Post by Gina del Tito, Dickinson College

I sat somewhat nervously in the empty Great Room, with a million thoughts swirling round in my mind, none of them really having to do with issues of development aid in Africa. They mostly had to do with the fact the it was ten minutes to seven o’clock, the time of the film showing, and there were only three people in the room: myself, the filmmaker and one other student. What was I thinking, trying to host an event on the first day of classes for the spring semester at Dickinson College, with a student body of only 2200 some students to begin with?

Clammy with sweat, I began to pace, and think about all of the people I had texted, emailed, threatened and sent facebook messages to. But I should not have been so worried. Like any average college student, everyone (nearly 100) streamed in, five minutes before the beginning of our presentation.

When I presented filmmaker Tim Klein and looked out at the packed room, I did not see faces of students I had specifically asked to come, it was people from all different disciplines and social circles. All there to try and gain some insight into the question so many of us, even non-development specialists, are asking: “What are we doing here?”

I do not want to rehash the questions that the Klein Brothers so eloquently raise in their film, because you should see it for yourself. However, as the coordinator of the screening here at Dickinson, one of the questions really hit home for me: what is the relative implication or importance of the dissemination of information about issues of poverty versus direct action to combat poverty?

For us, as students of relative privilege, this is a fundamental question that activists and non-activists alike need to be asking: is it enough for us to begin the conversation about poverty and the tactics the developed world uses to tackle it?

I clearly have no quick or easy answers to this question. For me, both must be addressed, advocacy and action alike. The inspiring and powerful work that incredible people like the Klein Brothers shows how targeted, poetic information can fill an entire room of rapidly jading college students. The questions they are asking need to continue. Especially in the light of such monumental tragedies like the current crisis in Haiti, clearly foreign aid is not a stand alone solution.

As a global community, we need to go beyond simply sustaining life in the poorest places of the globe to actually creating and ensuring sustainable opportunities and personal agency to communities the world over.  In many instances, foreign aid (charity) compromises the personal agency of the recipient.  In others, even the most well-intended and well-implemented aid cannot compete with the myriad of institutional barriers perpetuating poverty.

Ask yourself:  what is the role of the U.S. in fighting poverty in Africa?  Is it simply giving more or, rather, is it learning to ask the right questions?