The Problems with Charity

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The Problems with Charity

When rich and poor worlds meet… Rasinatu is angry… Goodbye presents...


Rasinatu in 2005, with Mariama, Zakariya, and Zahara. © Chris Brazier

After 25 years Mariama is still working in the health centre. My other friend Ousmane is also still working in the dispensary. They are right to complain a lot about the low pay for this full-time work. The monthly pay is around $15 a month for Mariama and $22.50 for Ousmane. The pay was the same 15 years ago. They would like a trade union to help them but there is no union. I suggest Ousmane writes a letter to the Health Minister as the government says healthcare is most important.

Money is always a problem in the life in the village when I visit. In a subsistence-farming community like this one, cash usually comes from family members working in the capital or abroad. People know that a Western visitor has money that could make a big difference to their lives.

I don’t know it was right or wrong but I decided that my visit was as a journalist writing to understand changes in people’s lives. And I paid more than necessary for any services and I was not there to try and help by giving money in charity. I decided on this to defend myself when I went back again the first time, when I was living closely with the people and a lot of them asked me for money for things like to mend a broken bicycle or to start a small business. On the first visit, the problems with charity were very clear when people were very surprised that I brought bottles of aspirin and chloroquine to give away.

This time I paid Ousmane for his help in guiding and interpreting for me. Also I paid Mariama a lot of money, which she now expected though she had less time to work for me than in past years.

I always feel closest to Mariama and her family. Over the years I have sent euro notes with my few letters. When heavy rain destroyed her house in 2008, my family helped to pay to build it again.

On this visit my partner Pat came with me as my daughter Kate did 11 years before. Everyone we met was so happy to meet her. It was very good for her to see how much help a journalist has and to meet the people she only heard about before.

Rasinatu is angry

Early on in our visit, Mariama’s daughter Rasinatu came to see us. I was very happy to meet her. In 1995 she was the baby of the family and in 2005 she was at the local school. Now she was married and brought her own one-year-old child. As we talked about the changes in her life over the past 10 years, she said something surprising and serious.

She felt that her family did not help her enough financially. They did not want to pay for her to stay at school. Mariama agrees and says that they just didn’t have the money. I have heard people say this many times about not paying for girls’ education. Rasinatu felt she could only do what girls always do. She married a boy from school whose family lived in a village on the other side of Garango.


Rasinatu now. Chris Brazier

But her cousin Issa Junior was a lovely boy who was an orphan when he was very young and Mariama’s family looked after him. He stayed at school and passed his baccalauréat. He is now starting his studies at university in the capital. He hopes to study medicine. Students start with this plan but may become pharmacists, nurses or doctors, depending on how good their results are. Mariama and her husband did not pay for his school fees but their son Zakariya sent the money home from where he was working in Côte d’Ivoire. This wonderful story shows how kind Zakariya is but it also shows the big differences in girls’ and boys’ situations.

But Rasinatu said more. I was shocked when she told me she was angry with me: ‘Why didn’t you give me anything from England? Why didn’t you send me something – a bicycle, a mobile phone or something!’


I didn’t know how to answer her and I felt bad that she was angry as Bissa people are so polite. The help I give Mariama’s family has always been a problem but I always saw it as something between her and myself. It was of course possible for me to pay for Rasinatu’s school fees but I was not in close touch at the time – and helping one family would have gone against New Internationalist's ideas, which do not support child sponsorship.

The last day in the village

Rasinatu’s anger affected our time in the village and the discussions Pat and I have about how much we can help. We decide that we will give all the euros we have with us to their family and also give Mariama her fee from New Internationalist and pay for the next year’s school fees for Zahara, Mariama’s youngest daughter. We will also give money to Rasinatu and to Issa Junior to help with the cost of a computer he needs for university. We make these gifts on our last day in the village. This may be the last time I will be there.

But we did not say goodbye to Mariama. She decided that she will come with us on the bus to Ouagadougou, where I arranged to meet her eldest son Oumarou. It is a visit that will change the way I think about the worlds of the rich and the poor, and about the problems with individual charity.

Read more about Sabtenga’s people, their stories, photos and videos on our special Village Hub.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).