These school children are learning about cooperation as they untangle themselves from a human knot.

The more I learn; the more I realize I don’t know. Cross cultural experiences especially leave me with that feeling where the lines blur between right and wrong and things I thought were certain become challenged. I haven’t come up with the answers but I have a shitload of questions to ponder.

Can foreign aid ever REALLY help local people?

This question comes as a result of seeing various conundrums brought about by foreigners rushing in to “help” the less advantaged. In the Sudan where every 10th vehicle on the street is a UN van, well meaning peacekeepers and aid workers have driven up the prices of everyday items to the point that some locals can no longer afford basic food. It’s basic supply and demand. Suddenly a country becomes flooded with workers from “richer” countries that are able to pay higher prices so merchants raise the prices regardless of the fact that it leaves the locals behind.

Another point to this case, is the ridiculous management of funds after the tsunami. In eastern Sri Lanka, people were literally handing out cash from bags of money. It was utter chaos. Some fisherman got a boat with no motor and others would get two motors but no boat. Then you had well meaning NGOs coming in with predetermined design plans to rebuild facilities without consultation with local engineers. The result are buildings that looked great for the photos when the diplomats arrived, but are now falling apart because the people can’t maintain them and they were made of the wrong materials for the climate to begin with.

Then there is the POLITICS that surround everything. Countries want foreign money but they don’t want to be told how to spend it. Any foreign aid must go to government schools and hospitals, etc. where the government ultimately determines how it is spent. The money just doesn’t seem to make it into the hands of the local people who have innovative ideas and could institute real change.

Everyone is interesting in the relatively quick and tangible results of a bricks and mortar approach to development. They want to build a school or set up a community centre. Something sexy and glamorous for a photo op. There’s nothing glamorous about funding maintenance staff or training for teachers in an existing school that looks like it is falling apart by our standards but is perfectly suited to the community it serves. Running water and modern toilets just might not be a priority in a community where these things don’t even exist in the students’ homes.

This doesn’t mean we give up. This just means we need to work hard at cross-cultural relations to provide meaningful, sustainable development.

Is public education / health care better than private?

Coming from Canada I’ve always been a strong advocate for universal health care and free education for all. I’m proud of being from a country that provides these essentials to all of its citizens and I worry that by opening up private facilities, a slippery slope will occur in which we will have a two-tiered system.

I can’t speak very much to health care, but I’ve really been thinking a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of private education lately. Teaching at a posh private school has shown me clearly just how better the quality of education can be when you have small class sizes and students who want to learn. Where does this desire to learn come from? Would it come as a direct result of having to pay for school and thus holding families accountable? Or is it part of the value system that these families have who have clearly been successful through the education system?

It is certain that there is a sense of entitlement in Canada when it comes to education. Many students do whatever they can to get out of work and some work hard at disrupting the learning of others. Instead of teaching, I felt like a babysitter. I spent most of my day doing crowd control with 30 + students.

The book I’m reading entitled The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley explores a whole section of education I didn’t know existed. The researcher looks into low-cost private education in the poorest areas of the world. Surprisingly he has found that these schools are producing better student results than the government schools even though the teachers are paid less, they’re less qualified and the buildings are at a lower standard. He argues that the key to their success is accountability. Accountability of the teachers, the administrators, the owners and the parents and students. Very interesting . . .

Is democracy always the way to go? Are dictatorships really that bad?

In the west, we are readily supporting the rebellions against leaders in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, etc. We seem to believe that democracy is the best system of government and everywhere in the world should be under the same system. However, I question if democracy can truly work in some nations that have a much different set of values and ideals. Under Gadhafi, Libya prospered on many fronts. I’m not saying I would have liked to have a beer with the guy, but the fact remains that he invested tons of money into Africa.  Now that he is gone, will they be any better off? Look at the democracy the west has “successfully” instituted in Afghanistan.

It may have been best said by a Sierra Leoneon friend of mine when I asked his opinion of what was happening in the Ivory Coast. “They haven’t lived through the atrocities of war,” he said. “If they had, they would do whatever they could to keep peace. A corrupt leader is better than war.”

This resonates a lot with me living in Sri Lanka – post civil-war. The government can and has been criticized for many things. The UN has released a report that points to the strong possibility of war crimes being committed by both the government as well as the LTTE (Tamil Tigers). But, the general opinion of the people is that they want to move on. They don’t understand why the west wants to bring up the past. The people of Sri Lanka want a continued peace more than anything else.

Why does Sri Lanka suddenly suck at cricket?

After finishing second in the Cricket World Cup, the new season is upon us. Sri Lanka has just lost 3 out of their last 3 test matches. Hopefully they are not emulating the Riders. Come on boys you can pull it together. To pump you up and maybe convert a few more fans to the Sri Lankan cricket team, here is a commercial celebrating Sri Lanka’s best spinner’s pitch known as the “Malinga Slinga.” GO LANKA GO!