Letter: Helping the poor when the rich have short memories

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The Independent Online
Sir: I would agree with Peter Adamson that the presentation of unrelenting misery and poverty in the Third World, by the media and by aid agencies, has created deeply held public misconceptions ('Charity begins with the truth', 18 May). However, I think his analysis is somewhat out-of-date. Neither should the need to raise funds and the need to foster deeper understanding of the problems of development be incompatible, as he believes. We find the public is intelligent enough to see that both can be done, and at the same time.

Even in the mid-Eighties, when Oxfam was experiencing a tremendous growth in income from the public, we were also mounting one of our most successful issue-based campaigns. As we appealed for money for famine relief we were also pointing out that for every pounds 1 given to Africa in aid, pounds 2 came back as debt repayments. This situation has not improved greatly, which is why we launched our 'Africa Make or Break' campaign last month. Africa is currently being bled of dollars 10bn a year (as Mr Adamson rightly points out), and we are calling for a Marshall Plan for Africa that would include considerable debt write-off.

Furthermore, Oxfam and similar agencies have for some time now followed codes of practice about how to present the people they work with in the Third World. We try to use images that show the bravery, dignity, wisdom and achievements of poor people. Pictures of misery and need may be appropriate in particular circumstances, but rarely show the whole truth. Our message is that we are not only helping poor people in the Third World to help themselves, but also that they know best how to help themselves and do not need to be told by Western 'experts'.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN WHITAKER

Deputy director

Oxfam

Oxford

18 May

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