The Genesis of Aid (A Parody)

February 28, 2012 by Ben Ramalingam

On Friday last, Good Friday, 2012 we loaded up our gear including a film crew of students from DIT, 5 bags of cement, GPS and all our various regalia, to travel to a well site using precious  fuel, over a bumpy road only to find that the well that the Chiefs had agreed to dig hadn’t even been touched in the 5 day period.

Now this is the type of failure occurring all over Africa every day. In our case we were dealing with people we didn’t know but some who were referred to us by another NGO. We didn’t do our job properly, because we talked to the Chiefs and men, even though we only do all our arrangements with the women as the prime movers. We slipped up badly. We had a plan to film the well on Friday, make the slab and on the following Friday complete the job. This was our plan, A bad plan. If the community don’t participate, there’s no plan. We know this because we have learned, that if it’s women’s business you talk to them. We know this, but we had a momentary rush of blood to the head. We will never repeat this mistake again. Of course constantly revisiting bad plans happens all the time in Malawi, so the locals are sensitised to this approach!!

If there were people around on our first visit we would have discovered an area polluted by aid. The EU paid for one school block, which is now in a poor state. Another prominent member of the Aid business built another block, by providing all the money. There was no voluntary community  involvement/participation.

There was a sponsorship plan in place for children.  We met them, with their documents showing their name, number and name of sponsor. I’m sure the sponsor got the smiling picture and the letter maybe, but I’m also sure that the heads covered in scabs, the poor clothes, the lack of school fees, or whatever else was promised would disappoint, a little, at least.

As a general rule we don’t work with people who have become beggars as a result of Aid without input.  But strangely this is what we found

I’m sure the proposals called it development aid, with high ratings for aid effectiveness. There would also be these  wonderful reports, of sustainability, strategic planning and whatever the new buzzword might be on the day.

Oh! what did we eventually do, after all the interviews and filming was done? We said goodbye to the kids and let the chiefs know why we were leaving with our cement, never to return.

On our return journey, we met a group of women, the real people of Malawi, explained what had happened, told them how to reach us when they were ready, and had their well dug. We’ll soon get a call, build the well in close proximity and have clean water for 122 poor souls and up to 500 children at the school.

We work, we say, is about Inspiration, Education and Challenge. This is what we mean by challenge.

Malawians, particularly Malawian women are capable of developing themselves if we leave them alone and support them with what they need rather than with what we think they need.

Luckily I came home to find this amazing blog by Ben Ramalingam to whom I am deeply grateful for my restored sanity and a renewed belief in how we approach things

In the beginning, the Donors said, “Let us make development in our image, and in our likeness, so that we may bring about changes in developing countries”. And other Government Departments replied, “Yes, but not too much change, and not all at once, who knows What might Happen.” And the Donors did reflect upon this, and after a time they did say, “Let there be Aid Programmes”.


And lo, having completed the appropriate paperwork and then randomly recruited staff members on the basis of spurious social connections, the Aid Workers did create a great many Aid Programmes upon the land, with rather fewer in the sea.


Now at first many Aid Programmes were formless and empty, there was darkness over any possible engagement with intended beneficiaries, and attribution of impact was absolutely nowhere to be seen. With naught else to look at, the Donors did peck at the financials like bureaucratic vultures.


And the Donors did say, “Let there be light on this programme”, but there was no light, merely quarterly reports cut and pasted from other endeavours. But the Aid Workers saw that the reports were sufficient to get the donors off their backs. They called the reports “evidence-based” and they did construct programme narratives, after a fashion. And there were visits and some more reports.


And the Aid Workers said, “Let there be a separation between us and the communities we seek to serve, to keep us even further away from messy reality, lest our donors seek to explore this area further, nobody needs that”. So the separation was made and the people ‘under’ the programmes were divided even further from those people ‘above’ them. And it was so.


The Aid Workers called the separation ‘our new decentralised structures’ and occasionally ‘our new national partnership modalities’. And there was more reporting and the first mid-term reviews.


