A few weeks ago, a friend told me something that I did not want to hear. She informed me that most of the homeless drug addicts that frequented the window where free sandwiches were distributed by local church members were not eaten by the persons who took them, but were exchanged for drugs. She learned this first hand when she accompanied a reporter for a local newspaper who was writing a piece on food distribution to the poor and needy.
This revelation lead to a discussion on the use, or misuse, of donations to organizations that helped the needy abroad. We agreed that many of those organizations spent too much money on staff that never personally interacted with the poor. Also, we believed that often much of the money given to help with food, clothing, schooling, well digging, etc. was siphoned off by corrupt officials. The whole situation discourages well-meaning people from extending a hand to the less fortunate. Amazingly, Americans still privately donate money to charities that spend those funds abroad. The problem of making better use of the generous offerings of those able to give reaching those who are in need remains.
There is hope for a viable solution. The geeks and semi-geniuses of Silicon Valley may have come up with a program that will guarantee that donated funds will get directly into the hands for whom they were intended. The program is called GiveDirectly, a non-governmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party or religion. A small village on the brink of starvation is selected. A team from the organization goes to the village (currently, in Kenya, Africa) to present the program to as many villagers who wish to hear the team explain the process. Every family must have a mobile phone with a password that the family may not share with any one. The family must agree not to engage in criminal or terrorist activities as long as it remains in the program. Each family will be given the equivalent of $22.00 a month for 12 years! Using the mobile phone, the money is wired to each family. The family can then transfer the money to a local bank in exchange for cash. Wow!
The villagers are happy, the donators are happy and the technology people are happy. Don’t worry. The source of electricity can come from a solar panel or a wood- burning stove. The organization is new; may it be successful!