Charity, Aid, and Development in Africa: What the Words Mean to Me

The most frequent question I get from journalists and other soccer blog writers who are looking to dig that extra step deeper goes something like this: “How do you feel it is possible for soccer to provide aid in Africa?” Or maybe more like this: “Can soccer be a form of aid in Africa?”

I understand what they’re trying to ask. I feel that the words, and the perceptions these words bring, are incorrect in these instances. Words are very important to me. I have complete faith in Mark Twain and his quote: “The difference between the right word, and the almost right word, is like the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” Is it a brilliant and powerful flash of light that illuminates the night sky, or a tiny blinking insect that you can only see for a moment or two? ‘Charity’ and ‘Aid’ are the almost right words.

I feel that the word ‘aid’ implies a one time cause. The victims of Hurricane Katrina required aid. Those caught up in earthquakes, tornadoes, landslides and other short term disasters require aid. It is the same with the word ‘charity.’ The words imply giving a sum of money and walking away. They imply an unsustainable interest.

‘Development,’ ‘building,’ and ‘bridging’ are the words that I feel better apply to the type of organizations I wish to profile. To connect those words with other important words we’ll say sport development, community building, and societal bridging are the key concepts.

Africa doesn’t need aid. Africa (and yes I’m generalizing about an entire continent, I don’t have the time to research and write an entire book in this one blog post) is not facing a natural disaster every day. The people of Africa can, and do, get by on their own. What I want to discover is if these groups are participating in activities that lead to community building through sport to improve quality of life indefinitely. I want to observe if what is happening, with people from all over the world actually going to Africa and participating, is also what I want my audience to get from this – societal bridging. By building links between actual people, not governments or faceless organizations, we will all come closer together in terms of equality of standard of living and in our understanding of one another. This should lead to everyone becoming and remaining interested in the world around them, and for soccer to play a part in that equation.

You may be thinking, what do I mean when I say I want to ‘profile charitable organizations‘ then. I am speaking of the actual program administrations themselves. People and corporations donate money to these groups and walk away. It is the actual volunteers, coaches, teachers, mentors and front line staff administering these programs to the people they directly affect that are the ones doing this developing, building and bridging. The organizations are charitable by nature, the programs they administer shouldn’t be. Walking away is no longer acceptable.

I hope I have given you a better understanding of how I feel about the words ‘charity’ and ‘aid’ as they apply to development in Africa. What are your thoughts? The comment section is below if you would like to discuss.

If you would like to contribute to my ability to undertake the task of profiling these groups first hand please visit my fundraising campaign homepage:


About matthewryeoman

Matthew Yeoman is a freelance writer currently living in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Simply Computing, and WSI Milton. He has long been interested in soccer and Africa and has combined these two passions into the work you are reading on this site. Read up on his other work at
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2 Responses to Charity, Aid, and Development in Africa: What the Words Mean to Me

  1. My thoughts are that there are many different types of aid. Your definition focuses exclusively on humanitarian aid but the term is also appropriate for ‘development aid,’ ‘government to government aid’ etc. Aid can be sustainable, it can be unsustainable. It can focus on long term development projects or short term ones. It can be good and it can be bad or ineffective. It is not always ‘giving a sum of money and walking away’- not just because it is not always walking away, but also because it doesn’t have to involve handing over money and can be in kind- e.g. the training of teachers or doctors is aid.

    I don’t wish to imply that I think you’ve misunderstood the definition of aid; my implication is that different people have different definitions of the term. Your definition seems to include a narrower range of things than mine. For you, the terms ‘aid’ and ‘charity’ seem to have mostly negative connotions; for me they are both positive and negative.

    As a case in point, the governments of some countries (particularly the U.S.) sometimes describe the transfer of arms (sometimes to warzones) as ‘aid’ or describe the exchange of money for services (e.g. aid for trade) as aid. For me, this is a ridiculous use of the term.

    As I said, different definitions for different people. An interesting discussion anyway.

    • Thank you for the reply. I by no means consider myself to be an expert on the broad definition of these words. This is how I feel about them in relation specifically with what I am studying. I still feel in this context that they are not quite the right words to describe the types of projects I am looking at. They certainly apply to others, as you have brought up, but I’m not looking at them so much.

      So am I defining the words narrowly? Yes. The project itself is focused on a very small section of this type of work and I feel the language I use, the language I don’t use, and relaying my perception of those words is important.

      Thank you again for furthering the discussion. At the end of the day all I wish to do is to get people to think for a moment about what this all means, to examine language and how they use it, and you’re clearly thinking quite logically and deeply on what these words and actions mean. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.


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