The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 77.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Aim charaity at poverty's cause

Column/Eric Berman

I heard some news today about a song and video that has been put together by a bunch of North American rock stars to help raise money for the starving people of Africa, much like the very successful effort by Band-Aid in December.

Their efforts made me think of a lot of things. The first feeling, of course, is one of deep gratitude for being lucky enough to have plenty of food, a warm bed, and a generally bright future.

My next thought was a feeling of warmth that there are wonderful people in the world who are willing to donate their time and a considerable amount of money to help these poor people who cannot help themselves. But then I asked myself "What next?"

There is a lot of food and money being given to needy people everywhere. If it weren't for many charitable organizations, there would be far more dead Africans right now. But of all these charities, I have yet to hear of one asking for money to help these people farm their land. They are too busy rushing to cure the symptoms of poverty instead of trying cure the cause.

I am not against feeding the hungry or giving money to the needy. But it seems that in many cases, in our country as well as in drought-stricken Africa, this charity is being doled out for longer than it should be, and the situation does not get noticeably better.

I am not in favor of doing away with social welfare programs. If I were to find myself [el-38p4]

hungry and jobless, I would certainly want a safety net there to help me get through the immediate crisis. By just providing a safety net, however, these programs are not doing even half their job. The more important part of their job is to help the able people become self-supporting.

Feeding the starving in Ethiopia is the easy part of the relief organizations' job. Once the immediate crisis is over (assuming that can be successfully accomplished at all), the general public will not see such a desperate situation and will stop giving aid with the same fervor.

The challenge that groups such as Oxfam should strive to meet is raising money for providing modern irrigation equipment and modern farming technology to Africa. The main thrust behind our welfare system should be to help the needy find jobs, not merely to give them a check.

Welfare recipients are required to look for work, but the agencies are usually unable to make sure those out of work and able to work are looking for jobs. Those who need the money to supplement their paychecks to remain above the poverty level and those who have not been on welfare for very long should not lose their money or be forced into a job they do not want.

Those who are perpetually unemployed, however, should be required to get job counseling or enter workfare. Such a policy would help reduce fraud -- people could be required to report [el-38p4]

on their job-hunting progress and to take available, albeit unwanted, jobs.

These ideas may seem outrageous to some people, and to a degree those people are right. If a company that employs nearly everybody in a small town goes out of business, causing a sudden glut of unemployment, it is unrealistic to think that these people should be relocated to where there are jobs. Special provisions should be made for extenuating circumstances.

People may claim it is wrong to force a person to take a job he does not like. I could not agree more. As the expression goes, however, beggers cannot be choosers. If someone is living off welfare (or any charity, for that matter) for an unreasonable amount of time when there is a job available, that person has no right to take from society what he can earn himself. If the person is capable of doing the job, he should do it.

We must make money and food available to those who genuinely need it. In addition, we must be sure to follow up on this help. Charity is a noble cause; nobody will dispute that.

Lionell Ritchie,in an interview with the aforementioned band, stated that he does not want us to stop thinking about the famine until everyone in Africa is fed. I request that we continue to think about the hungry there (and here) and help them until they can help themselves.

That is a far more noble cause.