And upon reading the reviews, the Donors said, “Let all the programmes under this sky be gathered to one place, and let duplication and waste disappear.” But it was not so. Instead the Aid Workers did gather in the bar and Grumble about it over numerous beers. The next day, the Aid Workers said those programmes whose representatives had gathered in that bar formed ‘a new Coordinated Operational Network System, or CONS’. And the Donors did scratch their heads, and then said, “Well, Okay”.


Then the Donors said, “Let the programmes produce results: monitoring systems and  impact-bearing evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, according to their various kinds.” But again, it was not so. The programmes produced reports bearing more narratives and nice photos on the front. But the content was heavily skewed according to pre-defined objectives and indicators that could have been copied off a cereal box.


And the Aid Workers saw that it was rather woolly and vague, and were satisfied. And the Donors saw that it was not Actually very good, but would at least keep the Right Wing Press off their backs for a little longer.


And the Aid Workers Head Offices said, “Let there be journalists and blogs and tweets to separate the donors – both individual and institutional – even more quickly and deeply from their cash. And let our Woolly Results serve as signs to mark our fundworthiness. And let there be pictures of children, ideally being hugged by tired-looking pretty white girls.”


And it was so. Head Office made two great lights—the greater to shine into possible funding  opportunities, and the lesser light to identify photogenic but hungry looking babies. Head Office also invited the stars and celebrities, after their Compassion-Fashion-Kicks. And Head Office saw that it was good.


And then one Aid Worker did Stand up and Say, “Let our Programmes be shaped by those we seek to serve, and Let them tell us what is good and right, and let us shine a true light into these programmes of ours, so that a light may then shine forth from them. And let that Light be Truly called ‘Development’.”


But the other Aid Workers did say, “Shut up and sit down, What are you playing at, Dost thou wish to get us all into the Deep Excrement?”


Thankfully the Donors were too busy creating new Declarations of Aid Effectiveness, within which all new and existing efforts should be fixed, according to their kind, and so did not notice.


And so this Aid Worker did leave that place, and became a Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.


The other Aid Workers blessed her departure and said “Come back when our next mid-term review is due, and verily your rates will be good.” And they were.


And then finally the Donors, after yet more ambiguous reviews, did say, “Let your programmes prove their sustainability, such that we shall see how they continue after we reduce core funding.” And this Exit Strategy they all did  promise to abide.


And so, after more grumbling, questionable reports, and beers, the Aid Workers did leave that place to work in areas which were more aligned with the Donors current priority interests. And so it happened that National Partners were left to wind the programmes down within one year, albeit at a fraction of the original cost and with Minimum Overheads.


And then, two more years after that, New Donors and their staff members did arrive, and they did say, “Let there be an Aid Programme Just Here.”


And, lo, it was so.


A little Sunday Morning Rant, (for our amazing volunteers July 25, 2010)

Elaine Bolger brings two Educational establishments, DIT and Mzuzu University together. Beside Elaine is Fr John Ryan, Professor of Mathematics

Wells for Zoe is a small, Irish, sustainable development organisation working with some of the world’s poorest in Northern Malawi. It is almost irrelevant now that it was founded by John and Mary Coyne from Lucan, Co Dublin; such is the support it gets from so many people and in so many ways. It has never sought Government funding and depends on the generosity of the public for its development. The Coynes do however pay all administrative expenses and naturally they pay for their own flights, travel and accommodation while in Malawi, which now is about five months each year. This enables all donations to be spent where they are needed, in Malawi.
The only people paid by Wells for Zoe are our Malawian employees.
While focused on clean water in poor, remote, rural villages we found there was a huge need to help with irrigation and farming, open pollinated seeds were unavailable and so we bought and developed the Lusangazi farm. It is primarily a research and teaching farm, where we try to grow vegetables, which may be suitable, from all over the world, but also looking closely at forgotten African plants, when we can get seeds. We use almost no artificial fertilizer but rely mainly on making compost (hard work which Malawians don’t like) and on growing green manure, like velvet bean, sun hemp, etc. We also avoid chemical pesticides by using a concoction of brews from local plants headed by tephrosias, aloe vera, tobacco and whatever Benidicto can find.
Leaf fungus, in our citrus seedlings, is a perpetual problem and hard to crack, but we are on it. The hostel on the farm is where we bring farmers to learn about irrigation, composting and seed production. We send them away with seeds, seedlings and hopefully a measure of inspiration.
Teaching about vegetables is tough when there’s no generational culture in place, and people are focused on tobacco, maize and coffee. We have a passion to improve soil which is seriously depleted by years of chemical fertilizer and will be eternally grateful for the tremendous work and knowledge of Gillian and Chris who so generously gave their experience and vast knowledge to the farm, later to be passed on to more and more of Northern Malawi.

