You Probably Won’t Like This

This week I saw online a video about a well known musician who visited Western Africa and was shocked when he saw young boys sleeping outside in a canoe like boat. He was so shocked his first reaction was to put them up in a hotel that night. The video at the end stated ‘these boys are safe for tonight, millions aren’t.’

The comments that came in after this was posted included words like ‘amazing, wonderful, we should be like him’. However, since I’m working on the ground in such areas I had a totally different reaction and got berated for it, so thought I would write about what actually works and why short term solutions are not the best.

What people don’t understand is that when a famous person appears in a developing country as a spokesperson or ambassador for a large organization, they are getting paid for it. The average person receives between $20 – 50,000 dollars for an appearance fee. That’s on top of their first class ticket, staying in a five star hotel etc. Very few self fund their appearances. They don’t just ‘happen’ to be in Liberia or Sudan in between a gig.

Unless it’s an emergency situation, like a famine, short term is not an answer. Famine or war situations don’t happen overnight. The famine happening in South Sudan for example, has been warned about for years.

Large NGO’s spend A LOT (some up to 90%) of their income on administration, private planes and paying their top managers more than a CEO in Aussie gets. ‘Project Costs’ can easily be hidden, but these include getaway weekends for staff, safaris (team building), conflict resolution meetings (staying at a spa can resolve a lot you know!). Meanwhile on the ground the team are working with limited resources in dangerous places and often don’t have what they need in crisis situations.

I’m not saying these things to point at certain groups but when you’ve been doing it as long as me, you see things as they really are, not how they are portrayed in the media.

So what actually does work?

Long term solutions for people to help themselves out of poverty. You have to look at it holistically. For these boys sleeping outside, putting them up somewhere for a night or two actually puts them in a worse predicament. If the famous musician wanted to do something, he would find an organization he has a trusted relationship with. They in turn would be able to come up with an action plan that would include reconciliation within their home community and find one family member that would be able to take them in. The family would need ongoing support from a community worker to make sure donations are spent where they should be (food, clothing, housing, education, medical) and not at the local bar up the road. That child will need financial support until they are at least 18 years of age. Then they need support in starting a business and going on to tertiary education.

Let’s rethink child sponsorship.

I’ve been to events where there’s a hard push after a pull in the heartstrings video presentation for the thousands in the crowd. Then the presenter talks about how bad the situation is, then they get people to put up their hands if they will sponsor a child for X amount of dollars. You’re instantly given a photo to put on the fridge and ‘wallah’ you have a new child in your family.

We need to become intelligent givers and start asking the hard questions. How much of that money gets through to the project? What child protection policies does the organization implement? Where are the annual reports? What happens when that child finishes secondary school, what is the plan?

Now I’m not discouraging child sponsorship, I do it myself.

 

What I want people to realize is:

  1. It’s not your child – they belong to someone else. You are simply assisting a community.
  2. The money doesn’t go to them – it gets pooled together to cover project costs.
  3. There is no point in sponsoring for a year or two, it’s a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
  4. Don’t send them gifts. Most of the time it won’t get there, and the money you spend on postage and the gift, could be used in a more impacting way within country.
  5. The word ‘sponsor’ in the developing world actually has negative connotations connected to it. It’s like saying someone has a sugar daddy. The money isn’t free, there are strings attached.

 

If we want to get more kids sponsored we need to be telling the success stories not just the sob stories.

My last rant is about the huge waste I see in transporting goods from your home country to a developing country. Often you can buy or get made the chairs, desks, pencils, sport gear, underwear, babies clothes, any clothes and furniture in the needy country. It costs on average $10,000 to get a container shipped over with goodies. Then, you spend up to another $5,000 to get it off the wharf with bribery money. Often when organisations sort through what is in that container, they throw half of it away (especially clothes) as they are unusable. People think giving their junk is an honourable thing. Trust me – you can keep it.

We should be encouraging manufacturing in developing countries, buying from within where possible. While we see the nice smiling faces of a kid in Africa or Asia opening a shoe box at Christmas time, it doesn’t have lasting impact. The money spent on the effort could start small businesses who employ parents and give them business training –  who could then feed their families, pay school fees, buy clothes from the market more than once a year and make sure their kids have a future. Yes, they would even buy their kids a toy.

So, did the famous musician waste his time? I hope he got to see some organisations working on the ground being a part of the solution and not cause more problems. I hope he invests into these organisations long term and gets more involved.

