Saturday, October 30, 2010

Distributing Laptops to Children in Need? Prioritizing Need on a Global Scale

As Project Esperanza has been attempting to begin a few internet centers here in Puerto Plata in order to generate funds to support our ongoing programs, two people have directed me toward two different organizations that have the mission of supplying a laptop computer to every child in the world. I won’t state the names of these organizations or provide the websites since this post is a critique that does not support this mission.

If one were to prioritize the needs of every child in the world, a laptop is not on the top ten list to say the least. One theory of developmental psychology that I think makes sense is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Actually, this is more than just a theory as there is hard evidence to back up this theory, or at least the basic concept of the theory. Abraham Maslow presented that one cannot function on higher levels until more basic needs are met. He demonstrates the order or hierarchy of needs human beings have in the shape of a pyramid with the bottom layer being the most primary needs. If these most basic needs are not met then one cannot function. The category of needs go in this order: physiological (eat, drink, sleep), safety (of self, of resources, of family), love/belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy), esteem (confidence, achievement, respect), and self-actualization (creativity, problem solving, morality). I think it is safe to say that a laptop does not fall in these first three categories. I also think it is safe to say that a laptop does not truly meet a need but should be considered a want. It could perhaps be used as a tool to help some of these higher needs to be met but only in certain situations with well prepared recipients.

If an item such as a laptop is supplied to someone in need, they will likely use it as a resource to get basic needs met by selling it. A laptop can be an educational tool but it is a responsibility many adults wouldn’t know how to use, let alone children. I believe that the most necessary resource in any effort is the human resources to execute the effort. It is not necessarily a lack of money or lack of food or lack of any such tangible resources that cause such a large percentage of the world to live in poverty and to lack education. The problem lies in a lack of capable and loving individuals willing to patiently and persistently work with others toward a genuine solution.

The idea of supplying every child with a laptop is terribly impractical and completely oversimplifies the situation. An organization such as that collects unwanted computer equipment and distributes them to non-profits and charities may be quite productive. However, an organization whose mission is to distribute a laptop to every child in the world may need to rethink some things. After living and working in a developing country for a total of three and a half of the past five years, I have put forth lots of effort only to reach a benchmark that appears pitiful compared to those set by developed countries. However, I think the improvements we have made is impressive when the starting point is considered. The most impressive success to be celebrated in this line of work is perhaps building a trustworthy and competent team. Nonetheless, even a trustworthy team needs oversight and protection from temptation. For example, when food is distributed by the Dominican government, there is not a Santa Claus figure that delivers food to each house. No one waits outside of houses for people to come home and receive their package. Living arrangements are normally tight and people don’t normally have mailboxes or even secure porches to leave items on. When the government does distribute food out of the back of a truck every so often, some people walk away with a few bags and others with nothing. Those driving the trucks distributing the bags of food likely go home with several.

Let’s imagine that enough laptops were collected to supply every child in the world. To successfully distribute the laptops where there is no reliable postal service and a large percentage of houses without addresses, one would have to go through some sort of community organization or school that accounts for every child. Many children are undocumented and therefore not even accounted for by the government. Project Esperanza works together with schools and grassroots community organizations, giving financial, material, and administrative aid so that, among other things, every child in the communities we work in is accounted for. From what we have seen and experienced here in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic there is an abundance of work to be done before even responsibly distributing one pencil to every child in this area becomes a securely executable task, let alone a laptop. The Dominican Republic is just one of many developing countries so I can imagine this situation is similar around the globe.

Project Esperanza’s method of “saving the world” is the opposite of these organizations who seek to supply every child with a laptop computer. We focus on a small geographic area with the intention of digging deep – creating genuine and lasting change in one community. Through digging deep and through seeking genuine and lasting change, we discover and create methods and systems to deal with situations that come up. These methods and systems can be shared with others and perhaps replicated in different geographic areas. We also believe that the change created in one community will serve as a catalyst for change in neighboring communities. Attempting to supply every child in the world with a laptop computer is an effort that does not dig deep and does not, I don’t believe, create genuine and lasting change. If partnered with the right situations and the right organizations on the ground this effort could be quite a blessing. However, I believe that more than there is a need for laptops, there is a need for more genuine organizations on the ground!

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