Saturday, May 8, 2010

Development and Sustainability

Back in Mogotio today with Ribbon of Hope Self Help Group. We have to go to five villages and identify four especially needy orphans so that we can support their adoptive families to care for them. Not that it's a difficult job to identify four, we ended up with five today and pleas for several others. Yesterday, also, we had several pleas from mothers who heard there were people assessing orphans in the area. It doesn't take long for the word to get around but it's hard to have to tell people that we only have the funding for a very limited number right now.

Today we went to Alfega (a corruption of Alpha and Omega, reflecting the Greek 'ownership' of most of the land in the area), which is about one hour of difficult cycling from Mogotio. I was given one of the very heavy but resilient Indian 'Avon' bikes and told the brakes were not too good. I would have been surprised if I had been told they were good and I've never cycled on a bike that had two brakes here. But by the time I was on a steep hill trying to check my speed, the one brake had failed. I made various attempts to slow down before preparing myself for a crash landing, which I found in a bank of clay that happened to be at just the right angle to stop me without resurfacing my face.

Without further incident, we took the least muddy route through the kilometres of sisal. It was very hot and there were several places where we struggled to push the bikes through the wet mud, but all in all, it was an enjoyable journey. The area is particularly beautiful in the present, rainy season, just a bit wet sometimes. And in the midst of all the sisal, we spotted some industrial greenhouses and some bright green fields of something other than sisal. I hoped to see food crops but, alas, there was mostly flowers (for the European market) and coffee grown there. The area is owned by one of the sons of the former president, Moi, who was quite acquisitive in his time.

Like Majani Mingi, where we went yesterday, Alfega is pretty isolated. The best roads that surround it are mud roads and impassable during and just after the rain. And it's expensive to make the journey if you really need to. So most people don't leave the village much. In spite of being surrounded by such greenery and wealth, the village is as poor as Majani Mingi and far more populous. The latter has a population of only three or four thousand, Alfega is closer to eight thousand. Of course, I never know whether the population figures we are given count the children or just the adults.

We visited four houses, assessing five orphans in all. They were all in need of assistance and the worst thing is seeing the problems that their families have to cope with. It's amazing that families that are so overstretched will still take on another child to care for, but it does seem to happen a lot. And Ribbon of Hope is fortunate enough to have members who are from the area because otherwise, it would be impossible to tell who is genuine and who is not. Even people who are clearly in need sometimes tell a few white lies to try and have one of their children assessed, which is not really surprising.

And that's another way in which we are fortunate, we have limited funding, so we have to be very careful. I've seen and heard of organisations that have large amounts of funding but they end up using it rather indiscriminately and even losing it to people who are not really in need. Organisations shouldn't have any more cash than they know how to administrate. Our biggest asset right now is the closeness of some of our members to the local community we hope to assist.

Just as it seems unfair to help people who are HIV positive when other people are suffering from all sorts of treatable and curable illnesses, it sometimes seems unfair to single out orphaned and vulnerable children for special assistance when there are others who are in equal need. And this is a dilemma that we face every time we visit such villages. Today and yesterday, we saw people, adults and children, who were suffering, but they probably won't attract the attention of NGOs. We try to do things that benefit communities as a whole as well, but we are small right now. Hopefully, things will change over time.

Incidentally, it's worth pointing out that in this area that is mostly owned by Gideon Moi, there are a lot of public toilets being built. As the houses there don't have good sanitation, this sort of intervention will have major benefits for everyone in the village. Water and sanitation related illnesses give rise to a huge share of the disease burden and deaths in developing countries. The Greek owned area around Majani Mingi didn't have any public toilets that I could see and it is likely that the overall health in Alfega in the near future will be far better as a result. I hope to see more of this kind of public intervention, despite the dominance of private (and highly exploitative) enterprise in the area.

Ideally, Ribbon of Hope Self Help Group won't get much bigger because the things we are doing now will be done by other self help groups. To some extent this is already happening. But there is a certain futility to NGOs and community based organisations (CBO) continually setting up and targeting the people and things they most want to benefit, only to be replaced by more NGOs and CBOs, without an end in sight. It would be nice to think that communities like Alfega and Majani Mingi will one day be able to support themselves, perhaps because of the support they received in the past from various parties.

In fact, if that is not what happens, if the development that we are involved in now is not sustainable, if it doesn't give rise to further development that is greater than what came before, I think it may have failed. But the possibility that what we are doing now may only have a short term benefit and that others may have to come and do the same again and again in the future is no reason to stop doing what we are doing. Unless we are doing some harm, and I hope we are not doing that.



Joyful said...

It is always difficult to assess genuine need against need. My view is that almost all villagers are in some need so hard choices need to be made. I know you are faced with the hard choices.

I'm curious to know how much funding (Kenyan shillings) is used for each child you are trying to assist and whether you could give me a breakdown of those costs. Thanks a lot! May your work and the work of the villagers themselves be blessed.

Simon said...

Hi Joyful
Yes, I think you're right. But we have programmes that should benefit whole village, if only they would take them on!

I can't tell you any details about the funding yet because I just don't know. Also, the funding is from a private source, so I will have to ask before revealing anything. I can tell you that the costs vary a lot, especially between primary and secondary pupils. School fees are one of the biggest costs, along with the other school related costs and they also vary from school to school.

