Why I Won’t Buy a “Goat” This Holiday Season

On December 17, 2013

By: Erika Malich

It’s that time of year again. Holiday campaigns touting images of women and children clutching livestock with big, inviting smiles. The underlying message being that YOU have the power to alleviate poverty, increase gender equality and access to education with the simple purchase of a goat or chicken that will go to someone in need overseas. Saving the world and sidestepping traditional holiday consumerism at the same time? Sign me up, it sounds too good to be true!

That’s because it often is.

Some of the major systemic issues that are at the root of global poverty – such as power imbalances or limited access to markets, healthcare and education – stem from things far more complex than a simple goat can solve. (Sorry, goat!) That’s not to say that a goat won’t bring immediate benefits to a family – such as access to milk or the ability to sell cheese – but we have to look much farther beyond this. We have to look at the larger systems in which these imbalances are taking place and ask some tough questions.

Tough questions such as: why is this family poor? What is standing in their way of accessing markets, education, clean water? What are governments, NGOs, and companies doing that helps or hinders them, and why are they motivated in that way? And so on.

The tough part is, there aren’t often easy answers to such questions. Development is a complex and tricky area. Engineers Without Borders (EWB) takes these types of questions head-on, and takes a different approach to the typical holiday campaign. This year, the “We Are” campaign highlights individual members and their reflections on the organization. No goats, no flashy catalogues. Just stories and and outstretched hand asking others to join our cause.

So why do organizations offer up catalogues of goods that you can “give” to someone overseas? They do this because it is easy. Because one can see a “tangible” outcome overseas and it makes us feel good. Because in many cases, development is an industry, and these organizations are looking for the easy buck. But this is not good development, and we shouldn’t delude ourselves that it is.

Here, organizations simply want to capitalize on the Christmastime consumerism  by giving it an “ethical” twist. (Don’t just give a useless trinket – help an African family!) But it shouldn’t be about an “us” and “them”, but rather about all of us rising up and helping each other. On that note I will leave off with a quote from Lila Watson, an Australian Aboriginal woman who, in response to mission workers said this: “If you’ve come to help, you’re wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us walk together.”

To view EWB’s holiday campaign, visit http://weare.ewb.ca

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