A personal response

PAUL GESSELL January 6 1986

A personal response

PAUL GESSELL January 6 1986

A personal response


Aid agencies had seen nothing like it for decades. Across the country during the past year Canadians found their own ways to raise money for starving Africans.

Churches sponsored bake sales, children raided their piggy banks, artists contributed their paintings, and the superstars of Canada’s pop music scene donated their talents to making the fund-raising record Tears Are Not Enough. John Wieler, director of Africa Emergency Aid, an umbrella group for nongovernmental aid agencies, said there had not been such a “spurt of adrenaline” flowing through the body politic since the campaign to knit socks and grow food for bomb-ravaged Britons in the 1940s. The difference was that instead of an intense government propaganda effort, last year the news media—and the music industry—took up the plight of the afflicted.

Distress: There was no escaping the images of gaunt, suffering children in 1985, and individual Canadians responded by raising more than $60 million in various campaigns for African relief. Respondents in The Maclean’s/Decima Poll vividly illustrated the immensity of their concern about the African famine, with 57 per cent saying that they or other members of their family donated money. In addition, a plurality (44 per cent) responded that as a result of knowing more about the problems in Africa, they are now “more convinced that hunger can be ended.” But two-thirds of the poll respondents also said they believe that most people will resume relying upon the government to handle for-

eign aid; the other third said that they believe the events of the past year will prompt more people to become more directly involved in helping the Third World (page 43). Typical of that group was poll respondent Dominic Dumont, a 26-year-old political science student in Quebec City, who told Maclean’s, “Governments do not always make the best decisions for helping countries in distress.” For many people polled, their donations were a response to pleas from the reigning stars of rock music, who staged a 16-hour fund-raising concert on two stages—in London and in Philadelphia—on July 13 that was televised live around the world. The impact of the concert—called Live Aid—was enormous: fully 55 per cent of poll respondents said they watched at least part of it. Not surprisingly, given the publicity surrounding Live Aid, Tears Are Not Enough and a similar fund-raising record by U.S. music stars, We Are the World, young people sampled appeared to be most affected by the African relief effort. While 44 per cent were optimistic about solving food problems, that figure rose to 54 per cent among 18and 19-year-olds and 50

As you may recall, last summer there was a rock music concert called Live Aid to raise money for famine victims in Africa. Did you watch any part of that concert on television?

per cent among those aged 20 to 29. As well, the younger respondents were slightly more likely to believe that people will do more to help directly in the future.

Contributions to African relief came from a broad cross section of society—children in Garrick, Sask., donated part of their allowance; the Cornerstone Theatre in St. John’s turned over box office receipts from a benefit performance; and the Inuit, recalling their own experiences with hunger, donated more per capita than other Canadians. While the poll showed that upper-income people were more likely to have given, the generosity of the those earning lower incomes was striking. Among poll respondents with a household income of less than $10,000 a year, 43 per cent made a contribution, compared to 62 per cent of households surveyed earning at least $30,000.

What made the year’s effort particularly significant was that one-third of respondents said they have changed their thinking and will become more involved in foreign aid rather than leaving the responsibility to

government. Herman Wolfs, a 35-year-old engineer and father of four from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., was among the respondents who said they believe there has been a shift in attitude. Said Wolfs: “I feel I should be responsible for aid to foreign countries rather than going to the government through whom it will cost me more.”

Generous: But such sentiments are precisely what development-aid specialist Ivan Head, for one, expected of Canadians. “I wasn’t surprised at the generosity of the Canadian people,” said Head, president of the government-financed International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa. “My contention has been for years and years that they would have supported more generous Canadian aid.”

Still, foreign-aid experts generally credit the news media’s attention to the suffering of Africans, particularly the drought-stricken Ethiopians, with encouraging individuals to dig into their pocketbooks. And Jean-Guy

St-Martin, the vice-president for policy of the government-run Canadian International Development Agency, said the efforts to help Africa indicated recent changes in attitudes. Said St-Martin: “They seem to be more aware and concerned about the problems of others and they see some link with their own situation.”

