The twin topics of aid dependence and entitlement are frequently raised by Westerners (including government leaders, scholars, reporters, and NGO representatives) when discussing the risks of helping out financially poor Africans, including those in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Given the massive amounts of aid directed at Malawi, it is easy for Malawians to become “aid” dependent, and the receipt of that aid often leads to feelings of “entitlement.” Without question, many Malawians find it difficult to provide, solely from their personal resources, for the day-to-day needs of their families. They don’t earn enough money to buy food, pay for housing, cover school fees, and defray incidental health expenses, including the purchase of prescription drugs. Their budgets are strained beyond capacity in the event of an unexpected tragedy—sudden illness, the loss of a bread earner, flooding or droughts--or to handle the costs incurred with a funeral or wedding. Without assistance, these families suffer great deprivation, occasionally finding themselves at the edge of starvation.
Foreign aid from countries around the world, NGOs, and churches (including the Mormon Church) often serves as the bridge to help those who are poor and needy span the gap between their available resources and the costs of their most immediate human needs. Frequently, this foreign aid comes in the form of institution-to-institution loans, grants or subsidies from foreign sources to Malawian organizations, including governmental bodies and NGOs, which in turn deal directly with the local populations they serve. In those instances, the presence of the foreign funding may not be evident to the local population. The foreign monies, together with those available locally, are used to fund the delivery of no-cost or low-cost health services; the availability of highly subsidized education; the construction and servicing of major public utilities—water, sewage and power; and the subsidized construction of other major infrastructure programs, such as roads, dams, irrigation systems, athletic facilities, governmental buildings.
In other cases, foreign aid sources may work more directly with the target beneficiaries; but even then, they usually employ one or more Malawians as local partners or third party intermediaries to assist in coordinating with local government bodies, navigating the local regulations, identifying suitable recipients, and distributing the aid. Under these circumstances, Malawians are apt to be aware of receiving aid from foreign sources. There is an almost endless list of large and small foreign organizations active in Malawi, providing money to support orphanages, provide medical care, relieve hunger, combat sexually transmitted diseases, comfort women and children, including among others Doctors without Borders, UNESCO, Meals by Mary, Hope Africa, Raising Malawi, CARE Malawi, Save the Children, Concern Worldwild and a countless number of church sponsored groups, including the Catholic Relief Services and the Mormon Church.
Anyone providing aid to Malawi is mindful of the unintended risk that the delivery of the aid itself, while addressing pressing human needs crying out for immediate help, may, at the same time, have long-term crippling consequences for the pool of recipients. It may undermine self-reliance, sapping individuals of the will to develop their own skills, leaving them without core skills necessary to provide for themselves. Those receiving the aid may become “aid dependent,” and develop feelings of “entitlement.” So often the presence of foreign aid, rather than helping the local populations, makes them captive and even more vulnerable than they were before receiving the assistance. Rarely does the foreign aid come in the form of direct gifts of money to the target recipients, but rather is delivered as supplies, commodities, services, or provisions--such as bags of maize or flour; the drilling of boreholes to provide clean drinking water; the delivery of mosquito nets, blankets, temporary shelters, and latrines; the access to dental or medical services.
Before talking more about the risks of aid dependence and entitlement, it is worthwhile to define more precisely what people likely have in mind when using these terms. The meaning of the “aid dependence” is not particularly hard to decipher. One is “dependent” when one relies, either intentionally or not, upon the aid of others to meet some or all of one’s basic human needs (food, shelter, security, health) rather than looking solely to one’s own resources or the those that can be mustered from working within the extended family, who have claim, due to family ties, upon one another to care of each other’s needs. Obviously, certain classes of individuals are “aid dependent”—infants, children, the sick and infirm, the elderly—because they lack the mental or physical capacity to fend for themselves and have no choice but to look to others for assistance. Another class is the “poor,” who due to lack of skills or resources or misfortune find themselves suffering. In some cases, this mental or physical incapacity is expected to be temporary—such as in the case of children as they grow up and learn the skills needed to be independent or in the case of the sick who may recover from the crippling effects of illness or in the case of the poor if they are able to develop skills or exercise initiative to overcome their challenges. In other instances, “aid dependence” may continue for the balance of an individual’s life, potentially placing great demands upon others to show compassion and to provide ongoing help. For this purpose we are not talking about emotional dependence—and there are certainly many instances or that—nor about situations when individuals rely upon close family members to support their ongoing physical needs.
