Infrastructure. In the last few weeks Canadians, during a long election campaign, have heard their now newly-elected Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal party talking about it. In fact, reporters couldn’t ask Trudeau any question without ending up at his talking point which is ““Every dollar we spend on public infrastructure grows our economy, creates jobs, and strengthens our cities and towns.”
“What time is it, Justin?” “I’m glad you asked that question, Peter. We think it is time to run a deficit to invest in infrastructure because every dollar we spend … ”
We got the point. I happen to agree with it. And it appears that a majority of Canadians did too. Trudeau’s Liberals were elected with a majority government.
Since its inception In 2008, the CanAssist African Relief Trust has been investing in infrastructure in East Africa for exactly that reason. We have built school classrooms, bought hospital equipment, constructed toilets, provided clean water catchment and bought school desks and books.
We know, because we visit the communities we help, that this is making a difference to the men, women and children who live there. Better educated girls are more likely to become self reliant, have better opportunities for employment and be more informed as mothers. Children who learn about the benefits of sanitation, clean water and sexual responsibility will be able to apply that learning to manage themselves, their families and lead in the community. People who can read and access the Internet will make more informed decisions about their governments. In short, improving the infrastructure relating to education, health and sanitation will allow the “human capital” any community to flourish.
Another benefit that is not quite so obvious is that by providing funding for these projects, CanAssist donors also have the opportunity to give work to many folks who otherwise are unemployed. We don’t send goods made in Canada or old books or microscopes. We send money. Our African associates tell us what they need and we respond with funding. Almost all of our money is spent in Africa, our unavoidable Canadian administrative expenses being in the range of five per cent.
When we build a classroom or a latrine in Africa, the project purchases the materials locally and employs local labor. Amuge Akol is one of our associates in Olimai, Uganda where we are currently constructing two latrines at a clinic where previously the toilets were falling apart and full, (can you imagine no clean toilets at a clinic?) She recently reported that, in addition to improving the sanitation for staff and patients, the project has given several people work. “The project has provided 3 months employment to 12 people who otherwise would probably not send their kids to school this term or have no income for their families.” The total cost to accomplish this, to CanAssist donors, by the way has been a meagre $6000.
In another Kenyan community CanAssist is in the process of having desks constructed for a local school. In 2013, we completed classrooms at the Hope School but the building has been without furnishings. CanAssist, is having 200 chairs and 100 metal-framed desks locally built to furnish the empty Hope School classrooms as well as others at the school. This project will provide durable furnishings for the school but it is also employing three workmen over several months and acquire materials locally. The community benefits twofold – employment and infrastructure.
This is what the Liberals are proposing to boost our Canadian economy…only the money for this will come by running a deficit rather than from well-wishers from Uganda.
“Why should individual Canadians support projects like this in Africa through organizations like CanAssist?” you ask. “Doesn’t our government give money for development in poor nations?”
The short answer to that is “Not enough.”
In 1969, Canada’s own Lester Pearson headed a commission at the UN that determined and recommended that poverty could be significantly reduced or eliminated in the developing world if the rest of us applied 0.7 percent of our Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Developmental Assistance (ODA). Many countries have achieved that goal. What has Canada done? Despite repeatedly committing to reach this goal, the highest Canada ever reached was about 0.5 per cent in 1986. Over the last few years, as other countries increased their assistance to record highs, Canada’s contribution to ODA has actually dropped below .028 per cent of the GNI. Not the kind of record internationally to be proud of.
And do you know how the Harper government was able to present, in an election year, a balanced budget? In part, it was by reducing or freezing spending on ODA, and actually not spending over 125 million dollars that were already approved for development work. It is easier to balance your budget if you simply just don’t honour your commitments to poor countries.
Your gift to CanAssist can help provide tangible resources to East African communities and, at the same time, stimulate the local economy by providing employment. We welcome your support of the work we do though tax-deductible donations by mail or online.
Great article – sound principles by which to support local efforts in East Africa.