more problems than anticipated. This morning, as I was teaching at Mountain Home Primary, a shiny van pulled up with eight bright red bicycles at its back. A unanimous ‘Ooooh’ saluted the people as they stepped through the barbed wire gate into the littered playground. I was intrigued, and will admit, a slightly hostile attitude crept into my heart. These are my children, who were these people coming here now, who were these people with their shiny-red bicycles and clean clothes who gingerly stood on the verandah and did a small wave? Who were they, and what did they want?
Community outreach is such an important aspect of aid work, especially in a country like South Africa, where affluent communities closely boarder extremely impoverished ones. The people who arrived at ‘my’ Primary school this morning, where there to present the top students with prizes. Now, I don’t want to slate the work that they are doing, nor do I wish to undermine their initiatives and incentives. The fact that Mountain Home has more than one interested party excites me. Yet, for the first time, as this group of people stood talking to the children, I found myself no longer a ‘European’ or a charity worker, but one of them, a teacher at Mountain Home, a member of their community,I felt protective of my students, and hurt.
These bicycles, sponsored by Coca Cola, were the size of my bike back at University. Standing at 5″10, I’m a pretty tall lady, so I have a pretty tall bike. Yet these children range between 5 and 9 years old. They are, literally tiny. Not only that, but these bikes are only awarded to the children in the top grades who had achieved the best in some exams. Of course they would have, they are the eldest, they have had the most education, they should be the smartest. At the realisation that the whole school was standing to attention, the lady who was heading the team whispered “Oh no, I have nothing for the grade R’s 1’s and 2’s.” A great way to create incentive and to be inclusive?
Not only that, but Sweetwaters is a rural area. The roads within the community, though smooth, aren’t tarmaced and are extremely rocky. We fear getting car punctures let alone bike punctures. Throughout my month in Sweetwaters, I have very, very rarely seen anyone ride a bike. Could these children ride bikes? When you learn, often you need stabilizers. There weren’t any stabilisers on these huge bikes. Even the teachers, through pleased, found it amusing the gifts weren’t really suitable for the children. Moreover, they had to be kept within the school till Sunday when the parents were expected to come and legally sign for them. In between now and then, the school has just potentially become a prime looting arena. And what happens when these bikes are careened through Sweetwaters? Will these homes have space? What if it rains, and they get wet, and rust? How will they pay to get them fixed, will the presents even be useful at that point?
Obviously, on one hand, I can clearly see that I personally felt hostile towards the project. Having worked with Ithemba Projects and seen the ground work they’re doing, though presents are few and far between, they are working towards building a future, implementing strong foundations to be built upon. And it made me think; how often, do we have a brilliant idea to bless those in need, but don’t really think the process through. We see how we want to bless them, but don’t necessarily see their need. See that, perhaps it would be more beneficial to provide the top students with school equipment, pens, papers, books to read which will not only be useful, but further their education and also bless and help other students, than a larger than life bike, which they might not be able to ride (especially considering the extreme gradients the Sweetwater roads follow), may potentially become obsolete, get stolen, or create friction.
Prayer for Day 22: For relationships between the various charities that work in Sweetwaters to be strengthened, so they can work together for the best impact in the Community. For wisdom when we desire to give, bless and support outreach work, that we really see and do what’s best long-term for people, and not what makes us feel better. For a heart that welcomes others working in our areas, and to pray against hostility.