If there are specific questions you have that I can possibly answer, I will. But for now, I just don't know the details. I'll meet the funder some time soon and ask her opinion on sharing information. I'm all for it, myself.

Joyful said...

I guess my questions are what exactly is funded for the orphans that do get help? For example, I've always wondered when calculating a monthly sponsorship amount, how does it actually help the family too because one can't simply help to feed just one child and not a family (in the case say of large NGOs). Also, I'm curious to know what items go into a budget for one child. Education is perhaps the largest component due to the need for fees, uniforms, books, pencils, board etc. but are there are things like clothes, medicine, recreation, other? If your donor will let you share that's great. If not, maybe you could speak to these issues generally. I'd appreciate your thoughts. thanks!

Simon said...

Hi Joyful
Yes, I quite understand, these are all difficult issues. Firstly, the donor decides, or should decide, how much they are going to cover with their sponsorship. Some only pay fees, some include uniforms, books and other things. It's up to them.

Secondly, I don't feel it's right to claim to support a family but then earmark the money for specific things, with the exception of school fees and other items that are vital for a child to go to school. But paying these expenses for one does give benefit to others. Books, clothes and things like that can always be handed down, they usually are.

Medicine is a difficult one, especially when the child is already in bad health, which they often are if they have been orphaned. The child needs their health to go to school and perform well and it would be a waste to fail to ensure that the child was able to do well with their sponsorship.

Family accounting is a very delicate matter and everyone does it in a different way, therefore, it would be impossible to answer your question about that without a lot of empirical research. Suffice to say, families juggle costs and bills over a period of time. Schools will waive some expenses in certain circumstances, so will hospitals and other service providers. Not all the time, but sometimes. It's a matter of careful negotiation.

Any money a family gets, therefore, will benefit the whole family in ways that are difficult to identify. While it's not always appropriate or even feasible for the donor to monitor the smallest detail, it would be irresponsible not to. But families that take in orphans have already shown their willingness to make their household budget go further and we have to trust the people we work with.

That's a bit vague, but I'm sure there is plenty of literature about how very poor families manage their finances. If and when I find out more, I'll let you know.

Joyful said...

Hi again, thank you for your comments. I don't think I was very clear about what I was looking for. I am trying to figure out how an NGO or a donor can go about identifying a budget to help an orphan and what that budget might reasonably include in terms of items and amounts (K Shillings) in Kenya. Presumably a donor individual or group has to work with the family and identify what will work in specific circumstances but as you are working there with families and orphans I was hoping you could give me some insight into how you go about doing this (process, purpose and amounts).

When I watch fund-raising programs here in Canada for child sponsorship, they always say that the small funds ($30 or $35) will go toward the child but also help the whole family. I've never understood exactly how it can help the family when it isn't a lot and Kenya in particular is an expensive country compared to many other underdeveloped countries. I wasn't asking at all about family accounting though I know that a lot of individual donors want receipts. As for me, I don't actually support individual orphans as such. I might send funds to some overseers for tuition, books, medicine, etc. and they send me receipts etc. For the family I do support, I do not seek receipts for monthly support. We have already established a budget in advance and it is up to them to determine how best to spend those funds once it is in their hands. I do not control their spending, nor do I wish to. I am already aware of the cost of living there and how far the funds can go. I know the people are able to stretch their funds by shopping more in the small village shops than in the larger department stores, etc.

Sorry if I'm rambling here. I'm just trying to learn as much as I possibly can from as many people as I can so I can be more effective and efficient in my own giving to others in the community. Thanks for any information you can provide within your limits of time and confidentiality with your donor(s).

Simon said...

Hi Joyful, yes it's a difficult process and I simply can't answer all the questions now. But some donors will only support some things. There is no real answer to the question 'how can we predict all the household costs for the next year/until the dependent is independent' or anything like that. There are predictable costs and unpredictable costs. Anyhow with money coming in will find a way to spend it. When they don't have money coming in, they learn to economize. What is really vital? You only find that out when you have to get by on very little and you have a lot of people depending on you.

As for how entire households can benefit from donations, it's not always true that money you give an organization goes directly to the child you have chosen to fund and you have to establish how these things work with different organisations. If someone says that 100% of the money you donate goes to the family or orphan, you know they are lying. You can't get money to a person or family, especially the right person or family, without doing a lot of ground work. Then you need to make sure the family is continuing to do well, to spend wisely and you have to account for donations. This all costs money.

Aside from me, all the other people doing the assessments are from here, they either have children of their own or they are responsible for children. They don't have to ask how much school fees are or how much various items cost.

When you have a family of 8, say, and another one or two arrive, it's easy to see how the same amount of money has to go further. So if someone supports one of those extra dependents, the family no longer has to stretch itself as much. That's how the whole family benefits. Even if the money only covers school fees, the child might not have attended school, or might not have attended school regularly before.

Also, to raise a bit of money or to save a bit of money, children are often obliged to do work and miss out on school. They may work for money or they may work so their family can save money. Either way, it's just one of the many techniques people employ to get by on very little. If the family is better supported, sending children to work and causing them to miss school is not so necessary.

There's an article here that may help but I'm afraid I'm probably unable to systematically answer your questions, much though I'd like to:

And you'll find many other useful articles here: