CanAssist working to improve the Hope for Youth School.

CanAssist trustee, Nancy Grew, is visiting project sites in Uganda this week and today sent this photo of the new school classroom (first of four) that is under construction at the Hope for Youth School near Mukono. This wonderful school has been one that CanAssist has helped over the years in many ways but, as you can see from the photo on the lower right, the classrooms were becoming dilapidated and beyond use. The new permanent classrooms will be an amazing improvement for the school and provide a secure and sustainable school for the community.

H4Y 2018

The first of four permanent classrooms at Hope for Youth School that will replace the old wooden structure that has served the school for several years but is now beyond repair. Photos taken on February 28, 2018 by Nancy Grew, CanAssist trustee.

I have a particular fondness for this school, having visited them several time in the past ten years. I have watched many of their students grow from children into young adults. I was delighted in 2016 to take a group of CanAssist supporters, including my granddaughter, to the school and visited them in early 2017 as well.

Maddy Edward and Christopher

In early 2016 I was happy to introduce my granddaughter to Christopher, Edward and other students at the Hope for Youth School.

One of the unique things about CanAssist as a charitable organization is that we don’t just send money. We establish friendships and visit the project schools and communities. This not only helps to assure donors that their monies are being spent as intended but it shows that we are interested in their wellbeing with a personal connection. My life has certainly been enriched beyond anything I can express by the person to person links I have been privileged to make over the years as I have visited many communities in East Africa. I do feel like I am at home with friends when I go there. I am sure that Nancy will come back to Canada with the same intense satisfaction that the time and effort that we have put into CanAssist work is well worth it both for the communities we serve but also for our own personal growth.

Nancy and Edward 0218

Edward sends a greeting to me today through Nancy who is visiting the H4Y school – Feb 28, 2018

Below is a video of the students doing a traditional dance for my entertainment when I visited them in 2013. The main boy in the dance is Edward who, along it’s his brother, Christopher, I have watched grow from young lads into young men. I was touched today when Nancy sent a photo of Edward who made a point of coming to greet her to send a special hello and remembrance to me.

The school will be greatly benefitted by this 2018 initiative and CanAssist is grateful for the generous donation from David Kay to kick-start this project.  Additional classrooms will be added over the next many months. The cost of adding a classroom like the one in the photo above is about $10,000 to $12,000 dollars – a bargain when compared wo what it would cost to do the same in Canada.   In addition to providing the permanent structure for the school, the construction and materials acquired locally give employment opportunities to local craftsmen.

Donations to CanAssist through the Canada Helps link on the CanAssist web page or by clicking HERE can be allocated to this project to keep it moving ahead.

CanAssist tries to do no harm.

Primum non nocere – first of all, do no harm”  was a dictum that I learned in medical school and always tried to apply in day to day practice.  I remind myself of this principle, as well, in my role as a trustee of  the CanAssist African Relief Trust, an African charity that has consumed much of my energy over the last few years.

There are two schools of thought about providing development aid to some struggling parts of the world.

unknownPeter Singer puts forth the argument that we are morally obliged to help. If we see someone straining to survive and helping them would be of little significant consequence to our own well-being then we must.  Most of us would not hesitate to wade into a shallow pool to save a drowning child, even if it meant getting our new leather shoes wet and dirty.  Taken more broadly, giving up the cost of a night out at the movies to help vulnerable children in Africa follows the same moral responsibility.  A life saved is a life saved, whether in a Canadian water park or a Ugandan village.

Other writers wonder whether some forms of developmental aid are doing more harm than good.  A recent  documentary, Poverty Inc, refers specifically to the tons of rice that poured into Haiti after their disaster in 2010. This aid was certainly helpful for crisis relief but it continued to flow into Haiti after the crisis was over.  Free rice, bought from suppliers in the US and subsidized by the US government to provide “aid”, caused the farmers in Haiti who previously sold rice locally to go bankrupt.  Who would pay for rice at the market when you can get it for free?  This ongoing supply undermined the local economy and increased dependency while American suppliers were being paid.  There is a difference between humanitarian aid and ongoing developmental funding.

This debate challenges me to think about what we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.  How can we satisfy our moral obligation to help struggling communities but not create or foster dependency?  Like the primum non nocere dictum, it is partly what we don’t do that is important.

1-2First of all, CanAssist does not send goods; we send money.  We don’t flood the East African market with materials purchased in Canada and shipped overseas at great cost.

