Friday, May 7, 2010

A New Orphan Project (and Another Grumble About Pills)

I recently blogged about the tendency to medicalise problems that have very simple and cheap solutions. For example, if people are suffering from nutritional deficiencies, they need a good balanced diet and therefore access to adequate food. So many companies, especially multinationals, are weighing in with their very expensive food supplements and 'biofortified' versions of various seeds. If people don't have the money for even their meager diet, they certainly can't afford these overpriced supplements and fortified seeds.

But as myself and my colleagues from Ribbon of Hope Self Help Group sat in a restaurant having a meeting yesterday, a woman came up to us to sell us some nutritional supplements which had all manner of stuff in them, according to the colourful label. But they were to be taken three a day for seven days to relieve just about any ailment that could possibly relate to nutritional deficiency. And the course cost as much as more than two weeks of staple food for four or five people.

If people had this sort of money, they could just buy good food. They would be ill advised to spend it on pills that some woman who approached them in a restaurant tried to sell them. But people do buy all sorts of rubbish that promises to sort out all their children's or their own problems. This is a terrible form of exploitation and the stuff being sold is often produced by very big, powerful, wealthy companies. We tried to persuade her that what she was saying couldn't be true. But you can't blame her for trying to make a living in a country where most people don't have jobs. After all, she's been conned too.

Anyhow, today we went to a small village called Majani Mingi to assess some orphans so their families can be supported to send the orphans to school and look after them, along with the rest of their family. Majani Mingi is near Mogotio, about 50 kilometres North of Nakuru. In fact, you can't get to Majani Mingi most of the time and the best way to get there is by motor bike. It's about 10 kilometres from the main road but, despite this, you never leave the massive sisal estate that is 'owned' by a Greek man who can't even be bothered to pay his employees and suppliers most of the time.

With this in mind, we visited four households, taking in 5 orphans in all. All of them had lost both of their parents and all were being cared for by families that were already stretched for the means to keep providing themselves with the basics. Most people in the village have some connection, direct or indirect, with the sisal factory, either as employees or people who are dependent on employees. I think it is safe to say that pretty much all the people living in these sisal dominated villages are very needy, so it's hard to assess children and families when your finances will only stretch to four children.

We can put together the information we have received, along with similar information for four other villages and then make a decision. I suspect that families themselves will have to decide how to use any support they get because when money is in short supply, so is everything else. You can't very well ask a family of thirteen to give food, clothes and schooling to the one orphan and leave the others without. I really don't know how these decisions are made at the family level. I hope to gain some insight into this over the next few months.

There can be a tendency to associate orphans and other vulnerable children with orphanages. But thankfully, Ribbon of Hope is not interested in such institutions, they are beyond our scope. They cost so much money to run and the children do not get the sort of care they could get in a family. And so many orphanages have been hotbeds of corruption and deceit, where often children get very little and those running the orphanages make a very comfortable living. Of course, they are not all like that, but finding out which are genuine and which are not is just too time and resource consuming. As the orphan and vulnerable children project gets up and running, I'll report progress here.



Joyful said...

This is interesting work you are doing. It "fits" with what my friend near Kericho are doing. They have no orphanage. They are simply trying to look after orphans in their homes as best they can. Difficult choices have to be made every day and many needs go unmet. It is heartbreaking to me when there are so many more could help, both in Kenya and abroad.

I am glad to see your comment also about the orphanages. It mirrors my limited involvement with some in Kenya. Unfortunately your comment is not limited to Kenya. I see non Kenyans all over the world making their "living" off the backs of these vulnerable ones with their NGOs and their high salaries. This thought is no more palatable to me though I thank God for the people that are out there, Kenyans and non Kenyans alike who are doing good work without thought of high salary. May they continue to be blessed and may the children they help reach healthy adulthood.

Simon said...

Hi Joyful
Thanks for your comment. It sounds like your friends in Kericho are doing something similar, I agree.

I've known some people who have been supporting families who care for orphans and vulnerable children for some time now and it works out much better than orphanages. It's even cheaper than orphanages, which always work out much more expensive than family care. But there are lots of orphanages. This may be in part because if people think an NGO, church or some rich person will look after orphans, there's no reason why they should.

Anyhow, I've seen some of the families and it's not rich people who choose to look after relatives who have been orphaned, poor families seem to do it without even making a fuss. But it has quite an impact on the wellbeing of the whole family. So if an NGO can support the family, the orphan and all the other family members can benefit. That can be pretty good value for money.

But the whole thing is tricky, orphans, especially where HIV is involved, have so long been use to pull the emotional strings, it's very hard to know what you're dealing with. Once there is a lot of money thrown in, things can quickly go pear shaped. I'm hoping that because we are dealing with quite a small number of people and because my colleagues are very closely connected with the communities, we will avoid some of the pitfalls.

I never fail to be impressed with the things that some people accomplish with little or no money or resources and without any complaints or anything. Some are so quiet it's quite difficult to even identify them!

But it's nice to have started the project, I look forward to seeing how things progress. I hope your friends' project also goes well.

Joyful said...

Best of luck with what you are doing. It sounds terrific and grassroots oriented as well as self-help oriented. I support all these things :-)

Simon said...

Thanks Joyful, good to hear from you. S

Simon said...

Thanks Joyful, good to hear from you. S