Re: Guest Post - Grandmothers Raising Grandchildren

1

I am impressed by the way this blog post experiments with formal narrative structure.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 6:50 AM
horizontal rule
2

I'm on team dig the well by the house.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 6:55 AM
horizontal rule
3

I try to have respect for other peoples' values, unless they annoy me, but doubling down on commodity-based agriculture doesn't sound like a path to the future.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 6:58 AM
horizontal rule
4

The implication that the education of girls is a high priority, subject only to the need for generally-enabling additional irrigation, seems like donor-pleasing bullshit. Normally I'd refrain from criticizing non-white poor people for duping generous rich white people, but said white people could stand to be a little more cynical.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:05 AM
horizontal rule
5

Flip, who are you criticizing in 4? There are all of three actors in the story and I can't figure out which of them fits any of those roles.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:17 AM
horizontal rule
6

5: "We need irrigation so we can... educate girls! Yeah! Because... the one and only single solitary thing that prevents girls from going to school, is that they have to carry water pots!"


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:31 AM
horizontal rule
7

The decision to build the well (in town) was made by DeLong's neighbor, who is neither non-white nor poor, and who presumably (as the sole proprietor of the NGO) is actually interested in accomplishing the things she has established an NGO to accomplish.

And the rich white people (all two of them), in this case, did not buid the irrigation-enabling well; they built the one in town that they wanted to build.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:40 AM
horizontal rule
8

... and the fact that they (cynically, I guess) decided not to listen to the local powers-that-be is one of the main themes the linked post is interested in exploring.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:40 AM
horizontal rule
9

I'm just explaining Flippanter's thought process. He must be at the gym or something.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:41 AM
horizontal rule
10

He's out buying jeans that cost as much as three wells.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:43 AM
horizontal rule
11

They built both wells, didn't they? The cost of hand-digging both wells was less than the cost of machine drilling one well.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:45 AM
horizontal rule
12

It takes seven village girls two weeks to carry enough water to make one pair of Flippanter's jeans.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:48 AM
horizontal rule
13

Screw you, Moby. I researched my comment.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:49 AM
horizontal rule
14

11: that's why they didn't machine dig the one well. They only dug one well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:53 AM
horizontal rule
15

I see Megan pwned my correction elsewhere. Okay then!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:54 AM
horizontal rule
16

From the post, they only dug one well (could have dug two by hand as cheaply as one by machine, but only did dig one), and they dug it in the village rather than where it would be useful for irrigation.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 7:59 AM
horizontal rule
17

I can't say I'm that surprised it was cheaper to dig a well by hand than with a machine. DeLong seems to regard it as a societal organization problem, but isn't it really just an indication of how cheap labor is in some places? I guess that would also be a problem of society organization, but still.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 8:00 AM
horizontal rule
18

Oh, damn, multiply and completely pwned in several threads. I will read attentively before posting next time. (No I won't. But I'll feel bad about not doing it.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 8:00 AM
horizontal rule
19

I am impressed by the way this blog post experiments with formal narrative structure.

Heebie is correct, I did a poor job of selecting an excerpt. It would have better to either just use DeLong's opening paragraph, or to not quote any of it.

I actually thought the most interesting part of the article was his comments about his reluctance to write the check, but it didn't seem like that was the right thing to quote either.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 8:13 AM
horizontal rule
20

I did like his report of being irritated by how well his offer to match donations worked, and the mild self-flagellation for being irritated about it. It's comforting seeing other people running into the same issues I do of whether you can go good things without always being a good person (non-resentful and so on) about it.

I wonder if I donated -- I have an erratic and impulsive relationship to internet-based charity: if someone I rely on is raising money for a cause that seems worthy, I give random amounts based on mood without thinking about it too hard, kind of the same way I'd buy myself something fun or not depending on whether I'm feeling flush with money or not. I sort of remember the fundraiser, and it's the kind of thing where I might have given, but I don't remember giving anything. Probably means either I was feeling broke at the time or I've just forgotten about it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 8:19 AM
horizontal rule
21

Oooh, I.F. and I meant to go to the reading where this was presented on Saturday, but ended up missing it. I'm glad he posted the draft!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 9:23 AM
horizontal rule
22

I have a French friend who did work in Mali; she told me a story once about a Western NGO that dug a well for a village that ended up with the village elders destroying the well to prevent their women from having spare time. I could never quite tell if it was a NGO urban legend or not.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 10:09 AM
horizontal rule
23

22: that's cited in, I think, one of David Kilcullen's books on counterinsurgency - but it was the women who filled in the well because going to get water was the only time they got to have a chat away from their husbands.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 10:13 AM
horizontal rule
24

23: Thanks!


