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September 20, 2019 6 min read

The term development aid comes from the early 60s. At that time it was assumed that agriculture would change everything. It was also assumed that it would be sufficient to provide for people to compensate for social imbalances. Today, many years later, we know that this was not the Holy Grail.

But why not? If everyone has enough to eat, isn’t  that worth a lot already?

That is true. But development aid has long worked with a principle that meant one solution for everyone and often ignored regional circumstances.

So let us go back to agriculture. What could be wrong with that?

Agriculture needs space. A lot of space. Large areas are often converted into agriculturally usable land. In other words, they are cleared, drained, irrigated or something similar.

This changes the environment, the earth and environmental influences can sometimes cause much greater damage. At the same time, it increases people’s dependence on agriculture.

You can picture this as if you were sitting on the beach and the water is held up by a few rocks before it reaches you. But now you want to build a sandcastle and it should have a moat. The moat needs water, of course. So you take away the rocks to pave the way for the water.
That goes well for quite a while. Except suddenly a big wave comes and leaves nothing of your castle. So you start to build a new castle, bigger, better and even more beautiful. And just before you can put the flag on the tower, the next wave comes and everything is gone again. 

But now there are people who have been building castles here for years. Beautiful castles. Maybe a bit smaller. But still beautiful. But they’re not allowed on the beach, because the beach is occupied by you. They call out to you from behind, how they would do it. But you don’t listen to them. After all, you’ve built sandcastles dozens of times. After your castle has been completely destroyed for the second time, you wonder what else you could learn from the people who are calling to you. And they’ll tell you that it’s best to let the waves break in the sea, because the violent waves keep coming back here all the time. So you take the rocks from before and instead of putting them directly on the beach, where they don’t let any water through to your ditch, you put them a bit further into the water. The waves break. The water arrives calmly after that. Castle saved.

Sounds trivial? Of course it’s not always in reality. But sometimes it’s much easier than you might think.

So over the years there has been a rethink. They wanted to change something. Sustainable and not just short term.

So they decided to replace the term development aid with development cooperation. But what exactly is the difference now? And what is emergency aid? I would like to explain this to you again using a very comprehensive but very simplified example.

Imagine a crying baby. The people around are a bit overwhelmed. They smell the diaper and can’t find anything. They sway the baby but it doesn’t stop crying. On the contrary. It screams louder and louder. At some point the mother enters the room, picks up her baby and feeds it. At that moment she satisfies the baby’s immediate hunger. One would call that emergency help.

The baby grows bigger and the parents takes care of it. They cook for it, do the laundry, go shopping. They take over all tasks for their child. Lovingly and gladly. Even at the age of 40, their child still lives at home.

Where should it go? It has never learned to cook for itself, to do laundry or to take out the garbage. So it is looking for a partner to take over the parents‘ tasks. Some are lucky and find this partner and others simply do not leave the parental home. This is called development aid.

At some point the parents become impatient. They wonder what they have done wrong. They have always done everything with a lot of love and affection. That is the point at which they think about what it would have been like to raise their child to be independent.

The parents had their first child very early and by a lucky coincidence the woman gets pregnant again and they have a second child. This time they decide to do certain things differently. The mother breast-feeds the baby when it is hungry. They give him food, clothes and care for him. But instead of just putting up a plate, the parents involve the child in the preparation of the food from the very beginning. They show him everything they have ever learned and the child gains experience. Soon the child begins not only to prepare its own food, but also to cook for the parents. With fun and attention to detail. He is curious and collects information and experiences wherever he goes, which will soon make him much better than his parents. The child stands on its own two feet. It’s able to live his own life and leave the parents‘ house early. This is called development cooperation.

Development cooperation always has the claim to empower people to do things themselves. To make them strong and independent.

But then why do we still have so many projects in which, for example, still only wells are built? As briefly described above, the biggest problem with development aid was that it was too general. One size fits all.

And the same is true for the wells. There are regions in the world where wells are urgently needed to improve peoples lives.

Some people in some regions of the world still have to walk many kilometres to get water.  Sometimes not even clean water. Here it can be an advantage to remedy the situation by drilling groundwater and building a well that shortens this long walk. However, this is not always the case. In some regions the daily walk to the well is also the only time of the day when the women in particular have time to exchange ideas with others, to spend time together and to leave the house.

They therefore do not necessarily consider the new well to be the better solution. They may even reject it. So maybe the well is not the best way to help people in this region. Maybe another project, for example one that allows the women to spend some time together would be the better one. If then a well would be built afterwards, which would relieve much work and load in carrying the water, then the well would be an actual profit for the village. You see, it always depends on the individual circumstances.

It is the same with projects that work with principles like ‚get one give one. Some of them change a lot for the local people. Others only give something to a part of the population. Others suffer even more.

Imagine, for example, that there is a local shoemaker. So far he has made shoes for the villagers. He is slow because of his equipment, he is expensive and shoes are hardly affordable. Many children therefore have no shoes. Now someone comes and says: “Oh no. The children have no shoes. We have shoes. Please take our shoes.” The children are happy. After all, they finally have shoes. Beautiful shoes. But the shoemaker has to close his shop. He has no more customers. He can not pass on his craft. Nobody in the village still knows how to make shoes. He does not pass on his knowledge. Why should he? Making shoes would no longer feed anyone, not even him. The craft is dying out. So if the shoe manufacturer decides not to supply any more shoes, people not only have no shoes, but also no possibility to produce their own.

But if the shoe manufacturer said “buy a pair and we invest in good training for young shoemakers”,shoemakers would learn how to produce shoes at a low cost. They would learn the craft and pass on their knowledge. They might even start their own business and give more people the opportunity to find a job. So your project would be a real sustainable enrichment for the region, even for the children without shoes. The only disadvantage? They educate their competitors. And who wants that?

I hope I could give you a little insight. It is always extremely important to see the individual actions in relation to each other and to understand whether they really make a lasting difference to people’s lives, provide short-term support in crisis situations or perhaps even do more damage than good. Each action must be judged for itself. There is not always only one right and one wrong. But there is, of course, better and worse.

For us it is of particular importance that the projects we support sustainably improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. That they empower instead of only helping at short notice and that nobody is harmed. All projects can be found in the project overview in our shop.

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