Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gift of Gas


Our host father’s sister and her American husband came to visit from their Hawaiian home last October. In true Samoan fashion, they bought gifts for their relatives, one of which was a stove and large bottle of propane gas. The families had been cooking over wood fires.

When I got home from my New Year’s trip, my own propane bottle was missing. My host mother came over to explain they had borrowed it while I was away. Borrowing without asking is something you just get used to in Samoa, but the borrowing is not the point of this entry. In truth, our host family can not afford to refill the propane tank. This well intentioned gift was given without thought to the continuing resources required for its sustainability.

Gift givers, be they individuals, institutions, or governments, want to see results. There is glamour in opening a package or cutting the ribbon, none for long term support. Gifts soon become junk or drain resources away from where they may more urgently needed.
This pattern of good intentions gone amiss is repeated as aid in the form of computers, telecenters, swimming pools, libraries, and schools deteriorate from lack of funds or training.

Assistance and aid are like having children. There is a moment of ecstasy followed by at least 18 years, 9 months of hard work and support. One can never predict the outcome, but it is a worthwhile endeavor anyway.

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