I hope the adults in the video don’t beat those boys up or worse because some white foreigner with a camera crew came into their ‘home’ and therefore thought the boys were getting paid for being on camera.

My hope is that we become more intelligent givers who aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions.

Organisations in developing country need partnerships that cause them to become self sustainable, they need long term solutions through development and not aid.

Go ahead and sponsor a child, it does change their lives. But also send them a letter a few times a year. Build a friendship with them, not a reliance on you as a Westerner and therefore their funder. Most of all, sacrifice your income and go and visit them at least once in your life. You will find your life will be changed forever.

You are not a donor – you are a partner. Build good partnerships.

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7 Myths About Kenya

1. It’s Hot

Sure, there are some places that are pretty warm, but overall, Australia is hotter. For the 6 months we’ve been living here there was probably only one week of really hot. Today I am wearing jeans, jumper and ugg boots. Why the boots I hear you ask – floors are tiled here and they get pretty cold on an overcast day.

Living on the Equator is handy, the length of days doesn’t change. You know it will be light by about 6.30am and dark by 7pm. While my arms are tanned, the legs have a lot to be desired.

 

2. It’s Cheap

You must be kidding me. Sure, fruit is cheaper than in the West but everything else is equal to or more expensive than back home. I think it makes a difference for us because we aren’t allowed to earn money so we’re super careful with what we get in. Import tax is anywhere in between 75% and 110%. A couple of weeks ago we were in Uganda and things were half the price of here, to the point that I bought an iron.

 

3. We Live In A Mud Hut

While we work with the poor, we don’t have to live like that. Sure there are hundreds of thousands of people who do live in mud huts but not us. Right now we’re on the search for a 3 bedroom apartment, which we can get for 90,000Kshs (about $1,050 dollars). That’s great compared to what were paying in Australia but it’s a challenge for us. At least when we have friends and family come to stay there’s somewhere nice. We also plan to get some leadership training sessions going with the young people and hiring buildings is pretty expensive so we can host them at our place.

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4. There Are Only Black People Here

You’re either a Kenyan or Mzungu. Anyone white is a Mzungu, it doesn’t matter if you’re from New Zealand, the US, Europe or Australia. Sure, the whites are in a minority but you’re never sure where they are from and why they are hear. There are even white Kenyans, these are children of people who came in the colonial days. They don’t belong here but England is not their home either. They’re in between 2 worlds. I’ve bumped into so many Dutch people I never need to go to Holland. You can pick out the Aussie and Kiwi accents from a long distance. Last month we went to the ANZAC dawn service and there would’ve been around 200 people there. So, there’s a few from the Pacific over this way.

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5. It’s All About War, Poverty & Famine

Yep, there’s lots of poverty around here, but there’s also some serious money to be made. If you can go through all the legal loops and corruption, Kenya is a good place for investing in. Especially so if it’s roads, IT or building.

There’s also lots of money to be made in war and famine. While people in the West get shocked about the crisis up north, they don’t realise that the refugee camps have been there for 20 years. In our travels around East Africa, there are some very nice vehicles, and hotels kept busy because of civil unrest and disasters. Unfortunately, as soon as it’s all peaceful these NGO’s pull out and the businesses close up because of a lack of customers.

You only have to spend 10 minutes at one of the local malls to see that the middle class here is getting bigger.

 

6. It’s A Really Hard Place To Live In

Depends what you mean by hard. Sure, only knowing a small amount of Swahili is a pain, so you’ll get charged more outside of the malls, but it’s not tragic here. You have to be willing to adapt. You make sure you lock your care, when you’re in it. You put your mobile phone in your front pocket. The food isn’t great but you won’t starve. The traffic sucks and you get over paying bribes to the police every time you get pulled up – otherwise you go to jail.

It’s not so much hard as complicated.

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7. People Only Come Here For Safaris

True, most people come here for a safari. They come for a look at an allusive lion, zebra, elephant or giraffe. No, we don’t have tigers, they are in India. It’s surprising though how many people come for other things though. I ran into a lady from Sydney who came over just to catch up with friends. Some people come to build classrooms, visit their sponsored child or volunteer. Sometimes students who are at university need to intern somewhere and that’s one of the areas we work with. We give them opportunity to teach, see the different projects and assist the staff. Right now we need lots of volunteers as the work continues to grow.

Don’t think that what is on the 6pm news is all there is about Kenya or Africa itself. There’s a whole world of amazing things happening here. Sure it’s not Hawaii, but it’s not hell either.

Want to help bring positive change to the lives of young people in East Africa through our work? Why not donate today – click HERE