The Dilemma: The many or the few?

The Dilemma: The many or the few? 

At Hope for Life, we run programs that are fundamentally unfair. Perhaps that isn’t something you expect to hear from a director of a charity but it is entirely true.  

There are 20,000 people in Katanga where we work and last year our total income was £26,000. If we were being fair, we would split this money equally between the residents of Katanga and give them, once a year, £1.30 each. This would allow them to buy a coke and a chapatti from the side of the road. This option would have no impact on the levels of poverty in Katanga whatsoever.  

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The other extreme would be to give all £26,000 to one family each year. This option would be obscenely unfair but, for the one family selected, completely effective. They would be permanently lifted out of poverty and would be able to enjoy a high standard of living. As a family they would be safe and secure and their children would be able to attend good schools and universities.  

So, a fair split of money would be completely ineffective and a completely effective split of money would be unfair. Of course, the sensible approach will be somewhere between these two extremes, but where to draw the line? In general, is it better to be fairer or to be more effective? Should we help lots of people a little or a few people a lot? The many or the few? 

You might say that if our resources are limited then we should seek to target the most vulnerable people in Katanga. This is true and this is what we do, we work with the local council to try and establish who we should aim to help. The problem is that there are still far too many people who would fit into the category of ‘extremely vulnerable’ for us to be able to help them all in any meaningful way. 

This means we have to accept that we must choose some people to help and, simultaneously, some people to not help. This is unfair but the only other choice we have is to do nothing. We have to accept that even if you can’t help everyone, you can at least help someone, even if this is unfair on those not selected. 


A real-life problem: 

This dilemma presented itself to us most recently when we had to decide if we would send children to secondary school or not.  

To send a child through all 7 years of primary school costs us roughly £1,000 in total. To send a child through 5 years of secondary school costs roughly £2000 in total. This means that if we had £3000 available, we could either send 3 children through primary school or we could send 1 child through both primary and secondary school. The down side of course being that if we choose the secondary school option, then there are 2 children who get no education at all. Should we help many children a little or a few children a lot? 

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This was one of the toughest decisions we have had to make as a charity. We currently send just under 50 children to primary school. If we agree to send all these children on to secondary school then as a direct consequence of this choice, there will be 100 children in Katanga that will get no education of any sort. Ever.  

100 children that we could have sent through primary school and didn’t.  

50 children who get a good education whilst their neighbours get nothing.  

Is this fair?  

Of course it isn’t but then again, there is little about life in Katanga is fair. It is not fair that just because these children were born in Katanga they are denied the chance of an education. It’s unfair, but unfortunately it is the truth and whilst we can rail against the injustice of it all, we are not big enough to change the system and so all we can do is make the best of a very difficult situation. 

We eventually made the decision, after long conversations with our team in Uganda and with Francis, our Uganda director in particular, that we would send children through secondary school. The thing that swung the decision for me was the thought of what happen to children in Katanga when the reach their teenage years. 

If you are a teenager in Katanga, with nothing to do, no structure and no support, then there are an awful lot of temptations and dangers that may well suck you in. Drink, drugs, sex, abuse, prostitution and so on and so on. Even if we sent 150 children through primary school (as opposed to 50 through primary and then secondary), they will all end up being teenagers in Katanga with nothing to do. The fact they have a primary education won’t protect them from these damaging temptations. At least by sending 50 children through secondary school, we know that those we support will receive the structure and support necessary to allow them to have a greater potential of not being pulled into a negative lifestyle and, instead, a greater potential of earning a self sufficient income.  

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We’re hoping to find new sponsors to send 8 children into school from January. The more children we can help, the better. We’ll never be able to help every child in Katanga but we want to helps as many as possible, as effectively as possible. It costs £20 a month to start sending a new child through school. If you think that you could help support a child in this way then let us know through the contact form below. If £20 is too much then please, any amount will still help us significantly as we provide more children with the opportunity to an education and a brighter future.

Thank you for your support. 

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