National Geographic News
When developing countries look to the rest of the world for help, it's important to make sure the response is a grassroots effort and not just solutions imposed from the top down, former United States President Jimmy Carter and other panelists said Wednesday night at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The discussion centered on aid to what Carter referred to in a speech earlier in the evening as "the poorest, most destitute, forgotten nations in the world." The event was held as part of celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps.
The panelists included Carter's 26-year-old grandson, Jason, who served two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural South African village. The National Geographic has just published his book describing that experience, Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa's Borders.
Other members of the panel were Jack Nelson, a former Los Angeles Times Washington correspondent, and South African Ambassador Sheila Makate Sisulu. The discussion was moderated by Boyd Matson, host of the TV show National Geographic Explorer.
Helping People Help Themselves
The panelists agreed that social change and outside assistance in countries with great political, economic, and social problems are likely to be more effective when local people are the driving force.
"It's the people on the ground who are pushing the leaders," Sisulu said. "The people of the country need to be brought together no solution proposed from outside can ever be lasting."
Jason Carter agreed that "people on the ground" are the key to solving problems in Africa and elsewhere. "You forget sometimes that these are issues that people deal with every day," he said.
He said his experiences in South Africa showed him how, under the highly segregated education system of apartheid that prevailed in South Africa for decades, black South Africans had been taught to see themselves as inferior and to look to whites for answers.
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