03/22/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 05/22/2013 05:12 EDT

CIDA's Merge Is a Lot Like My Son's Allowance


Each week, I give my two children a small allowance. Since I'm trying to teach them about managing money responsibly, their coins are automatically divided among three different jam jars:

  • Spending
  • Saving
  • Charity

There are no loans -- and no exceptions. Even if moving the money around might seem like a truly solid business decision.

"If I take two dollars from my Charity jar, I can buy more construction paper to make more comic books to sell to my friends!" my seven-year-old son Gavin once argued.

It was true, he could. And if the goal had been simply to generate more business, I would have suggested that he go for it. But I felt that there were greater issues at stake.

"What about the boy in Africa who has to wait longer for the school supplies you'd been planning to buy for him?" I ask. "How much further behind will he be in his learning? Maybe he wants to learn math, so he can one day start a business of his own."

We talked about moving money from one jar to another -- how it's more than just a spending choice. It's a decision about what you feel is important in your life. It's a symbol of how you want the world to be.

The lesson writ large

This week, Canada's federal government announced the amalgamation of CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency with Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT). According to the Globe and Mail, "the move will more closely align development assistance with Canada's trade and foreign policy objectives."

So what will happen when the two jars become one? Will the goals on which CIDA was founded remain clear and distinct? Or will our interest in communities overseas become inextricably linked with their potential to trade with us in the future?

I couldn't help but think about Gavin's comic book business, and his desire to place more focus there, even if it meant compromising his original intentions for the Charity jar. It was sad to see how quickly he forgot about the boy in Africa, once he realized he could sell more comic books.

What happens to international aid?

It's a concern that World Vision Canada expressed this week, on behalf of children and families in Africa, Asia, South America and all around the world.

"We are extremely concerned that this new direction for CIDA means that development assistance will be used to advance Canada's prosperity and security, rather than focusing solely on the needs and aspirations of the poor," said our President, Dave Toycen. "It speaks of linkages between Canada's development and trade objectives growing at an equal pace, rather than valuing development objectives and the needs of the poor in their own right."

It's as though, in the eternal scheme of things, Gavin could only choose to spend money from the charity jar on the boy in Africa if he were going to one day buy his comic books.

"Responding to the needs of the poor might not get us closer to our foreign policy objectives," says Dave. "But doing so reflects the compassion of Canadians who expect Canada to be a substantive leader in responding to the needs and aspirations of the poor."

The good news

We at World Vision were encouraged to see that the jam jar reserved specifically for child, newborn and maternal health has retained its place on the dresser. It's a glimmer of hope for the world's most vulnerable -- and for those of us who serve them.

"Our hope is that this is an indication that as CIDA moves forward in this structure, aid for the world's most vulnerable people will be maintained," says Dave.

Perhaps I'll get Gavin's take on the government's jam jar merger next Monday, when I dole out his weekly allowance and he heads upstairs to deposit his coins. I wonder whether he'll want to do the same thing?

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