anything is better than nothing?

Zanelle is an American volunteer teaching school in Lesotho.  She is talking to Frank, a cynical doctor in South Africa.

‘And you? What are you doing there?’

‘I’m a teacher.  The only one in the village.  I teach children of all different ages – six to sixteen.’

‘What do you teach them?’

‘Different subjects.  Math, English.  Some history.’

‘Can’t be too effective.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well, I mean.  Different ages all together. Different levels. All those subjects.’

‘It’s not like the schools you probably went to,’ she said, a bit stiffly. ‘But it does have some effect.  These are very poor people.  Anything is better than nothing.’

‘Is it?’

‘Well, of course. Don’t you think so?’

‘It seems to me,’ I said, ‘that past a certain point, anything is exactly the same as nothing.’

I disagree with Frank in this case, but the question is an important one.  Anything is definitely not ALWAYS better than nothing in development efforts.

-from The Good Doctor, by Damon Galgut (p97)

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