Usually, the term “entitlement” is used to describe the state of mind that exists when an individual believes he has a “right” (hence, is “entitled”) to receive from someone a particular benefit, privilege, advantage or item (collectively, a “benefit”). However, when using this definition, the word “right” may be ill-advised. It might be more appropriate to speak in terms of “expectations.” Accordingly, one has a sense of “entitlement” when one “expects” to receive from someone a benefit, however that “expectation” might have arisen. Feelings of entitlement are tied at the hip with aid dependence, the one flowing from the other.
There is another concept that is so closely tied to that of “entitlement” or “expectation,” as to be an inherent part of its colloquial use. Once the sense of entitlement has been created, those feeling “entitled” will experience disappointment or anger or resentment if the benefit that is expected is not forthcoming, in that it is cut back, withdrawn, or eliminated without their consent. This is the case because the recipient acquires an expectation of “continuing” receipt. One has received the benefit in the past and expects to receive the benefit in the future.
What precisely gives rise to these “expectations” or “feelings of “entitlement” in the first place? There is not a single answer to this question. One may feel “entitled” to a benefit because of one’s hard work, industry, social status, ancestry, or property. Similarly, one may gain an expectation because the benefit is part of the law. But when employed in connection with the “poor,” “entitlement” is hardly ever thought to grow out of the hard work or industry of the poor. Instead, the poor become “entitled” to a benefit, because that benefit has, for some period of time, been granted to the poor. Hence, the history of the largesse creates the “expectation” of future benefits, and that expectation over time is converted into a claim of “right.” No longer is it fair or equitable to cut back upon the “expectation,” It does not matter that, when the benefit was first granted, the benefit was given voluntarily, was the result of charity, and even bestowed with the expectation that it might be withdrawn in the future. If the aid was given without an expectation of labor or work by the poor, the poor will likely feel “entitled” to the continuing receipt of the aid, whether or not they do anything for its receipt. This of course runs contrary to the common notion that people should be accountable for themselves as expressed in the following verse from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Thou shalt not be idle, for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” Many may feel such relationships—granting benefits without some expectation of work or labor in exchange—are simply not sustainable over time, nor are they justified, even by principles of Christian charity. Sooner or later funding sources disappear, leaving those dependent upon them for sustenance ill-equipped to deal with the future.
As senior MLS missionaries, we do not control, nor make any decisions, regarding the disbursement of Church funds used to help the poor and needy. Branch presidents and bishops are responsible for administering the welfare funds to help local members—and it is to them that the local members are to go for aid when they have welfare needs. The use of the PEF funds is under the direction of the District PEF specialists, and the local welfare missionaries, together with the welfare specialists in the Area Office, control how the available “humanitarian” aid of the Church is applied within the Zambia Lusaka Mission. All we control is the use of our personal monies and how we use our own time to provide charitable help. During our time in Malawi, we have found, as the missionaries before us, and as will be the case for the missionaries after us--that questions as to the “right” course of action—what to do with our time and resources--come up, over and over again. This is the case because our members, as well as others in the community, have many basic human needs that neither they nor others can readily handle. So we are constantly required to exercise judgment to answer these three basic questions—(i) whom do we help, (ii) how do we help, and (iii) what can we do to ensure that we are doing the most good possible. We also have to worry about whether we are actually hurting others when we try to help.
Under the rubric of these three overarching questions, we have, since arriving in Malawi, been forced to grapple with these specific questions. Is it ever right to loan or give money to members to cover welfare needs, bearing in mind the Church’s counsel that such gifts or loans should not be made? When does being charitable cross the line—causing more bad than good? How can we help others to be more self-reliant? Is it appropriate to step in at the last minute, when it becomes apparent that others—perhaps even others with a responsibility to help—fail to come through? Are some human needs so pressing, that concerns about “aid dependence” and teaching correct principles must be subordinated in the interest of basic human compassion? When is “charity” not about “money,” even if the exercise of charity involves the spending of money? How do we keep things from getting out of hand? When might our charitable acts be more about “ourselves” than those we think we are helping?
 Instances of both “emotional” dependence, as well as dependence upon family members, may be unhealthy.
 D&C. 42: 42.
 “PEF” means “Perpetual Education Fund.”