CanAssist does not deal with large multi-layered governmental departments but directly with individual schools, support groups and clinics. We don’t go to a community to promote our own agenda or ways of doing things.  We let the community, school, health facility come to us with their ideas of what sustainable infrastructure we can fund that will improve their well-being.

We don’t send unskilled volunteers to Africa in a “voluntourism”  holiday to build a school or do  other work that can be done more effectively by Africans. Our supporters don’t rob jobs from local carpenters and masons who need that work to pay for their family’s schooling or health needs. Instead, our funding stimulates the local economy, albeit in a small way.

dsc05459We don’t provide money for programming, staffing or other individual support. Once a donor starts paying for school fees for a young child, for example,  the student  becomes dependent on the benefactor’s help to finish secondary school, and beyond.  It becomes difficult to stop this individual aid.  And only one person benefits from this well-meaning generosity.  CanAssist provides communities with funding for sanitation or clean water, or for classrooms and furnishings at rural schools.  The materials are purchased locally and construction done by employing local workers, both men and women.  If parents are healthy, better educated and have work available, they can earn the money to look after their children.  CanAssist project funding, therefore,  provides two benefits – temporary employment for local people and infrastructure improvement to the community, benefitting many rather than just one or two.

CanAssist’s administrative expenses in Canada are about 5% of our budget. For some other development programmes, a large proportion of the claimed development funding stays in Canada, paying for salaries, airfares, office space, fax machines, hotels and computers. CanAssist does have obligatory administrative expenses like bank fees, Internet  access, postage and liability insurance and some unavoidable professional fees we can not get pro bono. All other goods and services are purchased in Africa.  We pay no Canadian salaries.   We provide casual employment to some Africans to help implement our projects but this, too, provides initiative to them to work to earn their money. It is not a handout.

We don’t fund  one group indefinitely.  CanAssist attempts to give a school or community a kick-start to help their development but ultimately they must figure out how to manage their own operational and infrastructure needs.  The goal is self-sufficiency and this would not be attainable if the group could rely on CanAssist support indefinitely.

For these reasons, I am convinced that that CanAssist can continue to provide help without harm African communities.  We are grateful to our many generous donors who participate confidently in this mission with us – knowing that they can help without fostering dependency.


CanAssist’s investment in African infrastructure boosts local economy

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.

12077310_10154277809299937_1675104093_nWe 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.

Some of the desks being locally made for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya.

Some of the desks being locally made for the Hope School in Mbita, Kenya.

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.”

ODA 2012In 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.

Not just new latrines

I’m delighted to have received further updates about the sanitation improvements that CanAssist is funding at the Mutundu Primary School in Kenya.

Toilet for girls at the Mutundu School – Spring 2012

I first wrote about this in a blog article in June (Sanitation – or lack of it) and subsequently updated it last month (Sanitation – Making progress) As you can see from the photos, the state of the toilets for staff and students at the school when our Kenyan assistant, Dan Otieno, assessed them was nothing short of disgusting.

Last week I received more pictures of the new latrines at the Mutundu School I would like to share along with some hidden advantages to the community from the kind of development work we are doing through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.

New CanAssist-funded girls toilet at Mutundu School. August 2012

I have come to realize that often the stimulus to a community provided by the funding of an infrastructure project such as this one has other less obvious benefits. The materials for construction are all locally purchased and the skilled (and unskilled) labourers to construct the projects are local tradesmen, often without much work. So we are not only providing the structure or item that will be part of the community and improve well-being there, we are also giving some employment to the locals, albeit temporary.

CanAssist recently sent money to another school in Uganda – Hope for Youth School near Mukono – to purchase 70 desks and chairs for the school. The cost comes to just over $5000 to do this. The bonus is that the desks and chairs will all be made locally by carpenters who will therefore benefit as well. This is a Win-Win situation. The school gets the needed furnishings and the local carpenters (and suppliers) benefit from the business.

It makes me happy to see this work at the Mutundu school progressing, knowing that the sanitation (and thereby health) conditions at the school will be greatly improved. I am also glad that the community are having some opportunity to participate in the construction and even earn a bit of money as they contribute to achieving these goals.

When money for infrastructure projects like the latrines at Mutundu School becomes available, it creates lots of interest in the community, a sense of ownership of the project and employment for tradesmen in the region.