Some people say that the problems in Ethiopia and efforts to publicize them over the past year have changed the way they think about foreign aid, and that in the future they will do more to help directly and not just leave the task to government.

Others say that while Live Aid and other efforts may have focused people’s attention on the problems for a period of time, the average person will probably go back to their original habits and rely on governments to provide foreign aid.

Thinking of these two points of view, which one best reflects your own?

^ Changed way people

^ think about foreign aid34 %

^ Most will go back to ^ relying on government65 %

By far the flashiest and most successful fund-raising efforts for Africa were the Live Aid concerts and telethon, which raised more than $66 million around the world, $1.7 million of that in Canada. With performances by about 60 of the world’s biggest pop stars, including Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Canadians Bryan Adams and Neil Young, Live Aid attracted an estimated global audience of more than one billion. Predictably, The Maclean’s/Decima Poll found that young people were more likely to have watched the high-decibel entertainment than were their parents. Among respondents aged 18 and 19, more than twothirds—69 per cent—said they watched at least part of the extravaganza. But even half the respondents aged 65 and more said they watched at least part of the show.

Skeptical: Poll respondent Linda Perry, 23, a Toronto waitress and part-time model, was typical of how Live Aid affected some viewers. She said she does not normally donate to charities and had given nothing to Ethiopian relief until the concert. She called in halfway through and gave $100. Now, Perry said, she believes that it is better and more efficient for individuals, rather than government bureaucracies, to take the responsibility for foreign aid. Said Terry: “Either way we will end up paying, but with the government we will end up paying more.”

The question that respondents were asked read, “As a result of hearing and seeing more about the problems in Africa and the efforts to relieve them this year, are you more convinced, no more nor less convinced, or less con-

vinced that hunger can be ended?” Forty-four per cent said they were more convinced, 36 per cent said they were no more nor less convinced, and 20 per cent said they were less convinced. The people who said they were most convinced that hunger can be ended tended to be young and single; half the people under 30 felt that way. The most skeptical were the elderly. Only 34 per cent of those aged 65 or more said they were more convinced hunger can be ended.

Hard-nosed: Still, a concern with world hunger was typical of poll respondents who had follow-up interviews with Maclean’s. Among them, Stephen Shapcott, a 20-year-old sociology student from Mississauga, Ont., argued for long-term development in place of emergency relief. Said Shapcott: “I felt the Live Aid concert was fine and dandy. But I sort of see it as a Band-Aid to an open sore.” The best way to help hungry Africans is not through “chequebook charity,” said Shapcott, but by sending experts to teach them how to produce more food. Still, iDRC’s Head argued that aid should be considered not as charity but as an investment in Third World countries. In Canada’s case the government “invests” more than $2 billion annually in foreign aid, much of it tied to the purchase of goods and services in Canada. Said Head: “The fact is that we are now making an awful lot of money from the developing countries, and if we don’t continue to do what we can to stimulate and to broaden those markets in developing countries we’re going to lose those markets. Now that’s a hardnosed, bottom-line issue that doesn’t have anything to do with charity at all.”

Africa Emergency Aid director Wieler does not belittle the money raised by Canadians for African relief, but he said the country should not become too selfcongratulatory. After all, the $60 million raised through private donations can also be expressed as only $2.40 for each person in the country. Said Wieler: “The question, I think, that has been kicking around in my head is, ‘What has the last outpouring of generosity, if we want to call it that, done to Canadians?’ And I would say,

Did you or your family contribute any money to African relief this year?

Yes -57%

No -43%

‘Nothing, outside of opening their hearts and their eyes a little bit more.’ I mean, it hasn’t hurt them. I don’t see Canada any poorer for having shared a little bit. I think Canada could do an awful lot more than it’s doing.” Even against that hard-nosed standard, the efforts in 1985 represent a promising start. And if The Maclean’s/ Decima Poll is a good indication of the national mood, one-third of Canadians have at least changed their thinking and intend to do more about foreign aid in the future.