DEVELOPMENT

Making aid work

Small projects are transforming poor lands

DIANE BRADY November 19 1990
DEVELOPMENT

Making aid work

Small projects are transforming poor lands

DIANE BRADY November 19 1990

Making aid work

DEVELOPMENT

Small projects are transforming poor lands

The murky liquid costs only a few cents a serving to make, but it is transforming the lives of hungry Third World citizens. Experts in overseas aid programs say that the mixture of corn or other flour, boiled water and a pinch of salt saves an estimated 600,000 children from death by dehydration and related illnesses each year. First developed in poverty-stricken Bangladesh, the use of oral rehydration solution, as the mixture is called, is being spread to other Third World countries with help from develop-

ment agencies in Canada and other Western nations. The simple solution is the centrepiece of an exhibition that opened in Toronto Sept. 28. Sponsored by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, a Toronto-based, nonprofit organization that spent $8 million on aid projects in Africa and Asia last year, the exhibition depicts a growing trend in which relatively inexpensive projects aimed at improving life at the local level in developing nations have begun to replace costly megaprojects. Said Nazeer Ladhani, chief executive officer of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada: “These small successes are the essence of lasting development.”

The exhibition at the Ontario Science Centre, entitled Seeing Our World Through New Eyes, celebrates improved living standards in

some Third World countries with photographs, movies and displays that show how small-scale aid projects can transform local economies. Visitors to the exhibition can operate a peanutshelling machine developed in Thailand with the help of Canadian aid money. Another exhibit shows how Pakistani villagers use sulphur fumes to dry fruit in a system developed with foreign aid. Some visitors said that they were favorably impressed by the new direction in foreign aid. “This is a lot better than the kind of help I thought we gave,” said Carey Marshall, a

third-year history student at Toronto’s York University. The exhibition will remain in Toronto until Jan. 6, then travel to Hull, Que., where it will open at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on Feb. 20. Starting in April, the show will travel on to four other Canadian cities, including Montreal and Vancouver.

Officials of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada said that the exhibition shows that many international aid agencies are beginning to realize that large-scale aid projects, including hydroelectric dams and mechanized agricultural projects, often ignore local cultural values. “We’re still locked in the 19th-century concept of handouts,” said Peter Dalglish, executive director of the Toronto-based organization Street Kids International, which helps develop-

ing communities in developing countries set up bicycle courier projects to provide jobs for homeless children. He added, “We have to completely rethink foreign aid to encourage independence everywhere we go.”

For his part, Ladhani said that the success of small-scale projects in Third World countries provides “concrete examples of the fact that a little help goes a long way.” The foundation is an affiliate of the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation, which is headed by the spiritual leader of the six-million member Ismaili branch of the Moslem religion.

Ladhani said that many Canadian aid agencies, including Ottawa’s Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and such non-government groups as the privately funded Toronto agency the Calmeadow Foundation, are increasingly providing loan arrangements to foster small-scale cottage industries and entrepreneurial zeal in developing nations. Martin Connell, president of Calmeadow, which arranges for small-scale loans to entrepreneurs in Canadian native communities and in three developing nations, said that requests include help with buying a new sewing machine for clothes-makers in Colombia or purchasing seeds for a small-scale farming project in Peru. “These are the people with big goals but zero access to credit,” said Connell.

With loans that average $150, said Connell, Third World entrepreneurs, many of them women, are able to buy equipment and raw materials or rent retail space to make their businesses grow and strengthen the local economy. Connell said that many of the basic principles followed by Calmeadow and other overseas development agencies were developed by Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladesh economist who, in 1983, e founded the Dacca-based i Grameen Bank, which spe3 cializes in making small loans ^ to support so-called microindustries economic developments. - The trend towards small-

scale aid developments has gathered momentum at a time when domestic budget constraints have led to a reduction in Canada’s foreign aid program. In the 1989-1990 fiscal year, Ottawa spent $2.7 billion on foreign aid, or 0.44 per cent of the Canadian gross national product—down $200 million from the previous year. Still, Ladhani said that the purpose of the exhibition is to emphasize that small amounts of money can achieve significant results overseas. Added Ladhani: “We want every Canadian to see that, with their help, people are taking charge of their own destiny.” Clearly, while the costs are small, the results may be the seeds of greater achievements in the future.

DIANE BRADY