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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Best Aid May Be the Personal Sort

It is easy for a foreigner living in Russia to become skeptical about the possibility that Western aid can make a real difference here. Foreigners frequently complain that the more they know about Russia's problems, the more intractable those problems appear.


Fortunately, there are people who have avoided this cycle of cynicism. Through courage and persistance, hundreds of private citizens are now working in programs, initiated privately, that are providing needed relief to Russia. Such programs should be encouraged and expanded.


To be sure, governments have their role. But the recent meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations showed vividly that the limits are being reached for country-to-country aid to Russia. Financially strapped governments agonized, twisted arms, bullied and shamed each other, warned of impending disaster in Russia, and succeeded in coming up with $43 billion -- not enough by anyone's estimation to make much of an impact.


That failure passes the torch to private citizens. But what can one person do?


Plenty. A The Moscow Times story on a sister-state program between Vermont and Karelia showed vividly how the actions of a few people can make a difference.


Through the simple act of formalizing an agreement between the two states, delegations began to learn about each other's problems and share the lessons each had learned. The exchanges spiraled, leading to business contacts and other unanticipated opportunities that have improved the lives of Karelians in countless ways.


There is no shortage of examples of successful programs. Farmer-to-farmer, the Peace Corps and dozens of business training programs are operating at a grassroots level and providing an excellent return for small investments. Even the International Women's Organization, the largest club for Moscow's foreign community, has a welfare group that is involved in several programs, including aid to area orphanages.


But the greatest payoff of such involvement is that the benefits pass both ways. As anyone who has ever worked in such a program knows, the line between donor and recipient inevitably blurs. It is impossible to become involved in helping someone without enriching yourself in the process.


No one should scoff at such efforts as "naive" or smugly dismiss their participants as do-gooders and "peaceniks".


These people provide a valuable reminder that, perhaps especially in Russia, one person can make a difference. Their lesson is that the most effective assistance the West can render Russia is not aid packages and debt rescheduling, but person-to-person initiatives.