The Birthing Centre or Health post, in Lusangazi also developed from a need. I passed the old shed (with Chipitara in Tumbuka, meaning Hospital, painted on the wall), one day with Harisen and met the ever smiling Lillian; saw a new born baby and the blood on a concrete slab, which was the birthing bed. Action was needed, so we got on it and with some help from the community built a little place. I now love her and the place. She runs it with all the love and attention that every newborn deserves. It was not in our plans, but when it soon has a solar water pump, lighting, toilet facilities, a septic tank, a garden for the greens and a small extension for the outreach clinics, I think I could leave Malawi happy, even if we accomplished nothing else, such is it’s importance to the community.

The project that has caused us most stress is Áras Kate, our pre school in Salisbury line. Bureaucracy, jealousy, corruption, misunderstanding and evil were a daily problem.
While I was responsible for the building, Mary did the talking, cajoling, challenging and facing reality. The place is now in the hands of the local community of Salisbury Line and run by a board of trustees comprising, the City Assembly, the local Chiefs, the area Development Committee and Wells for Zoe. Mary was appointed the Educational Director and Charity is also one of the trustees. She may not look like a former trade unionist, but she has a very sharp intuition and intellect and will serve the community well particularly if she can believe she is twenty years older!!!!. The situation is a lot less complicated now and in due course we will expand the building with two new classrooms, a kitchen and store, and when land is later allocated by the City we will begin building a primary school and resource centre. We thank all our volunteers for their amazing work in this most deprived of areas, afflicted by all the evils of urban poverty anywhere, then throw in the added bonus of AIDS. You have made people’s days and maybe changed some lives, just by being there. We love it, it’s a great place to be, and with homework clubs and adult education, people will want to move there. Of course it’s in its infancy; it was only opened on Feb 9, 2009. What do you want, it’s already a miracle!!
At the moment it costs about 80000kw per month to run.
The future may hopefully see a big input from DIT, social science and early childhood development disciplines, in terms of research, placements and training accreditation.