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 10:24 AM
horizontal rule
25

Yes, 6 was what I was thinking.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 11:03 AM
horizontal rule
26

DeLong seems to regard it as a societal organization problem, but isn't it really just an indication of how cheap labor is in some places?

Also, if the location is rural with bad transportation, that would up the equipment rental rate.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-14-14 1:18 PM
horizontal rule
27

Lurker from Madagascar here - one of the reasons you might want to hand dig the well and involve the community is so that they know how it all works and fits together so when it (inevitably) breaks, someone can fix it.

We do hand-dug wells and we use the Canzee pump (not linking, because last time I got spamfiltered...) which is less durable than other pumps - it lasts maybe three or four years instead of five or six - but is simpler in structure and can be repaired with plastic drain pipes and old inner tubes. We also set up well management and maintenance committees to ensure safe and appropriate use. A lot of the time when the pump breaks on a well and the community can't fix it, they'll remove the cap and use a bucket and rope, which makes for unsafe drinking water. So the committees help to avoid this - they come up with a set of community-agreed rules for users and levy a (very) small annual subscription that will pay for the eventual repairs, given the likely lifespan.

Sustainability, innit.


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 1:26 AM
horizontal rule
28

Oho, seeds, thanks.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 2:05 AM
horizontal rule
29

Oh, and because my comment doesn't make it clear ("but" s/b "and"):

Counter-intuitively, you can think of the shorter lifespan of the pump as an advantage in terms of sustainability. Community members are more likely to remember repair training and to see the importance of subscriptions when the pump needs maintenance on a relatively short, predictable timescale.

I suppose the moral is that development is hard and there are lots of unexpected outcomes and confounding factors that wouldn't have occured to many people, and especially not to me (...nowadays I'd be totally prepared to believe the anecdote in 23). For a livelihoods project we ran that targeted women in a rural community, we sought input from another NGO that had done something similar nearby. Their advice was "expect that if it's a success, the divorce rate will go through the roof and you will be blamed for it," which proved to be fairly accurate.


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 2:47 AM
horizontal rule
30

27.1: And they're probably less likely to destroy the well if it represents several days of work by local men, than if it represents half an hour of digging by a machine.

I've just finished Anatol Lieven, "Pakistan: A Hard Country", which is very good indeed, very readable, and full of similar situations. One-sentence summary: Pakistan is unlikely to collapse because its society is based on extremely robust, powerful and widespread networks of kinship; unfortunately this also makes it equally unlikely to reform.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 2:54 AM
horizontal rule
31

Alpa Shah's In the Shadows of the State has some good discussions of corruption & unexpected side effects in development in rural India. Lots of focus on how being able to prove you are poor is a thing that may well mean you aren't really poor at all.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 3:56 AM
horizontal rule
32

I think the 'filled-in well' anecdote is a particularly good example of lack of / ineffective consultation with the community before steaming in with ideas of What Should Be Done. Providing stuff that the community actually wants is hard enough, so delivering things from above is even less likely to succeed. (Even 'the community' can be misleading - talk with the village elders, who are likely to be relatively powerful old men, and you'll hear their perpective - but are they the actual beneficiaries of your work?)

30: The area around here is a graveyard of infrastructure built with large sums of money and wonderful intentions, but never used, or poorly maintained and now abandoned. Infrastructure is relatively straightforward and quick, but changing attitudes and practices can be very hard indeed and take a loooong time.

(If anyone's interested in an approach with less emphasis on infrastructure and more on changes in attitudes, something like "Community Led Total Sanitation" might be worth a google. Instead of appearing and building latrines (often considered to be a ludicrous and disgusting idea - because they're full of lots of shit), you try to elicit a link between open defectation, flies and disease, then encourage households to build their own latrines and to pressure their neighbours into doing so, on the basis that their health is dependant on their neighbours' behaviour.)


