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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Our Partners Are Important

It’s coming up to 3 years of us living in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s been an interesting time, never dull or boring that’s for sure.

This time last week I was in Dubai escorting a teenager on their way to Australia. I remember thinking ‘Maybe it’s time to go home because it’s so convenient’. There’s hot water out of the tap, the electricity works all of the time, it’s clean and you can even walk about at night on the street. Although it was all a false world, it was pretty good for 2 days.

Me with Sam on his very first flight of his life.

Me with Sam on his very first flight of his life.

The truth is, life here is not always easy and you’ve got to have big shoulders to handle some of the challenges. Security is always an issue – gangs, terrorists, pickpockets. You’ve got to consider more than 40 tribes in the country, all with their own way of doing things. There’s the learning of Swahili, trying to cope with the traffic and not being able to buy all of the things you need very easily.

This is the cost that those who work in developing countries pay. However there are many benefits to it as well.

You meet amazing people who are similar but different to you. You get to see sights and in our case, wildlife that is particular to this part of the world. You get to experience a type of life that others only ever dream of.

elephant faceon

We try and see what we do as a privilege.

That privilege is only possible because of the partners we have. There’s 75 year old George who is nearly blind and is on the pension, who gives us $30 a month from his small income. There’s also a couple who give from the rent on their property. Someone gives us $5 a month as they are a single parent. It’s always very humbling.

March 2014 with George who always takes us to KFC when we visit.

March 2014 with George who always takes us to KFC when we visit.

Without partners we can’t be here. Without people’s sacrifice, we’re stuffed.

Some of our partners give just once or twice. HD Projects is one such partner.

hdprojects1

Pete worked for HD Projects in Sydney for around 7 years, starting out as a labourer and eventually as a project manager. If you asked him he would say that it was the best companies he’s ever worked for. He has a lot of respect for the owners Richard and Clyde. The only reason he left was because he was tired and his role was pretty stressful. One thing about Pete is that he is committed to his work and gives it 150% of his effort.

HD Projects are one of our corporate sponsors. This happened way before we even came to Kenya, they just didn’t know it.

HD helped finance into Pete’s ute which he used for travelling all over Sydney for jobs. They then bought is back from us when we left in 2012. This helped provide for moving some household goods over with us.

In 2013 they provided the funds for a vehicle for us to use in our work here in Kenya. You can’t just buy a small hatchback here, you need a 4 wheel drive and a car that you can easily get parts for. In the end we found an X-Trail and are super happy with it.

Now in 2015, HD Projects have funded our car costs for a year. It’s such a relief as most things are really expensive here and our budget for living costs is quite small. One tyre is $330 and we needed 4 of them. Pete is absolutely ecstatic that we are much safer on the road and that we can actually have funds to repair his bike and the car.

Pete changing a flat tyre in the middle of an animal wildlife park.

Pete changing a flat tyre in the middle of an animal wildlife park.

Whether it’s a retiree, a business, a church or a total stranger, all of our partners make what we do possible.

Today we want to say asante sana (thank you very much) to those who sacrifice and partner with us. It doesn’t go unnoticed and every day we are aware of the people in the bigger family of the ‘Wild Creanberries’.