Our big focus is still on the delivery of clean drinking water, which strange as it may seem, is not as easy as it looks. One has to break into the market, especially with a new pump like ours. There are many vested interests in Northern Malawi, focused as much on Evangelisation as hydration. We find many broken pumps and wells and need permission from the original installers to repair or replace them. Maybe half of the pumps installed in the past twenty years don’t work on any given day, but the donors or installers are nowhere to be found after the original razzmatazz and photo ops of the installation day. A pump maintenance plan is a major part of our programme.
Over the past three months we have compiled a list of pumps in need of our assistance but this years continuing rain means it will be at least October before we can put any plan into action, when water tables are at their lowest. All our pumps are free to the villagers and where they supply the labour and bricks, we supply the pump and the cement free of charge
In August we plan to work with Ungweru (Fr John Ryan’s group). CADECOM (the development arm of the Catholic Church) are another of our partners. We have a few pumps for Ripple Africa and many other village projects. We have 150 pumps ready for an Australian NGO, Global Concern, to be delivered to Zambia as soon as the water tables are suitable and they send us their people for training. We are also hoping Andrew will expand past three pumps in Tanzania. If someone told me when we began this venture that we could bring clean water to a population maybe the size of Leitrim, I would have taken that for my life’s contribution, but we’re not finished yet. This is all a slow process where constant care and supervision are needed. It’s not a place for a mad rush and a photo op. If developing Malawi were easy, billions of cash would already have solved it, BUT it’s not all about money but about people, inspiring, educating and challenging, simultaneously and together!.
Malawi is not for everyone, some people simply don’t get it. We do our best to provide opportunities, without handouts. There are many in the Aid Business who want the gratification of bringing the goodies and have a lot to learn about Dignity. This culture of sporadic handouts has made many in Malawi into dependant beggars. We are trying to things differently, and together we, can change people’s lives forever. Most of our volunteers have managed to do this. What an amazing achievement in your life?
Our lives are now full time Malawi. I sleep eat and think W4Z. Little here is spur of the moment or haphazard even though everything may look a mess. As a bigger picture evolves, planning will be done with the communities so that it meets their needs, always mindful of hours and days of research done already. We have failures but treat them as learning experiences. All plans must be done here and a plan for Sonda may not fit in Doroba. Malawi has a million failed plans cooked up in New York, London and wherever, and delivered by people who believed that they knew better. But after forty years of this system, many rural Malawians are now poorer than they were thirty years ago.
Our operation runs very much on a shoestring budget and so it should. Harisen and Charity are amazing people and yet another accident brought us together. Br Aidan, St John of God Services, our guru, thinks W4Z is successful because we have the right person in charge, Harisen, something he is very proud of because he first employed him. I took a chance on Charity. We naturally have had our ups and downs but always realise that they are gems.
We have employed maybe twenty people to also be leaders, but had to let them go for one reason or another. Alipha has great potential but wants to be a nurse, while Alinipher is still learning her trade, painfully at times.
Elaine, as part of her placement, has spent many days with Harisen over the past month and at Easter helping him with his big deficiencies, planning and keeping records. Progress has been amazing, but we learned something bigger still: the amount of work he gets through in a day. He is responsible for everything and to everyone. One day last week we had 46 employees on different jobs, in different locations. He had also to arrange transport, ferry a multitude and even secure food for a few, keep me going, settle disputes with chiefs, arrange meetings, pay bills, negotiate deals, order and check deliveries, and whatever else came his way. On the other hand Charity, while being infuriating by having no phone or credit or petrol is invaluable in her counselling skills and her ability to talk to everyone. She too, seldom writes notes but when info can be extracted then you find her work includes visits to the hospitals, meeting the chiefs, delivering clothes to newborns, paying wages, buying bicycles, operating complex loan deals, keeping William out of the way of the law, while trying to organise his finances. She is the first port of call for all our workers with their problems and above all she is extremely honest.
Our biggest spend at the moment is around building and transport, where anything imported is at least as expensive as Ireland.

Failte House was built for volunteers and was a huge success this summer. We also have planning for a four bed motel type structure on the grounds depending on the success of what we have. All of this extra work will be loaded on Harisen naturally. Because of the work involved in selling produce from the farm would incur, we have decided to scrap the plan and use these as a research tool. Our workers will now be the benificiaries. They will eat them at lunchtime, make a comment and take some more home. Our focus is on research not business
There are many other projects like Luvuwu and its students at Zolo Zolo Secondary school (funded and driven by DIT), M’Bama, Sonda, Ekaiweni, Kazando (with its new preschool almost complete), Elamouleni and the Capuchin Secondary school where we are beginning a fund for girls Secondary education (four girls each year). We are also funding hostel accommodation for girls: same deal as other areas, paying for the cement and roofing; Fr John will do the rest.
Our link with DIT, the biggest third level institution in Ireland is now firmly in place thanks to Elaine, Liam and their friends. We now have working relations with seven disciplines, all of whom are making positive contributions independently. The visit of Ciaran and Fred means we now have linked DIT with Mzuzu University and Tech as well as with Ungweru and SJOG. This is no extra work for us but part of our policy of PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES without HANDOUTS.
Our ideas and plans will only be limited by the quality of Malawian personnel we can find and train, and the quality and quantity of volunteers we can encourage to come here and maybe take over sections of the operation to run with.
If you can see yourself becoming part of all this madness leave us your contact details.
You might also tell us how you feel that you can help or if there is a specific area or project you might like to work on.
On behalf of ourselves and all the people you journeyed with we offer our most sincere thanks, knowing that life for many will be changed, for the better, forever, by your coming.

