Mr. Johnson of Denver is editor of Young Life, a magazine for high school students.
"The trouble with you conservatives is that you don’t do anything about human misery. We liberals have a program. We are the true humanitarians of the world."
This kind of talk distresses me for two reasons. In the first place I consider it sheer hypocrisy to brag about being humanitarian when you have shifted your own personal responsibility to humanity onto a government-sponsored give-away program. In the second place it puts the finger on an element of hypocrisy in my own life. It is all too true. I am too little concerned with the problems of my fellow men. I talk more than I do. I am not enough of a humanitarian to suit myself.
It is not easy to live with your conscience knowing that two-thirds of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night while you are overfed. You begin to wonder if there isn’t a whole lot more that could be done by individuals who love liberty and prosperity and who long that all men shall someday enjoy these privileges.
One day a letter came to my desk from an organization claiming to offer me something practical that I could do about the problems of the world. Of course, I read it with interest.
It claimed that a young man by the name of Wil Rose had worked out a teamwork plan to provide technical and developmental assistance to the peoples of the developing nations simply by connecting actual problems submitted by them to people here in America who would solve the problems in the area of their own training and experience.
I read the brochure with my usual questions. Was this a government-sponsored program? No, it was an independent, nonprofit organization.
Did it send technical experts to foreign lands at great expense? No, it discovered qualified men and women in all vocations and professions who were willing to offer expert advice to solve problems in their area of specialization, and the whole operation was conducted by mail.
Did these experts charge for their services? No, they donated them as their contribution to the relief of human misery.
How was this organization financed? By asking an annual contribution of $12.00 or more from each person who joins the team, and from other contributions given simply because people want to have a part in this type of world service.
The organization is called DATA (Development and Technical Assistance) International. Their main commodity is data (facts, advice, information). They cited some typical cases.
An American teacher in Pakistan wrote, "The farmers in this area don’t even know how to terrace their land. With every monsoon season they watch their crops erode down the mountain and into the bay. Do you have someone who can give us information on terracing farm land?"
DATA turned to its files of agriculturalists and relayed the problem to a teacher at the University of New Mexico. Back came the answer with drawings which any person could understand and follow. These were airmailed to Pakistan. The teacher then interpreted and helped the people learn for themselves how to hold the soil and reap the harvests they needed so desperately.
A missionary in New Guinea wrote for a recipe for soap, wondering if it would be possible to make it using coconut oil.
DATA sent this problem to a chemist connected with the famous Stanford Research Institute and received instructions which could be used with any kind of animal or vegetable fat. Today the natives of a certain area of New Guinea are making their own soap, which helps bolster a sagging economy and brightens faces in more ways than one.
Exchange of Information
There are over 300,000 Americans (in addition to our armed services) overseas at all times. Many of them see human suffering and degradation every day without knowing what to do about it. DATA tries to contact as many as possible and suggests that they mail problems that might be solved by an exchange of information. Business representatives, tourists, students, missionaries, teachers, doctors, yes, even government officials and Peace Corps volunteers may use the service.
A Peace Corpsman in Colombia requested and received information on beekeeping. Another received advice on irrigating mountainous plots. Another, from the Philippines, a teacher, wanted instructions on organizing farmer cooperatives.
In a sense this service makes a Peace Corpsman, or any overseas representative of a service organization, an "expert" in many areas. He may have been a consultant in one or two specialized areas. Now he may receive highly qualified information on any problem he can put into words and mail to DATA which relays the problem to volunteer consultants at home.
This team of volunteer problem-solvers is called the DATA Assistance Corps. Over 1,000 individuals and service organizations have gone on record with resumes of their abilities. They stand by for problems in their area of training and experience.
These capable people really enjoy passing on helpful information. Engineers, doctors, teachers, pest control experts, research specialists, agriculturalists, mechanics, builders, butchers, bakers, yes, even candlestick makers would rather give answers to developmental problems than to give money or materials.
