Philobiblon: But is it a good goat?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

But is it a good goat?

I bought my godson a goat for Christmas last year - not to run about his suburban Sydney garden, but to help a family in Africa. I hadn't realised I was buying that year's fashionable present, as defined by the Guardian. But having had years of exposure to the aid community, it seemed like a better bet than other forms of charitable giving. But, the Guardian is asking, is it?

Livestock restocking projects have been around since at least the famines of the 1970s and early 80s, and what quickly emerges is that successful schemes are nowhere near as simple as turning up, presenting a grateful family with a frisky goat or two and flying home again. "Two-thirds of the 2.3 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day and most depend on livestock," says Heffernan, who in the process of cowriting a manual of best practice studied 85 projects and interviewed representatives from more than 30 NGOs involved in restocking. She found that the road to best practice was strewn with the wreckage of misguided and/or badly run projects, but none the less, gifts of goats, cows or chickens "can have a massive positive impact if you get it right". Getting it right involves detailed, local, committed investment of time and resources and an almost masochistic appetite for a challenge.

This is an excellent, nuanced report that gives a qualified "yes", and stresses well the difficulties of aid, which almost inevitably brings together, in the giver and the recipient, two utterly different world views, and sets of skills, experiences and motivations. Matching those up - and seeing the gaps and bridging the misunderstandings - requires great skill and sensitivity.
"One woman says later that she's grateful the goats came because having to feed them three times a day means she spends less time gossiping at the village well, which means she implicates her neighbours in fewer scandals, and her husband beats her less often. Instead they spend their time discussing how to look after goats and what they will do with the money."

I bet that wasn't in the charity's list of aims and objectives for the project.


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