The Letter Home: A possible Formula?

The Letter home: A possible Formula

In many nations across Africa, the institutions we in the West take for granted are entirely absent. The people of these places are not incompetent. They are the same as us. Without the rule of law, private property rights and an infrastructure for basic transportation, water, electricity and phones, we too would be a broken, diseased and starving people.
Africa’s horrors are not solved by sending aid. The word ‘aid’ sounds kindly, even generous. It is pernicious. It often props up the dodgy regimes. At best, aid breeds a dependency culture; at worst it funds barbarism, but never brings out the best in us.

For some time now I have been watching the progress of an extra ordinary man, Jean Béliveau.
On August 18th, 2000, at 9:00 am, he left Montreal, Canada. His goal is to walk around the planet to promote “Peace and non-violence to the profit of the children of the world”. He is travelling alone with a three wheeled stroller to carry a bit of food, his clothing, a First Aid kit, a small tent and a sleeping bag. Jean plans to walk across all the continents, from North America to South America, then across to South Africa, up to Europe, then the Middle East, South and Eastern Asia, Australia, New Zealand and finally back to Canada.
This journey will take 12 years to complete which is in accordance with the United Nations proclamation: 2001-2010 – International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.
I find the following piece very interesting especially in terms of my quest to discover how the people of the West of Ireland developed out of the direst poverty in the aftermath of the Famine and how the money in the letter home affected this development.
It comes from the Charity Intelligent Giving a small, not-for-profit company in London with backgrounds in journalism and research. They are independently financed and run, not linked to any charity or government TREKKER EXTRAORDINAIRE JEAN BELIVEAU is on the sixth year of his travels and, having just passed through London, he’s halfway round the world. He’s seen many things and spoken to many people on his travels through the Americas and Africa – and he has clear opinions about giving.

“I am often asked if I am doing the walk for charity and it annoys me,” he says. He’s clear about his status: “I am walking as a pilgrim walks, in my case to make the world aware of the UN’s International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for Children.”
“They are smart people and they don’t need foreigners to tell them what’s best.”
He explains: “The condition of children affects me a lot, and in difficult situations – natural disasters or human conflict – it is imperative that their basic needs are fulfilled. Which makes it very important to support the right charity.”
But he believes deeply that old-fashioned aid is bad news for the developing world. “We have encouraged a dependency culture in Africa that takes away peoples’ dignity,” he says. “From my many conversations with ordinary Africans, I believe that their countries would be better off if we stopped giving them handouts. They are smart people and they don’t need foreigners to tell them what’s best.”

He concedes that in these days of globalisation and climate change, it’s difficult to be pure about this concept, and in emergency situations, there may be no alternative. But, in general, “there has to be a better way,” he insists.
“The money is honestly earned and it is sent straight to where the need is.”
His suggestion is simple, but unusual. Instead of giving to charities, he wants you to give direct to people in need – through their relatives in Britain.

“In most cases these people work very hard and live very humbly so they can save up and send the money back home,” he says. “The money is honestly earned and it is sent straight to where the need is. It is spent with pride because it has more value: it is earned by a member of the family.”

He has witnessed the recipient effect in Africa. The money is used at village level. It helps pay for food, education, healthcare, job creation – just like money from international aid agencies.

He insists, “If you buy from workers from immigrant communities – believe me, you will make a difference. And it won’t be charity. It will be reward for jobs well done: an exchange between equals.”

He shrugs: “In a perfect humanity, there would be no need for charity… Dignity would be sufficient! Until then…”,,
I see this type of a hand up, outside the immediate family, as a possible way forward. At Wells for Zoe we are promoting this personal contact approach, where there is traceability and accountability for every euro, without any deductions. We are seeing this, small scale, hardly noticed, intrusion making a real difference, restoring dignity and promoting self sufficiency.