The candlestick maker, by the way, gave his expert instructions to a boys’ club in the Orient that wanted to learn a craft which might bring in a bit of income to help support their club program.
I began to see a glimmer of light as I read the literature. I reached for my pen and signed up as a member of the Assistance Corps. I listed my abilities in journalism, writing, preparation of publicity pieces, and also my hobbies—playing the trumpet, and various sports which I had participated in. Perhaps these were too specialized to be of much use among peoples of developing nations. At any rate I had gone on record with my willingness to help. I felt better already.
Soon I received a letter with a problem from Formosa. An independent radio station manned and operated by Chinese wanted to beam their message of hope to their fellow men on the captive mainland. They asked for help in preparing a brochure telling their story and asking for funds to help them support their nonprofit organization. A few hours’ work was all it took, and I sent it off with a real sense of pride in accomplishment. They sent me a copy of the completed brochure which I keep as a souvenir of my little part in world service.
Another request came for help in the design of a letterhead for a school in Japan. My hobbies were also brought into play when a request came for advice on caring for brass instruments in the tropics. Then came a request for assistance in setting up a recreational program for a youth camp in Bermuda.
Help Toward Self-Reliance
I began to analyze the difference between this type of "give-away" program, and the traditional government "give-aways" which leave so much to be desired.
What is it that the peoples of developing countries need the most? Is it temporary relief? To my mind this merely prolongs the problem. We keep thousands alive to propagate more thousands to feed in the next generation. And yet we dare not turn our back upon starving humans. Surely, much more should be done than is now being done. I believe it should be done through volunteer, independent, nonprofit organizations.
There are over 1,000 such organizations in America now offering specialized service in many aspects of human need. Every U. S. citizen with any income whatsoever should give some portion of it through the agency of his choice. He should make a studied effort to examine the claims of various organizations to find out if they are truly doing what they say they are to meet human needs. He should ask for and receive financial statements so he may be sure that the business practices of the organization are honest and efficient. He should in short become much more involved than to throw some loose change toward every good cause that comes along, or even to write a substantial check now and then.
We Americans talk a great deal about "the dignity of man." It has become another of those glib clichés that we subscribe to in a halfhearted manner. Yet, it is a grand idea. But think what the giving of relief does to the dignity of human personality. Every man yearns to stand on his own two feet. Not to be able to find employment to earn a living for himself and his family is a most discouraging predicament. To be forced to receive the very necessities of life at the hand of another is a most degrading and embarrassing situation. The exceptions are those who become professional beggars, whether on the streets or on the relief rolls. The stigma is still there. So we must come up with more imaginative and constructive plans, such as the DATA concept, and others that are not dealing in temporary relief.
A man is able to get better employment on the basis of what he knows and the skills he possesses as a result of that knowledge. This is true in a highly advanced economy such as ours, or in the most underdeveloped areas. The total prosperity of a country is largely dependent upon the know-how of its individual citizens. Therefore, it is imperative that the people of developing nations receive information, advice, and technical know-how as quickly as possible.
Formal education is not the immediate need of the masses of these awakening countries. There are not enough schools, or money, to support them. The immediate need is a rapid transfer of knowledge from the "have" peoples of the world to the "have-nots."
Here again we must be careful to preserve human dignity. We dare not rush quickly to people suggesting that we will tell them how to change their lot. We will hear, as we have heard from so many areas, a rising crescendo… "Yankee, go home."
To find a man struggling with a problem is a different thing. Now he is ready to receive help. He may want to know how to make a water wheel to lift water from the stream below to his thirsty fields. An American who has made his acquaintance, who knows how to talk his language, who is concerned about his everyday problems, offers to get a design for a water wheel. An engineer in New York, who has built several water wheels as a hobby, corresponds with the problem-sender until he knows the specifications needed and the materials available. Then he puts his inventive ingenuity to work and comes up with a design that is practical and economical. It is soon built and put to work. Other farmers in the area come to examine the new labor-saving device which enables a man to irrigate ten acres with less physical effort than was formerly needed to irrigate a small garden plot. Soon they build water wheels for themselves, and a healthy economy begins to form in that primitive area.
