Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go to the Kiribati Islands with a small group of students from my university. On the trip, I learned two lessons about aid and development.
Firstly, I learned about the significance of Australian aid. There are lots of Australian Aid signs all over the place in Kiribati. Australian Aid funds most of the primary schools in the nation, has built the only road that goes through Tarawa (the main island), provides educational materials, and has provided the nation with mental health and disability facilities.
I talked to a community member in Tarawa and I asked her about Australian aid. As a development studies student, I have become quite skeptical about the effectiveness of aid. This lady, however, spoke highly of Australian aid. She was grateful for the fact that this aid has provided both educational and mental health services for the nation.
So the first lesson about aid and development that I learned from my Kiribati trip was that Australian aid is important. It takes many different forms, but in Kiribati this is what it looks like:
Secondly, I learned that aid can be ineffective and disempowering if delivered in the wrong way, and we must do all that we can to ensure that it empowers individuals and communities. This trip got me thinking about the way in which we deliver aid and do development. While I was there, I heard about some aid projects that weren’t delivered in a way that is empowering for community members. Instead, ‘experts’ often go in with their solutions to the problems and don’t listen to what the community members have to say.
I had the privilege of meeting community members while I was there, and they were incredibly wise and resourceful. It was so clear that they are the best people to come up with solutions to development challenges in their nation.
Development issues are extremely complex. We got a bit of an insight into this as we explored the issues surrounding climate change adaptation. People are losing their land and their crops are starting to fail. What should we do?
I do not know. But I do know, after spending time with extremely capable and wise community members, that the answer is not for some western expert to go in and solve the problem. The answer is for us to sit and listen and together with them and work towards a solution.
Even as I listened to people talk about ineffective and disempowering development, it was clear that the answer was not to stop giving aid. Or to stop advocating for it. Instead, we must advocate for better aid. Aid that puts the needs of the community members first. Aid that empowers local people. Aid that listens.
As citizens who live in such a privileged country where our voices are heard, let’s continue to speak up for more and better aid!
Sarita Hales is a Development Studies student at long-term Micah advocate.