How the Aid Industry Promotes Poverty

How the Aid Industry Promotes Poverty June 8, 2007
Filed under: CODAC, Exploitation, NGOs, poverty, Africa — yeebo @ 4:26 pm
A new book, “The White man’s Burden” by professor of Economics at New York University, and a former employee of the World Bank argues that international development aid has become part of the problem of global poverty and not the solution. Care International, one of the global leaders of the aid industry, has also released a report, ‘Living on the Edge of Emergency — An Agenda for Change’ which also argues that “More than 120-million Africans face starvation because much of the £3-billion ($5,6-billion) in aid spent each year to help them is wasted.” According to Care International, “aid arrives too late, is targeted at the wrong things and is usually only a short term measure that doesn’t tackle the root cause of hunger…It is a disgrace that money is still given too late and for such short periods, then spent on the wrong things to truly fight emergencies … There is no excuse, when by spending money more intelligently, we can bring an end to all but the most unpredictable food crises” said Geoffrey Dennis, CARE’s chief executive. The statistics are quite disturbing. In the last 50 years, more than $2.3 trillion has been spent as development aid. So why are African children dying for lack of medicine costing less than $2? There are those who insist that contrary to the facts, history is not the cause of our poverty, but I am not one of them. Colonialism, neo-colonialism and now, globalisation, are the causes of this disturbing trend. The problem is that any attempts to take an independent path, free of this aid strings that tie us into other people cesspits, is always frowned upon by our new crop of leaders, and sabotaged by the international system led by the United States. Why has aid not helped to transform African economies? Why is it that the more aid a country gets, the more impoverished the people become. I ask these questions as someone which has worked in the aid industry for over 30 years. My first job after my post graduate studies was at the Upper Regional Agricultural Development Programme (URADEP), a World Bank-DFID programme for farmers in the Upper east region. Does anybody in the region remember FASCOM? In essence, we go back to the question posed by William Easterly in his book: that, “the West’s efforts to aid have done so much ill and so little good.” He gives examples like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose stated goal is to halve word poverty by 2015. However, his conclusions, are as porous as his attempts to be radical. It is true that the aid industry is full of grandiose policies and costly, and sometimes ineffectual campaigns like the MDGs, but what do they actually achieve? One of such western liberal projects is the Millennium Villages idea. What does this mean? In essence, what some western practitioners do is to plagiarise African initiatives, redress them in grandiose terms, sell them to donors, and make them sound as though this will solve the world’s problems. In the end, they don’t. Western NGOs, like their state-led development organisations, refuse to learn from their mistakes. Donor-led initiatives have a very short life span – they begin and end with donor money. When the funding comes to an end, the project dies with it. Secondly, in the last 20 years in Africa, development aid has been limited to workshops, workshops and workshops, led by the new NGO elites. Most of this has no practical relevance to poverty reduction. African NGOs are not blame. The priorities for aid and donor support are set in Washington, London, The Hague, and other western capitals. Africans are only invited to consultation meetings where what is discussed hardly features in the final reports. This is because aid is tied to the foreign policy interests of western donor nations. Organisations which call themselves non-governmental, receive more than 80%of their funding from the state: UK government, the US State Department, or the Danish Foreign Ministry, etc, etc. So even though some western NGOs may pretend to be ‘non-governmental’, they are governmental in practice. The Oxfams, Care International, International Rescue Committees, etc, etc, are closer to their governments than most African NGOs will ever be. Yet, I have been in meetings where African NGOs are derided and patronised by the their international counterparts because these African NGOs are supposedly close to their governments. At any rate, what is wrong with being close to a government? Look at the priorities of most donor organisations, and you will not fail to notice that building schools, health centres, day care centres, or social centres do not top the list of their priorities. Since September 11, US aid has tended to favour organisations working to eliminate ‘terrorism’, but what about the causes of terrorism? What this implies is that western donors have the money, and they together with their cohorts, dictate how this money is spent. Governments such as that of the NPP follow suit, and behave as though poverty is not the reason why they sign the Millennium Challenge Accounts. If this is the case, northern Ghana will receive more than 60%of this grant, but what has happened?