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 4:01 AM
horizontal rule
33

32: Lieven, and Kilcullen for that matter (Out of the Mountains, my current reading, also very good so far), make the point that a lot of the time in these situations you get people doing things which are apparently completely perverse - which harm themselves and their community - but if you dig into it they are doing it because they need to preserve their family's prestige and reputation, the loss of which will be incredibly harmful to them in the long term, much more so than the effects of whatever apparently stupid thing they're doing right now.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 4:32 AM
horizontal rule
34

33: Mmm, that sounds familiar... Here there's a concept called 'fady' which are taboos / inauspicious actions, and they are very local, with different villages and different families having their own unique fadies. For instance, nobody in a particular hamlet near me will build their house on stilts, despite the advantages in terms of flooding and pest control - I mean, it's the traditional design in these parts - and nor will they keep cattle (which are a very major source of capital and prestige here - there's even a cattle rustling war going on in the next district). That's because a king once tripped over a step in the hamlet and landed in a cowpat.

Or, more seriously, funeral customs in our area frequently bankrupt people, particularly the recently bereaved - think the worst excesses of US Christmas, except you sell your house and car - but not carrying out the correct etiquette would be unheard of. So your livelihood project needs to focus on building resilience to those kinds of shocks, not just throwing up your hands in surprise when everyone is much poorer at the end because a distant relative died.

Or if your agricultural project requires people to plant things differently from the way that their grandfather did it, you're in for a uphill struggle, regardless of whether they increase the harvest by an appreciable amount at the end of the project. (Farmers may well try it once out of politeness and for the sake of a quiet life, but as you point out, assumptions work differently here and causes which you might assume would lead to obvious effects don't necessarily work like that).

It's frustrating and it's difficult not to want to mock such seemingly silly beliefs, but it's not as if we in the developed world are free of unfounded and perverse ideas about things, either. "No silly, the ancestors won't solve everything - only the free market can do that!"


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 5:09 AM
horizontal rule
35

Thanks to ajay and Keir for the recommendations - I'm looking forward to a book buying spree when I get back to Europe.


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 5:13 AM
horizontal rule
36

seeds, thanks for weighing in. I'm going to follow up on these book recommendations too. (I still need to read When Helping Hurts or whatever it's called about how mission trips and that sort of voluntourism are damaging, even though I know how they are.)

I'm currently trying to figure out a sustainable way to give Rowan money so he has a very tiny safety net and extra support but still have good boundaries around it that make him stop texting me for money every time there's an emergency since his whole life is an emergency. I'm thinking if I give him enough to open a bank account and then I can paypal money into it with lower fees than the outrageous ones I pay at his preferred money transfer spot then I could send him an allowance twice a month or something and he would have a place to get his checks deposited when he works. But yeesh, I don't know what I'm doing and what will help if anything will.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 5:34 AM
horizontal rule
37

nobody in a particular hamlet near me will build their house on stilts, despite the advantages in terms of flooding and pest control - I mean, it's the traditional design in these parts - and nor will they keep cattle (which are a very major source of capital and prestige here - there's even a cattle rustling war going on in the next district). That's because a king once tripped over a step in the hamlet and landed in a cowpat.

Aha, now this sort of thing comes into (I think) Steven Pinker, "The Better Angels of our Nature". He describes various situations where you have village-specific or tribe-specific taboos just like that, but the real reason isn't some weird superstition; the real reason is to enforce mutually beneficial trading links with neighbouring tribes. Tribe A says "no, no, we never make baskets. We don't know how/it's forbidden/ it's unlucky/whatever. We get all our baskets by trading the fish we catch with Tribe B." And Tribe B, meanwhile, insist that they don't fish, never fish, don't know how to fish, are afraid of water, are allergic to canoes or whatever. Baskets for Tribe B all the way, none of that 'fishing' nonsense; leave that to those weirdos in Tribe A.

But, if something goes wrong - Tribe A moves away and stops being able to trade with Tribe B - then suddenly Tribe A finds that it's quite able to make baskets after all, and Tribe B discovers an unsuspected love of fishing. The point being that they knew all along, but if Tribe A, while in contact with Tribe B, starts making its own baskets, then it's going to be a major economic pain in the backside for Tribe B, which will have all these surplus baskets. It'll also remove the need for the regular basket/fish swap meets which are such fun for all involved, and often lead to upstanding young Tribe A fishermen marrying and settling down with nice basketweaving girls from Tribe B. Probably it'll cause a war.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 5:54 AM
horizontal rule
38

I admit this doesn't explain the stilt thing. In Laos on the PDJ they have the same thing, IIRC; the Lao build their houses on the ground and their rice barns on stilts, and the Hmong build their houses on stilts and their rice barns on the ground.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 5:57 AM
horizontal rule
39

Kilcullen also makes the point (ch.3) that marginal peasants are, for very good reasons, extremely risk averse, so resistant to pretty much any change of any kind if there's a potential downside risk.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 5:58 AM
horizontal rule
40

Seeds and ajay, I'm reading along and very interested but have nothing smart to add. The development stuff I'm most familiar with is health care delivery, which is an unholy mess in so many places.

