DISCLAIMER: no offense is intended
Earlier this year one of our best friends in the US asked me if I knew of any good charities in Peru. He had set aside some cash and was looking for a good way to make a donation. Patricia and I have talked about charitable giving in Peru, and since the holidays will be upon us in a few months I decided to write this post as food for thought, so to speak.
If you want to make a charitable contribution in Peru, or a corporate charitable event, what do you do?
In a nutshell, after spending time in Peru I no longer believe in the US/European concept of charitable giving. Big charities, churches and NGOs may have good intentions but often appear culturally disconnected at best or self-serving at worst, with charitable giving an extension of foreign policy or corporate strategy.
Look beyond the idea of selecting a better charity. While writing a check to your favorite charity is certainly a very kind and honorable thing to do, sealing that envelope as you’re sitting safely behind a desk only reinforces ideas that you are already comfortable with: that the big white man can make everything all better for little brown people, that countries like Peru need the US to improve their way of life.
Only, it hasn’t worked in the past 500 years or so and it won’t work any time soon.
No offense, Peruvians LOVE gringos, but we gringos typically go down to Latin America with preconceived notions of how our money, influence and business will make life better, which is practically akin to the Prime Minister of India coming down to Texas and “saving” all the ranchers there by educating them on how sacreligious it is to eat steak.
If you’re already convinced that Latin America needs the US, you will by definition be insensitive to its real needs.
I experienced a great way to do charitable giving in Peru during Christmas of 2007: the office where Patricia worked took a trip to a poor, rural village and handed out Christmas presents to the kids there, served hot cocoa and Panettone (pictures below). In my opinion, the only way to do charitable giving in Peru is to fly down to Peru and do something nice yourself. Take a bus to a small rural town, hand out some toys to kids who have none, or build a library or a medical clinic if you have the resources. You know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when your kids open their presents on Christmas day? A US company or philanthropist can easily fly down to Peru and get the same warm fuzzy feeling 100 times over 2 weeks before Christmas, then go home and do it all over again.
Don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself.
I agree with most of what you say. However, your advice is simply not practical for most persons. I would guess you would expect “a gringo(a)” with a spare 20 to buy airfare to Peru and adopt a village? Hastily thought amigo.
When you say “Only, it hasn’t worked in the past 500 years or so and it won’t work any time soon;” what data do you have to substantiate your statement?
I enjoy your blog, however you seem very naive in the workings of the geopolitical world in which you seem to consider yourself able to offer advice to others.
Please consider my thought as constructive criticism, and not disrespect in any way.
Thanks for your comment. I certainly didn’t intend for this post to be practical advice for everyone, but rather to challenge the conventional idea of charity at arms length.
To answer your question in terms of “data”, just look around Latin America: civil unrest, poverty, high levels of emigration, poor environmental protections, lousy occupational protection, etc. Life in Peru has been great to me, but we have to challenge the established way of doing things if life is to improve for all Peruvians.
These are only my casual observations, not in-depth study, but I’d rather think of them as “unconventional”, not naive 🙂
You’re right, Ward, that the US notion that money solves everything doesn’t always work in Peru.
Charitable giving is rather well regulated in the United States. Charities must file annual taxes, and nonprofits must endure a two-year probation period before even being registered as a nonprofit. Charities are ranked by independent firms according to how much of their budget goes to programs vs people’s salaries (the latter shouldn’t be more than 13% of the annual budget).
Peru does not regulate nonprofits in the same way. You can open a nonprofit here in about 6 weeks, with no required capital investment other than what it takes to register your NGO’s name. Nonprofits aren’t evaluated for performance and I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard of one nonprofit busted for fraud or misuse of funds. (I’m sure it does happen, though.) Just the sheer lack of oversight makes it possible for nonscrupulous people to take donors’ money and divert it elsewhere. That is why people need to think twice before just handing out donations.
All that said, there are some great nonprofits doing effective charitable work in Peru. I would vouch for Soluciones Practicas, which helps mitigate poverty and climate change effects throughout the country. They are part of an international organization (Practical Action) that does similar work throughout the world, but their Peru offices have been making real advances for the last decade or so.
I was in Huaraz in July and visited a small town that is changing its planting seasons to cope with climate change. They had a nice school and programs for adults to learn to read and to become leaders in marketing their produce. I wasn’t surprised when someone told me that Soluciones Practicas had helped set up the community programs.
Obviously organized charity / relief organizations / NGOs serve an important purpose in combining the efforts and resources of many, and I’m grateful for that.
Thanks for sharing some of the organizations that you’ve seen in action. As I mentioned in my previous comment, I just wanted to challenge people that charity does not have to be at arms length.
I agree…volunteering is great. I work for an NGO called ProPeru and we do a lot of good work very similar to your experience mentioned above in the Andean communities surrounding Cusco. One thing I did notice this summer, however is that in Cusco there seems to be a overflow of volunteers during the months of June and July. So much so that many orphanages and shelters simply had too many gringos volunteering and there was nothing for them to do. There are a lot of people who come to Cusco for a few weeks, take spanish classes through some institute, and go play with orphans in their spare time, when that doesn’t really help things- it basically just makes the gringos feel good about themselves. What’s more important are the communities surrounding Cusco city and places like the Peruvian jungle. These are places that really need the help. So if anyone wants to go where they’re needed, go there!
Thanks for sharing your experience Emily. You make a good point about gringos volunteering in Cusco during the Northern hemisphere summer. Everyone comes to the tourist-mecca of Cusco, but as you know you don’t really learn about life in Peru unless you get away from the tourist area downtown.
I don’t think charities are good for the indigenous peoples of Peru. What IT is really good for them is that their culture is respected, and that they stay away from the monetary system that damages so much their culture, as well as foreigners.
I am Peruvian, and I don’t need any charities to survive, and I really don’t care if you are a “gringo” as you want to call yourself ( and I am not going to treat you any better because of that ) since in Peru there are people that might just look like you and be Peruvian as well. And Peru is a multiethnic nation.
I agree Juan, the indigenous people need their culture respected, this is part of why I said “Peru doesn’t need the US”, because importing the US brand capitalism just isn’t the right thing to do in Peru.
As for the “gringo” word, I use that term loosely, not to say that I’m different than anyone. But as a foreigner in Peru, one of my first observations was that Peruvians are very welcoming to foreigners, which is great, because that is not true everywhere in the world.
I think the NGOs are trying to be nice helping poor people, but please don’t do everything yourself, why? because most of my “paisanos” are getting LAZY… they need to be involved in any proyect that would make their lifes better…if they do it with their own hands they will take good care of it.
And most of the charities that are send to Peru or other latin american countries usually end in some people’s pockets or cheap markets.
Patricia, there are people who are LAZY anywhere in the world 🙂
This is great. I’m from Peru and live in the US. I’ve been doing your traditional charity stuff, fundraising for NGOs that mainly work in Africa. I recently came across Give Directly, an org that puts money directly into peoples’ hands via mobile technology. I think this is awesome. I’m visiting Peru more often these days (can’t stay away from that awesome food), so I will be looking to do some hands-on volunteer work. Also, thanks for acknowledging how ridiculous that whole “we gringos know what’s best for everyone” thing is. That is so annoying. Each culture knows what it needs best. Just gotta give people the tools.
Is there any way to find some info on villages that might need a solar system. I am a U.S. engineering student designing a project using photovoltaics for any village in Peru. Any help would be greatly appreciated!