Giving aid that’s really wanted

To compensate for my gloomy comments about international aid in my posting two days ago (“When aid is effective and when it’s not”) mention must now be made of the initiative for Iraqi schoolchildren shown on the BBC News Channel tonight. A joint product of Arsenal Club and Save the Children Fund, a first class football pitch and stand have been built at one refugee camp and squads of enthusiastic boys and girls are now being trained.

Given the astronomical fess earned by English Premier League soccer players, the one day’s pay that the Arsenal players have donated goes a very long way in Iraq. This is such an imaginative piece of charity that I feel sure that other clubs in the League will follow.

This seems to satisfy what Angus Deaton’s lifetime studies have shown him about effective aid — that the recipients are the best people to define what their best needs are. Hopefully, the donors in this case will not only keep in touch with the soccer progress of these young players but also ask them — for next year’s topic perhaps? — what other help would they like next.

And, by the way, the transactional nature of this gift — as important for altruism as for trade — was glimpsed in the video clip by the piece of (modestly sized) Arsenal heraldry on the front of the stadium. Arsenal already has a good reputation for soccer brilliance, of course. This additional Iraqi venture won’t detract from that at all.

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