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May 10, 2011, Tuesday

When charity destroys dignity

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s expanded the welfare system in the United States. Later, when I had been around for about a decade -- I believe it was in 1964 -- President Lyndon Johnson launched what would be called a “War on Poverty,” mainly using government as a tool to redistribute and disperse the nation’s wealth.

Some would say that this resulted in a different kind of poverty that stripped people of their dignity that they had found before in their work. Often it seems that governmental redistribution of wealth can impoverish the very people it wants to help. This is a danger of Western charity organizations and well-intended personal hand-outs.

It has been interesting to watch the implementation of the Turkish government’s policy on socio-economic development. Turkey, as a result of the liberalization and globalization of the Turkish economy in the past two decades or so, has experienced an expansion of industrialization, creating jobs in places other than the main cities of İstanbul, Ankara and İzmir. As you travel outside of these three cities to the heart of Anatolia you will see the emergence of newly industrialized cities such as Konya, Bursa, Eskişehir, and last but not least, Gaziantep.

Even though there has been significant socio-economic progress in Gaziantep, there are still some striking issues to deal with. You can read the full details in an article by Serife Genis and Emin Bakı Adas in the Gaziantep University Journal of Social Sciences, “Gaziantep Kent Nüfusunun Demografik ve Sosyo-ekonomik Yapısı: Saha Araştırmasından Notlar” (The Demographics and Socio-Economic Structure of the Gaziantep Urban Population: Field Research Notes)

Here are just a few brief points to consider about the city’s ranking:

 Socio-economic development ranked 25th among 79 provinces.

 Ranked ninth in terms of employment.

 Demographic structure ranked 24.

 Education levels ranked 54.

 Health services ranked 39.

 Industry ranked 29.

 Urban infrastructure ranked 36.

 Other social indicators rank 45.

Gaziantep is rapidly developing as a major industrial center in the southeastern Anatolia region, and offering employment opportunities, but it falls into the lower rankings in terms of education, health and related social and human development indicators in the countrywide comparisons.

It is impressive that Gaziantep (known also as Antep) has what could be described as a booming economy and it has been very successful in implementing urban planning projects within the past two decades, but some work remains to be done. In simple terms it is in the area of people development -- empowering the people through better education and medical care.

Looking around Turkey and seeing the changes being made one can’t help but be impressed.

Whether you are considering investing in Turkey as a nation or in a business or an individual, it is best to do so in a way that brings independence, not dependence.

If you see a situation and want to help, it is good to bear in mind the fact that money spent on giving things to those in need or the poor is not as nearly as well spent as money that empowers a person or family to take care of themselves and their household.

Overall, the present government has taken major steps to help those who live outside the main cities. It seems that someone is putting their money where their mouth is.

If you haven’t done any traveling into a developing or underdeveloped country, it is helpful to understand what happens in a foreign culture with those who are struggling financially before putting your hand in your pocket. I receive numerous letters from Today’s Zaman readers who have apparently been asked for money for some need or project -- be it for entrepreneurial purposes or a personal need. It is hard to know when it is appropriate to give when we are approached for a gift of money for whatever reason. My initial response is to do your homework and proceed with caution in any situation when money is involved. Mind you, you can be taken advantage of whether you are at home or abroad. You’d be surprised at the number of individuals who have told me they have given money to help someone whose mom needed an operation, etc., and found out otherwise later.

My point in sharing today is, whether it is on a government scale or a personal one, it is important to find the balance in providing assistance or alleviating poverty without hurting the poor and yourself. It is best to know how to be wise and strategic and helpful in our generosity and how not to be ignorant, naive and foolish in our generosity.

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