Independent Appeal: Change, not charity, is this year's message

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A number of aid agencies might have gone into the shanty town known as the musseques on the edge of Luanda, the capital of Angola, and brought in supplies of piped water. The need was obvious enough. But One World Action (OWA) realised it was not just the sun-baked soil that needed drilling down into. There was a social problem which needed deeper attention too.

The world's poorest people need more than charity at Christmas. That is why The Independent Appeal this year is doing more than asking readers for money to help dig a well or send drugs to a needy clinic in the developing world. The three charities we are supporting in our 2008 appeal all try to address the problems of poverty in a more profound way. Each is working not for charity but for change.

In Angola, shanty towns sprang up around the capital during the 27-year civil war which was one of the deadliest conflicts in Africa in the post-colonial period. Six years after that war ended they are still there, and have become a permanent feature of the landscape.

For decades the poorest of the five million people in Angola's sprawling shanty towns used to buy water in small plastic bags in the market – many were paying 25 per cent of their entire incomes on water. OWA, in conjunction with a local group called Development Workshop, brought piped supplies to the area. "But we did not just restrict ourselves to the hard hat stuff," says OWA's director, Graham Bennett. "We worked with local people to set up water committees to oversee how the supply was installed."

Working to train and empower ordinary people – through community groups, co-operative movements, women's organisations and trade unions – is a key aspect of OWA's work. Its schemes help poor people understand how local government works and how to campaign to make it more open, transparent and accountable.

That is why it does not just work in poor countries but among the most vulnerable groups in each place – caste outcasts in Bangladesh; people with HIV in Malawi; self-employed women in India; women councillors beaten up in Bolivia; native people's co-ops in the Philippines. It works with the most marginalised people so they can directly influence decision-makers.

A similar approach is evident in our two other charities. Action on Disability and Development (ADD) brings the same philosophy to bear in its work with disabled people. And the professional volunteers VSO sends to the developing world do not see themselves as problem-solvers but as sharing skills with the local people to enable them to tackle deep-rooted social and economic imbalances.

Change, not charity is the message. Over the coming weeks we will bring you a variety of reports which will show how they do that – and the difference your donations could make.