I can’t really remember when my mom started telling me about “Three Cups of Tea”. It must have been a couple of years ago as a number of friends of hers (all in their sixties on up and white) had read it and found it “inspirational”. She heavily suggested that I read it. I didn’t. Then, two years ago, I received it as a Christmas gift from the mom of a friend of a friend. I didn’t read it again and promptly re-gifted it.
I didn’t read it because (as we are pretty much certain now) I knew that it was a suspect organization or that Greg Mortenson was a fraud with a lot of awards, it’s that I found the whole premise to be ridiculous and typical in how American aid is Christian guilt-driven and at best, paternalistic. It’s not that the work that Greg and his CAI organization did or didn’t do was without value, it’s just the whole manner in which is happened that I found somewhere between unfortunate and disgusting. And it’s the fact that the US tends to drive aid around the world in this disastrous and misdirected fashion that is truly terrifying.
Having been confronted by this damnable book on so many occasions, I thought that I’d have more to say once I watched the 60 Minutes exposé, but I couldn’t really place it in to words. It’s obvious that it was coming, especially after watching Mortenson speak and hearing the glossy manner in which he sold his aid concept to a willing audience while spending millions on “outreach”.
Thankfully, Saundra over at Good Intentions are Not Enough has gone and summed up the worst elements to all of this and said most everything that I would really have to say on the matter. In looking over what she wrote, unless you’ve spent a good deal of time out of the US or really invested yourself in international foreign policy and development, none of what she brings up will probably make sense and seem boring. Americans just want to help in the immediate and however they can. Because Americans are so individualistic and don’t trust their government, they don’t understand that other governments are actually there to help their citizens. This was made most apparent in Japan where the thought of donating to and working with the Japanese government was a ridiculous thought to the average American and thus redundant NGO’s were set up to channel money to Japan in a wasteful fashion.
Everything to do with CAI and Three Cups of Tea really speaks to this as well and is a direct audit on American giving, greed, and the concept of the individual/self-made man above all else. I don’t really know what to do at this point but sigh as I know there will be another Three Cup Scandal somewhere in the near future since we’re doing nothing to address the fundamental fact that Americans donate a lot of money and do it poorly/blindly.