Problems of Government Aid
Think for a moment on the international relations problems involved. A government which sends experts, money, or materials is suspect from the start. People are not fools. They know there is a hook somewhere. They realize that their good will or political alliance is being bought. They are sick and tired of political chicanery. The only acquaintance with government many people have is with a crooked official in their neighborhood who lives by treachery and bribes. So, naturally, they mistrust it when they see it on an international level. The "bribes" they see are boatloads of grain or tractors. We have insulted the peoples we desire to serve, and have put ourselves in a bad light even though our motives were pure.
Think, also, of the bad public relations back home that result when Americans hear of the millions of their "give-away" tax dollars which have gone into the black markets of certain countries to fatten the pockets of a few crooked officials. Congressmen are then given an excuse to make investigative world tours, at more public expense, to straighten things out. Eventually, the whole operation becomes a political sore spot that shows little sign of healing.
Charity a Personal Affair
On the other hand, see the new improved image of America that begins to emerge when an individual is helped by the exchange of a small bit of information he can use to improve his own lot. A national will find it hard to believe that the American who thought enough of him to become involved with an everyday problem of life is a "Yankee imperialist," whatever that might be. He will think of him as a friend. And perhaps here is the key to the whole developmental problem—friendship.
How much friendship is shown in government "give-aways"? It seems impossible for me as an individual to demonstrate my friendship to the peoples of the world by money that is taken from me as taxes, administered by agencies unknown to me in Washington, and sent to countries I never heard of.
In contrast, see the chain of friendship which comes into operation in the teamwork project which makes possible a free flow of information.
In the first place, I am a bit flattered to be asked for any bit of information I may have. I would much rather give advice than money. So, right away we are on good terms.
The American who happens to be stationed overseas, knowing that he can readily turn to me and thousands in every career and profession, is now able to look for, rather than to look away from, the problems that plague nationals in his area. So he offers to write for information—how to improve crops and herds, how to build smokeless fireplaces for cooking, how to purify drinking water, how to control rats, bats, or ants. The response he receives from the national is warm, gratifying, and lasting.
This need not be a one-way street. In fact it should be a "freeway" by which helpful ideas are able to flow to and from every nation in the world.
I am not talking of mere cultural exchange or the trading of gifts and souvenirs. I am concerned with the free exchange of helpful ideas that can be used to improve the economic conditions of free men everywhere. But we may have to take the initiative and demonstrate our sincerity in this realm until such a time as other nations are willing to send back some ideas and know-how in certain areas that our people could use.
DATA Director, Wil Rose, made a trip to Mexico City at the invitation of Mexican citizens who had used the service for their own countrymen. They wanted to know how to set up a similar organization in their own land.
"Why should we send to the U. S. for help when the same exchange of know-how might be implemented by our own people?" they asked.
Once they have put the program to work in their land, they can spread the friendship circle to other Latin American countries, and then share some of their own technical abilities with American citizens who need and seek advice.
Any nation can stand a lot of this kind of "image improvement." Here, at last, is a program in which untold thousands of capable career people may give away (and still retain for their own use) valuable data which can be applied to the everyday problems of life.
Here is a positive plan of action by which Americans, liberal or conservative, may meet the true needs of their fellow men on a person-to-person basis, where true compassion belongs.
For information as to how you may go on record with your willingness to help in your field of training and experience, write to DATA International, 437 California Avenue, Palo Alto, California.
"Friends of Humanity"
I am one of humanity, and I do not want any volunteer friends. I regard friendship as mutual, and I want to have my say about it.
WILLIAM GRAHAM SUMNER,
What Social Classes Owe to Each Other