36.2: Depending on how much money and whether his problems could be solved only with cash, what about a very low limit credit card that you pay each month? I think credit card companies still have no-fee cards (not prepaid) where someone with good credit can cosign for a very low limit card ($250, I think was possible then, maybe it's more like $500 now). You could ask him to limit his spending to less than that, but he wouldn't be able to go over the limit, at least. My parents did this for me before I had a checking account so I could give them babysitting cash or checks signed to them and spend the money as I liked at a later date. I think most no-fee checking accounts require direct deposit, so if he's not getting regular paychecks, he's going to pay fees (which would probably reasonably be covered by your allowance, so there's that, but he might end up in overdraft-land, which would be a huge mess).


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 6:04 AM
horizontal rule
41

39: Going to have to think about the other points (my thinking on fady isn't clear, but I can see how it may now or in the past have had wider benefits - comparable to distrust of doctors and hospitals before 'first, do no harm' got established) ... but 39 is a really key insight.


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 6:09 AM
horizontal rule
42

Because I was curious, the Canzee pump. That's a clever bit of simplicity.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 6:10 AM
horizontal rule
43

38. It sort of does. In case of floods, the Hmong can take the Lao into their houses and the Lao can feed them; in case of high winds, vice versa. I'm expecting references to the Great Grey Green Greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, to proliferate on this thread from here on.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 6:14 AM
horizontal rule
44

Of course, that's got to take some muscle to work. I assume there's a reason the old-style pump handles were basically giant levers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 6:36 AM
horizontal rule
45

Of course, that's got to take some muscle to work.

Indeed. Instead of a traditional well, where to get a bucket of water you only need to be strong enough to lift a bucket of water, the Canzee pump means you have to be strong enough to lift an entire pipe full of water before you get any out. I'm surprised the photo shows someone not using a lever but just lifting it directly.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:12 AM
horizontal rule
46

Dad says they used to be able to set up a temporary well to water the horses when they were working in a far field. They'd just drive the pipe down a couple of meters and pump. This may not be possible anymore because of the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:21 AM
horizontal rule
47

My great-uncle invented some kind of crazy water pump but it is turning out to be totally ungoogleable.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:29 AM
horizontal rule
48

My dad's family didn't have crazy water pumps. Just the regular kind like you see in the westerns. They got indoor plumbing about 1950 or so.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:31 AM
horizontal rule
49

Apparently, my grandfather didn't see the need.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:32 AM
horizontal rule
50

He also didn't see the need to send his daughters to college.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:34 AM
horizontal rule
51

My great-uncle invented some kind of crazy water pump but it is turning out to be totally ungoogleable.

Poor old Great-Uncle Goatse, his genius will never be fully appreciated.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:40 AM
horizontal rule
52

51: he shares a name with somebody much more famous who also invented something involving pumping so, yeah, pretty much.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 7:54 AM
horizontal rule
53

Mr. Watt Goatse.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 8:00 AM
horizontal rule
54

seeds -- thank you for your comments in this thread, all very interesting.

encourage households to build their own latrines and to pressure their neighbours into doing so, on the basis that their health is dependant on their neighbours' behaviour.

On a somewhat related note, I was just reading this heartbreaking article yesterday.

Two years ago, Unicef, the World Health Organization and the World Bank released a major report on child malnutrition that focused entirely on a lack of food. Sanitation was not mentioned. Now, Unicef officials and those from other major charitable organizations said in interviews that they believe that poor sanitation may cause more than half of the world's stunting problems.

...

This research has quietly swept through many of the world's nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?

A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet's poorest countries. Stunting affects 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country's richest families.

This disconnect between wealth and malnutrition is so striking that economists have concluded that economic growth does almost nothing to reduce malnutrition.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 8:17 AM
horizontal rule
55

@26: Ahero is ten miles from Kisumu on the main road to Nairobi. Kisumu has a population of 500,000...


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 10:24 AM
horizontal rule
56

@21: The reading series is "Writers with Drinks", run by Charlie Jane Anders of ion.com and "The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model" @ The Make-Out Room @ 22 & Mission in SF...


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 10:46 AM
horizontal rule
57

Brad!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 11:02 AM
horizontal rule
58

@57 LizardBreath!?


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 11:30 AM
horizontal rule
59

Goatse!


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 07-15-14 11:32 AM
horizontal rule