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The Allure of the Quick Fix

“Hit the ground running”

As a Crisis Corps Volunteer (part of the US Peace Corps) I was sent back to Thailand to help with the tsunami recovery efforts. Before my departure Peace Corps sent out a press release which stated:

“The three resource development volunteers will be working with local governments to determine where the greatest need lies and identifying resources to help the local communities. They will also put together a local staff to insure progress will continue after the Crisis Corps team departs.”

So essentially we were to go into a government office, work with them to determine needs, develop a program, find funding and resources, implement the program, and ensure that it was sustainable – all of this in the span of just six months – there would be no extensions.

How long would it take to develop a program that solves a problem in your own community?

Would a six month program be successful in your own city? Imagine if a stranger were sent to your community from an aid agency boasting that they were going to solve a community problem. How would your community react?

Most likely there would be a lot of questions including:

  • How will all the stakeholders be involved in the decision making process?
  • Is there adequate time for community input?
  • Will government departments have adequate time to sign off on the project?
  • How will they raise money that quickly?
  • How will they ensure that the money is well spent?
  • Can they really ensure that the program is well thought out and sustainable or are they going to leave us with a half-baked project that we’ll have to clean up after?

Although we know it would be almost impossible to make a real impact in our own communities in a short period of time, we continue to fund projects that are supposed to do just that in someone else’s community. Perhaps we do this because we believe that solving problems in other countries is simpler than solving problems in our own country.

Most social problems do not have a quick fix

We send food to eliminate hunger – yet in the US, where grocery stores are filled with fresh, frozen, and canned food, “One in six young children live on the brink of hunger in 26 states in the U.S., according to a new report issued today by Feeding America. The rate of food insecurity in young children is 33 percent higher than in U.S. adults, where one in eight live at risk of hunger” according to the most recent report by Feeding America. Hunger is rarely caused by a lack of available food (see related posting).

We travel to another country as a volunteer to build houses – yet, with a glut of houses on the market in the US, “approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2007)” – presented as the best estimate to a complicated question in a paper by the National Coalition for the Homeless . After the tsunami a flood of aid agencies built houses, yet there are still people without homes while others received multiple homes. Solving homelessness was not as simple as just building houses.

We send money to build orphanages in other countries while the US foster care system is struggling. “Poverty, homelessness and unemployment are some of the main contributing factors to children being placed in foster care. Considering the current economic condition across the country, many experts believe it is possible that the number of children entering foster care will rise in the coming months.” according to The National Network for Young People in Foster Care. After the tsunami families that couldn’t care for their children abandoned them in orphanages. Orphanages had the money to feed, clothe, and educate children because they were appealing to donors. Would we consider orphanages to be the right solution in the US?

There are no simple and quick solutions to the problems faced in our own country. Problems in other countries are just as complicated. We do a disservice to those we are trying to help, and risk implementing questionable projects, by pretending otherwise.

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