Sunday, December 10, 2006

Your Contributions Are Needed

The longer I work here, the more firmly I become convinced that donating things to people (whether food, housing, or whatever) is the wrong way to help the poor. In fact, it´s counter-productive because it simply maintains a cycle of dependency. People become accustomed to receiving things and begin to feel that because they´re poor they have a right to handouts. Worse, they begin to believe that the solution to their problems is not within their own power, that they must depend on others to ¨fix¨ the situation in which they find themselves.

I think that those of us who are lucky enough to have been born into a country with great wealth have a moral duty to share our wealth with others who are less fortunate, but we should do it not by sharing our cash, but by sharing our knowledge: teaching them to create their own wealth -- teaching them to fish, rather than giving them fish.

Energy-saving technologies are money-saving technologies. They have the potential to create wealth, and quickly. Not a lot of wealth, but enough to make a significant difference in the lives of the poorest. For someone who lives from day to day without stable employment (about a quarter of the population of Lima) and sometimes has to decide between buying food or paying the electric bill on time, it can mean having enough money to do both. But it will take time and dedicated effort to teach people how to use these technologies, to overcome their resistance and to convince them that a small investment that is within their means will produce a savings many times greater, which they can use to improve the nutrition of their family or buy the materials that their children need for school.

My friend Martin (an anthropologist) and I have formed a team to continue disseminating the ¨retained heat cooking¨ technology that we have found to be successful in significantly reducing the use of gas in the preparation of meals at the women´s club in Pamplona. We are going to adopt two more women´s clubs in Chorrillos (closer to where I live) and perform more rigorous studies of the benefits and the problems with acceptance of the technology. Ultimately the use of these retained heat cookers can be self'-financing since the energy savings quickly pays for the initial cost of the device, and there is virtually no maintenance cost. But during this start-up phase we need to buy materials to construct various prototypes, buy gas and other combustibles to conduct our experiments, and pay the bus fare of some of the volunteers.
So far I´ve been financing this work out of my own pocket, but I know that some of you are interested in helping out, and since we´re approaching the end of the year I suspect that some of you are planning charitable contributions to reduce your tax burden. You can send your contribution by check to Una Familia, whose temporary address is 6440 Harbridge Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46220. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so all contributions are tax deductible. I can promise you that your donation will not be used to pay salaries (all of us are volunteers). It will provide us with the materials we need to do our work, and reimburse the cost of transportation for those volunteers who could not afford to help us if they had to pay it themselves. And of course I´ll continue to keep you updated on the things that we accomplish together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jim, I admire the work you are doing. I think you need to create an official web presence for your efforts. You could include a donate button on your site to help facilitate donations. I'd be happy to donate my time to help you out with this, shoot me an email if you are interested. Ben Becker, ben @, skype = beckerben